Meet Bronx-born artist Ben Zank, whose photography captures some of the most agile human bodies and awkward movements you will ever see. We spoke about concept art, the photographic dialogue and why shooting can be rough on your health.
The Re|view: You took up photography for fun when you found an old camera in your grandmother’s attic. Have you studied it in school or university, too, or do you do something completely different for a living, like accountancy or volleyball coaching?
I actually hold a BA in journalism. I took a total of two photography classes during my sophomore year, and looking back I think it was my professor from those two classes who really prompted me to continue shooting. Right now I work with a start-up company that sells delicious oat and fruit smoothies, and I also do production work on the set of a popular TV show. Do I want to pursue photography as a career? I’m not entirely sure yet, but each day seems brighter.
The Re|view: A lot of your shots are taken outdoors. Do you plan your outings or do you just roam and see what happens?
A little of both! Although my best work usually involves some minimal planning and location scouting. I try to do that more often these days. The free roaming I’ll-just-photograph-whatever-looks-cool was something I was doing more during my 365 project, which forced me to shoot every day on a tight schedule. Most of the time I spend a good hour sitting on a rock or a tree trunk contemplating my existence and then quickly take a photo before it gets dark. Planning saves time.
The Re|view: I guess one could call some of your work concept art. How would you describe those concepts, and why are they important to you?
I’d say it is. I’m fascinated by how easy it can be to make something seem surreal, and at the same time it can be infinitely hard to create a truly successful image. I can’t really describe it any better than that. But they are indeed important to me. I’m generally a very private person, especially when it comes to expressing my feelings. I don’t like to get too personal when it comes to talking about myself. My self-portraits are aiming to create a silent dialogue between my emotions and the viewer. I find myself returning to very specific themes: being stuck to something, falling into something, rising out of something, etc. I’m not going to sit here and try to explain what they mean. It’s best left up to the viewer.
The Re|view: Many of your shots show people in somewhat awkward positions – falling, jumping, bending, floating – why?
Because sitting and standing is boring. Well… I have photos of people doing that, too. I guess you could say that I believe the human body is capable of adapting itself to countless scenarios that occur in life and the figures in my photographs are living out those scenarios on an abstract and extreme level.
The Re|view: You seem to get wet a lot. Do you get ill often?
I’ve got a pretty good track record on my health. I just invested in some pricey multivitamins, but good nutrition is something you shouldn’t take lightly. As for getting wet or cold, hypothermia has definitely been my biggest fear. I’ve came pretty close to it twice. Once when I had to lie still for five minutes in a stream full of leaves in late November. My entire lower body went numb. The second time was in late December during a snow shower. I was running around in my bathing suit and some goggles with nothing else on. Who knows what I’ll do this winter.
The Re|view: What do you tell your models when you want them to do something weird? Do you have ‘Ben Zank words of motivation’?
If someone’s agreed to model for me, they already know what’s in store. I haven’t shot many models yet (I do my own stunts!) but my friends are pretty cool and open minded people and generally don’t give me any trouble when I tell them to do something odd. Anything for art.
Ben Zank holds the sole copyright for the images displayed above.