Zack Ahern Interview

Written by  //  January 31, 2012  //  Interviews  //  1 Comment

On your upcoming trip to Vietnam, you’ve said you hope to tell photo stories that will help the people there. Do you see yourself branching into more journalistic photography?

Cerebral Hemorrhage - Zack Ahern

Cerebral Hemorrhage - Zack Ahern

Though there are many reasons I’m excited about my upcoming trip to Vietnam, one of the reasons is to see how I can put my own spin on more journalistic-type photos. Photojournalism has never appealed to me as a career, but I love looking at the work of great photojournalists, mostly because of their ability to tell a story in a single frame. I have never really tried my hand at it, minus the occasional event here and there, so I am interested to see what kind of photos I can get while I’m in Vietnam. I think what will make my photos from Vietnam different from someone who is a trained photojournalist is that I see the world differently than they do and will approach photos in a different way than they do. I love conceptual work and I hope to be able to not just take moving images, but combine my storytelling abilities with real world people. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but I think it is a great opportunity to help me grow as a photographer and artist. Needless to say, I’m super excited about my trip.

You are a big proponent of the do-it-yourself style: making your own props, building sets, teaching yourself to use a camera and Photoshop. What suggestions do you have for artists looking to do the same at a high level of quality?

The Christmas Sacrifice - Zack Ahern

The Christmas Sacrifice - Zack Ahern

I will be the first to tell up-and-coming artists that there are pros and cons to the do-it-yourself mentality. The reason I like doing everything myself is that I have control over every aspect of the image: the colors, the location, the framing, the lighting, etc. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I finish editing a conceptual picture and know that I built it from scratch. That being said, I am very interested in starting to collaborate with models, makeup artists, and others to take my vision to the next level. For artists interested in doing everything themselves, you have to be very dedicated and also very detail oriented. It’s easy to get caught up in a prop that isn’t working, or doesn’t look right, and scrap the whole picture instead of working through the difficulties and making a great picture. One of the cons when you are in charge of everything is that you take on a lot more responsibility. If an idea, prop, pose, or lighting scheme doesn’t work, you are the only one who can fix it and eventually make it work. So if you’re interested in doing it yourself, learn to be patient, learn to work through problems as they arise without panicking, and learn when to compromise and when to be critical so that you can create amazing works of art.

You have a virtual presence on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. How has each of these platforms affected your visibility, and what have you done to maximize their benefits?

Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube have all had their own benefits. I got started on Flickr and that was what really launched my career, though I have slowly faded from that community in recent months. It was a great community to start in; I had lots of support from other photographers, gained a lot of visibility, and was very inspired to create because I was surrounded by other artists who loved to create. For me, Facebook has been better for connecting with people locally. A lot of friends share my work, and I have gained a lot of clients from mutual friends. My favorite part about YouTube is my ability to post video tutorials and reviews so that I can give back to the photography community. I do not personally agree with artists that keep secrets and don’t help younger artists. To me, if you are successful, you have an obligation to help others and be encouraging to up-and-coming artists. I am a relatively new member to Twitter, but after only being on there for a month, I have seen the vast potential it has for marketing. I have been able to contact photographers for help, get equipment advice, market my new website, and really feel like I am a part of the photography community. Twitter has me really excited because of its potential, and I think there are great opportunities for me there.

Post Holiday Depression - Zack Ahern

Post Holiday Depression - Zack Ahern

Photo illustration isn’t always welcome in some photography purist circles. Have you faced any opposition like this, and what do you think is the best market for photo illustration?

I think as a young artist, having critics or people who don’t agree with the way you create is one of the hardest things to deal with. When I first got started taking photographs, I wanted everybody to like my work, which I eventually learned was impossible and clouded my personal vision. Today, I really don’t pay any mind to critics or people who don’t like my work. It was not easy to learn not to listen to critics, but I am much happier now that I am comfortable with my vision as an artist. When you are creating work you truly love, it really doesn’t matter what anybody else says about it. I don’t necessarily consider my work photo illustration, but I think advertising and fine art photography definitely has a place for the techniques I use. I love creating surreal works; sometimes with props, sometimes with Photoshop techniques. I try not to put limitations on my vision and use whatever tools are necessary to create my work.

Your work was used on the cover of Melina Marchetta’s book Froi of the Exiles. How has that affected your recognition as an artist/photographer?

Being on the cover of the Froi of The Exiles as both the model and the photographer has definitely given me a lot of recognition in the past six months. I have been interviewed by numerous blogs, been personally thanked by Marchetta herself (super cool and super humbling), and have had lots of people contact me who are interested in working with me in the future. It’s really been a blessing, and I know it will lead to some great opportunities in the future.

Is there any subject matter or technique you have not explored that we might see in your work in the future?

Though I have a huge body of work because of two yearly projects, I still feel fairly young as an artist. There are still tons of techniques I want to learn, people I want to work with, ideas I want to create, and places I want to photograph. As of right now, my main focus is the work I create while I am in Vietnam. My goal is to come back with a series of portraits and stories that could possibly be shown in a gallery. I had a gallery showing several years ago before I even started taking portraits and it was an incredible experience. I would love to show in a gallery again now that I am much more experienced and have a much clearer vision to share with the world.

About Zack Ahern:

I was born on December 4th, 1988, in Stillwater, Oklahoma and would eventually become the first of several artists in the family. I have two sisters; Kylie who is a violin performance major at Oklahoma State University, and Bree Ann who is about to graduate from high school with hopes of going to Boston University for cello performance. I grew up on a 25-acre stretch of farmland just outside of Stillwater where I spent most of my childhood. I got my first camera when I was sixteen and spent most of my time taking pictures of birds, bugs, and anything else that would hold still long enough. I never had an interest in doing portrait photography until I started a 365 project in May of 2009. During that project, I took a picture a day for an entire year. I took a great number of self-portraits during this time and really grew to love portrait photography. Today, I have a passion for all kinds of photography, but my true passion is portrait photography and creating conceptual and surreal photos.

Target Practice - Zack Ahern

Target Practice - Zack Ahern

Contact Information:

Flickr: zackahern
FaceBook: zackahernphotography
Twitter: @zackahern

About the Author

Michelle Markelz is currently doing the J-school thing at the University of Missouri where she will graduate in May of 2012 with an emphasis in magazine. Her writing interests include women's issues and critical reviewing of the performing arts. She enjoys listening to Christmas music out of season. She is originally from Chicago and hopes to work there upon graduation. When she eventually hits it big, she would like to open up a stationary store and sell her original greeting card designs for exorbitant prices.

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