Friday, November 1, 2013

Zack Arias: Master Of The Balancing Act

By David Willis, Photography By Zack Arias Published in Photographer Profiles
Zack Arias: Master Of The Balancing Act
When we spoke for this article, Zack Arias was in the midst of preparations for several new adventures, including a trip to London, where he was slated to lead a small speedlight workshop, as well as a total overhaul of his website, with new PhotoShelter integration and another brand-new site, Dead Pixel, which is destined to become a central resource from Arias on everything from shooting tips to gear reviews. Based out of Atlanta, the photographer is omnipresent on the web, with an absolutely massive Facebook and Twitter following. A visit to his Tumblr page will uncover an extensive archive of 1,500 question-and-answer sessions, and he follows up the majority of questions on gear by pointing out to his readers that they should get out and shoot.

"I'm a big advocate that you've got to learn the technical side of photography," says Arias. "You need to learn how to light, you need to learn how your cameras work, you need to learn how your lenses work and all of that, but you can't stay focused on it. I see a lot of photographers get really focused on the technical, but they can't let go of it and then shoot. It's almost like a Karate Kid-Mr. Miyagi kind of thing, where you've got to wax on and wax off, but at some point you have to close your eyes and be able to do it by feel and touch and emotion. I've put a lot of years into learning the technical and now what I'm trying to do with my life is forget it."

Arias' photography is mostly portraiture driven, and he has chosen recently to diversify by expanding from commercial and editorial work into street reportage, as well. Whether working in the studio or shooting off the cuff, as he does so often with his street work, his style is mostly about capturing the idiosyncratic and humorous character of his subjects against minimal backgrounds that still reveal the environment for establishing context. He began with portraiture by working with local bands, expanding from $100-a-day sessions into large campaigns for record companies. But this all-eggs-in-one-basket approach to his portfolio almost kept him from becoming the success he is today because his career, which was tied to the music business, tanked along with the music business.

"What I've learned," he explains about the resulting bankruptcy that nearly forced him from photography, "is that as great as photography is, and as creative as photography is, the fact of the matter is that you're a businessperson. You're running a business, and whether that's a landscaping business or a laundry business or a bank or car dealership, you're a business, and dealing with the money aspect of being in business is the most difficult thing to do, especially for creatives because our brains aren't wired that way.

"I was a full-time music photographer," he continues. "I was paying my rent and feeding my kids by shooting bands, and within 60 days it was all gone. And it really sent me for a loop. I talked to some well-established folks in the music industry, and they said, 'Yep, it's gas prices!', because musicians live on the road, that's how they make their money, by touring. And once they started spending all their extra money on gas—cause they're not touring in a Prius, they're touring in some '79 Econoline van that gets two miles to the gallon—there was no more money for photos. I was kind of a luxury item at that point."

Arias says that he was faced with the decision of slashing his rates, which would return him to the point at which he started, or he could find another way forward. It was at this point he began to diversify by building his editorial and commercial photography.

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