Photographer in Focus:
interviewed by Hannah Green
H: First of all, could you tell us a little about your background? How did your interest in art and photography develop?
Z: My interest in photography started at school, me and my friends found out that one of our teachers was interested in photography and had all the gear, and we literally begged him for ages to bring his equipment in and teach us how to shoot studio portraits. Finally, he gave in and began to show us how to set up a photographic studio and shoot portraiture. From committing so much of our time into photography our teacher organised for the three of us to take it as a GCSE, (which looking back was such a cool thing for him to do) and we were actually able to do that.
Photography was the only GCSE I got. After leaving school with nothing but one GCSE and then a fairly large portfolio of photographs, I went onto Newcastle College to study a BTEC in photography. At this time, I was focused completely on fashion and portrait photography. After college I began studying fashion photography at the London College of Fashion, which I soon realised was the complete wrong course for me. Moving to London and being out of Newcastle for the first time on my own, I realised I was no longer interested in fashion. Being in London opened me up to a rich array of culture and new experiences, which was so new and exciting for me after coming from the North East. I found myself spending a lot of time exploring all the different parks around London, trying to find lakes, ponds, shaded and damp areas where I would get completely transfixed. I began creating so much work focused on the under-appreciated parts of nature. I made the decision to transfer courses and went on to study fine art photography at Camberwell College of Arts in London. I experimented so much with different mediums during my studies and this was integral for my work and I learned a lot. I graduated in 2017, and have since been dedicating all my free time to my own practice, taking part in exhibitions, collaborating with other creatives and also making and self publishing an art zine that I make with a friend of mine.
H: Are there any particular artists, photographers or movements which have informed or inspired your work?
Z: I am inspired by so many different kinds of artists on a daily basis so that is a difficult question, but those that really resonate with me and I have spent a lot of time researching are people like Andrea Büttner who is a German artist, working in a variety of different media. I am particularly interested in her works using moss which she focused on from 2010-2014. Büttner created a live moss installation at Hollybush Gardens in London, 2014, which I found incredibly beautiful. Stephen Gill is another artist that resonates a lot with me, his nature works are very lab-like and completely abstract, a lot of the time they could easily be mistaken for paintings and I love that. As well as Angel Albarrán and Anna Cabrera who work collaboratively as fine art photographers creating beautiful dream-like imagery that questions perception, with a lot of oriental influence.
H: Your pieces often appear as an abstraction of nature, which seems at once alien and deeply familiar. Tell us about your relationship with nature, and how this informs your work.
Z: My photographs are extremely personal because they are my relationship with nature, through completely my own perception. I find the underbellies of nature truly mesmerising, and I get lost in them. When using the term underbellies I am referring to mosses, algae and unusual growths such as dog vomit fungus. These are parts of nature that would mostly be seen as un-idealistic, they are not nature’s idealistic sunsets, fresh blooms or fragrant rains. There is something very painterly about my photographs which is how I see these damp, vibrant and mostly unappreciated aspects of nature when I am in amongst them. I literally see them as paintings. Abstraction plays a huge part in my work and I enjoy it because I like the viewer to find aspects of familiarity but at the same time not be able to place exactly what they are looking at. This is satisfying for me – the unattainable, unknown.
H: To tie in with the previous question, could you tell us a little about your artistic process? I'm really intrigued by the idea of burying and unearthing photographs.
Z: I began the burying process when I was trying to come up with the best way for nature to have some sort of physical influence and power over my photographic prints. My prints are very big, 100cm x 150cm, so burying them is quite an extreme and physical task. I started burying my prints around the same locations they had been photographed so they were laid “at home” in a sense. I would leave them for 3-6 months and then go back and dig them up to see what physical changes nature had cast upon them. Discolouring, and a lot of torn, eaten away holes would be the most noticeable differences as well as a complete change in texture. My prints became very stiff after being buried, taking on a sculptural form. I then decided to exhibit my prints as sculptures. It is very fulfilling to have given nature the chance to have such a physical impact on my work and changing the medium from print to sculpture I found so interesting because as sculptures they became very similar physically to the subjects of the original prints. After exhibiting the sculptures I would re-bury and re-unearth until the prints completely disintegrate. It’s an extremely long and tiring process.
H: What projects have you enjoyed the most? What are you proudest of?
Z: I would say because of space and freedom I am most proud of my degree show work because I was able to completely build my own space without any restrictions. The photographs I exhibited are some of my favourite I have ever taken, and they never get old, which means I really like them because it is so easy as an artist to make work and look back on it, see flaws and things you wish you had done differently but with that work I really don’t, I still love it just as much.
I am also currently working on a project with a friend of mine Shakila Thebe who is a fashion designer so that is really exciting because we are from two different worlds of creativity colliding but there are a lot of similarities in our work, we both focus strongly on the environment, and we have the same beliefs so I think this project is going to be something really special.
H: A residency in Buenos Aires sounds amazing - can you tell us more about your experience there?
Z: I visited Buenos Aires in 2016 to undertake an artist residency with the R.A.R.O collective who are a fantastic group of creatives based in Buenos Aires and now also Madrid. The artists in the collective work in a wide range of different art forms and provide support, guidance and teaching during the residencies. The collective provided me with two ateliers, for the first half of my residency I worked in the Espacio Punto y Aparte with photographer Santiago Kimsa where I developed my analogue photography skills. Then during the second half of my stay I worked in a painting studio with artist Fátima Pecci, where I created a large painting that was created to be a backdrop for images to be projected on top of. I then got the pleasure of exhibiting the work I made during my time there in a solo show which was so cool to be able to have the opportunity to do that. During my residency I spent a lot of time exploring nature within the city as well as on the outskirts. It was a very fulfilling experience for me to see how different nature is over there and was one of the main reasons I chose to do a residency there. The highlight of my trip was photographing a tree where the trunk was acid yellow – it blew my mind.
H: How has lockdown/coronavirus/this big mess impacted your practice? What are you working on at the moment?
Z: Lockdown has been great for me in terms of making work because I have had so much time to commit to my own practice. Exploring parts of nature that I grew up around, as well as visiting places I had never been before, it has been a really fulfilling time creatively. I am currently exploring new forms and processes that I can bring to my work, which is exciting but also letting go of control is difficult for me so I am trying to embrace change and experimentation as openly as I can, and this is definitely a direct result of the impact of lockdown. I have felt for a while that change is on the horizon with my work, but I haven’t had the space to completely focus on that so the last few free months have been time for me to do this.
I have a lot going on right now with a group exhibition – Nature Encapsulated, coming up next month at Lewisham Arthouse in London, which will be a really alien experience since people haven’t been in a gallery environment for a while. We have to of course adhere to social distancing restrictions, it’s going to be a completely different experience that we are all going to have to get used to. As well as this I am working on collaborations and am always working on my art zine – Bupkis which I make with my friend Isabel-Alsina.