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Ben Zank . Dreams, schemes and otherworldliness

April 4, 2014

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I recently came across the work of New York photographer Ben Zank. Before I knew anything about him, I was captivated by the images and visual ideas behind his work. I instantly loved the humour and offbeat feel to the imagery.

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I discovered than Ben was 23 and that five years previously had found a Pentax ME Super camera in his grandmother’s attic and from that day forward, he had grasped the challenge to capture and create his own world. I caught up with Ben who lives in the Bronx, NY to discover what makes him tick.

Hi Ben, so it’s five years on from when you first discovered the camera in the attic at the age of 18. Can you tell me a little about what you feel you have learned during that time and how difficult the journey of self teaching has been from then till today?

I’ve learned everything I know about photography in that time. I had no interest in any kind of art or photography before I picked up a camera. Photography really showed me how to appreciate things on a deeper level. I never felt like being self-taught was challenging. I mean it certainly was and still is, but I enjoy doing it so much that I don’t really find it to be an inconvenience.

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I love the sense of ‘otherworldliness’ that you create with your images. Where do your ideas come from ? Many other sources (you mentioned dreams) anywhere else ?

I have a very active imagination. Unfortunately my skills as a photographer are not comparative to my imagination yet. I started keeping a dream journal. I actually had a lucid dream last night for a few minutes. I woke up and looked out my window to see a bunch of men in coats walking around in the courtyard. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed one man was attacking another, and as he did, he started to grow in size. It was at this point that I said to myself, “I’m in a dream!” I was actually able to levitate through my closed window and could feel the cold air outside blowing up against the part of me that was through the window. When I looked at my hands they were distorted mirrors. Then I woke up.

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Who (if anyone) would you say are your main influences, whether they are photographers, artists or just regular folk doing other totally unrelated careers and how do they spark your enthusiasm ? Is there a line of artists or creative peeps that you’re related to ?

Inspiration comes from so many places. It would really be unfair to list a few people when there are probably hundreds who have inspired me. and more than just people. I find the most inspiring things to be locations. Nothing gets my brain working more than when I come upon a perfect environment.

What get’s you out of bed in the morning ?  Either my alarm clock or when I have to pee.

How do you manage to create self portraits ?

There’s a short answer and a long answer to this…… short answer: tripod and a self-timer. Long answer: I didn’t start photography with the intention of taking self-portraits. I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself to be a “self-portrait photographer”. Let me tell you though, Taking nude photographs (and in public places) of yourself doesn’t just happen. It takes time to grow comfortable with yourself in front of the camera. I remember being afraid to take off my shirt for a photo. Everyone’s different, but the more you photograph yourself, the more comfortable you’ll be with being uncomfortable.

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I saw you’re project #365, well done in achieving that, it’s quite a feat in itself. Where there many times when you thought, this is too hard, or I’m stuck and don’t know how to go forward. What drove you on when the going, got tough  ? : )

Also what were the high points ? It was more than just tough. It was almost impossible. That’s why I took me a year and six months to complete it. There were days where I was just completely drained and had no ideas… and I would shoot anyway. In fact I took a photo every day for way more than a year. I just became so picky with what I uploaded that I would miss days for weeks on end.

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You mentioned that when you first started taking photographs, you didn’t have any intention on making yourself the subject matter. What changed and how easy was it to not only be the main subject, but later often a nude subject in your work too. Has doing this made you a more confident person ?

It’s kind of inevitable when you get into self-portraits that you start taking nudes. I’m excited to start taking more this summer. Looking back a few years, I would say my confidence has increased quite drastically. Either from photography or just inner peace.

I was wondering if it feel strange for you, when you’re at a show of your photography, for others to see you naked in your work  ? Do you somehow manage to detract yourself from the person in the images at the time ?

I haven’t shown any nudes in my exhibitions yet. so I haven’t had that experience yet. I don’t think it would be a big deal, though.

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I know you often have other subjects in your work, are these mostly friends. Are there increasingly new people who either want to work with you, or people who you would like to work with ?

Yes and no. Yes, everyone who models for me is a friend. No, I haven’t gotten many requests for people wanting to model me… or maybe I’m just very picky.

Plans for the future ? I imagine they include job, trying to make a living etc ,good luck with the sales of the prints, a great idea. How much is photography a part of your life now ? Could you see yourself doing anything else ?

Not really. I plan to pursue photography for the rest of my life.

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Ben has recently had over 20,000 likes on his Facebook page and is also creating quite a stir on Tumblr too. If you’re around midtown Manhattan area then pop into Bar Catalonia and see his latest exhibition ‘We Are Dust’.

I wish him well.. watch this space !

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2014 8:17 am

    Ugh I hate. His photographs give me chills … and I keep looking at them and look at them … is this another way to feel the art?

    • April 4, 2014 9:29 am

      Well I guess it’s a strong reaction all the same. Perhaps the last set of images where it’s all about light, may make you feel differently ? I think it’s also good to explore why we don’t like certain art. Is it just the sense of discomfort that Ben’s images portray that makes you feel this way ? Thanks for your comment

  2. 54paintings permalink
    April 5, 2014 11:50 am

    Love ’em- but I have really scary dreams and always have!

    • April 5, 2014 1:10 pm

      Perhaps you need to paint away them demons ! Exorcise them in acrylics lol

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