Here’s an exclusive interview with young but very talented graphic design student and photographer Sarah Zanon.
Sarah Zanon was one the supporters of the Petzval Kickstarter campaign. A choice selection of her Petzval shots have been previously featured on the Magazine. She shoots digitally as well as on film, and has even tried some Lomo cameras and film. In this exclusive interview, she talks about her passion as a photographer, inspirations, and experience with the Lomography Petzval Lens.
When and how did you get started in photography and what encouraged you to pursue it?
I have always had a great appreciation for all things art. I was a competitive figure skater for many years and I feel that photography is another way to express my artistic side. I’ve had an interest in photography for as long as I can remember. It started off as a hobby when I bought my first DSLR camera in 2010. I was only in the 10th grade at the time, so I read the camera’s manual from front to back and taught myself how to properly use it and started learning through experience by doing photo shoots for fun with my friends. I then continued to take photography courses through out the rest of high school. My work got some attention and I began to get hired for freelance work. Steering away from my initial intent, sciences, in the 11th grade, I fell in love with photography and graphic design and decided to pursue it in post-secondary school, turning my passions into a career. I now study at OCAD University, doing freelance work on the side, and I could not be happier.
At the moment, do you shoot digitally, on film, or both? Do you have a preference?
I shoot primarily digital, but I experiment with film as well! I get a rush from shooting with film. I love the anticipation of seeing how your roll turns out and experimenting with different types of film and techniques. Digital is so easy to shoot, where film feels more like an art. I think overall I still prefer to shoot digitally, because it’s just so much more practical, but if I’m shooting experimentally I resort to film.
What do you have in your camera bag these days, and how often do you get to shoot?
I always have my digital SLR, two lenses, and an extra battery and memory card. I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III—it’s my baby—I named her Summer…for no particular reason. I always have my Canon 24-70mm/2.8f and my portrait 50mm/1.4f lens—but lately I have primarily been shooting with the Petzval Art Lens! I shoot as often as I can. I always have a camera on me wherever I go. During school, I have a little less time to shoot, so when I have time off I tend to go on as many photo excursions as I can!
What Lomography products have you tried? Any favorites?
Lomography film fascinates me! I have shot with X-Pro Chrome 100 and I currently have LomoChrome Purple in my camera and the Cine200 waiting to be shot. I also have a La Sardina Beluga camera, which I’m hoping to get more use out of this year! Next on my wish list is definitely the LomoKino 35mm Movie Camera—I’d love to create a short with it! Experimenting with the different Lomography films is my favourite thing to do above anything else.
What kind of subjects do you prefer to take photos of?
There’s a different kind of satisfaction that comes from taking portraits rather than landscapes that I enjoy equally. With landscapes, you can take an ordinary scene and turn it into a surreal, dreamlike world that nobody has ever entered before—finding magic in the unexpected. With portraits, it’s so much fun to portray different characters and emotions. I like having a narrative to go along with each shoot—telling a story gets those viewing the photos more involved and interested in the process.
What do you think is your specialty? How would you describe your personal style?
I think portraits are my specialty. My personal style is constantly evolving with each shoot I do, so it’s hard for me to put a pin in it. If you were to go through my entire Flickr archive, which I have been adding to since 2010, you would see my progression and constant changes in my work. I always strive to create a surreal tone within my images. Lately I have been experimenting with changing the colour channels and hues of an image on Photoshop to create an infrared-like image. I’m always looking for something different to try—keeping my work interesting!
What inspires you to shoot?
I derive inspiration from everywhere. Whether it’s another photographer’s work, or a certain song or even a movie—I’m constantly absorbing everything in my surroundings and viewing it through my camera. Sometimes I don’t even know where my inspiration comes from, but it’s just a jumble of people and things that I observed and appreciated. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to constantly be creating something better than I was five minutes ago. I scribble a lot in my sketchbook and do a whole lot of word maps when I get a mental block. At the end of the day, above all else, my late best friend Connor is who inspires me to get back out there and keep doing my thing.
Who are your greatest influences, and what is it about them/their work that you particularly admire?
Lately my greatest influences are Neil Krug and Lana Del Rey. Their work is so beautiful both separately and together. I particularly enjoy the illustration aspect of Neil’s work and how every photo looks like a unique piece of art that was delicately put together—I strive for this kind of outcome in my own work. Even though Lana Del Rey is primarily a musician, I feel like we have similar artistic visions and I often turn to her music for inspiration. She has this haunting voice that resonates with her meaningful lyrics and I often find myself connecting my photos to pieces of her music and using them as image titles. Man Ray is another favorite photographer of mine. I find the Surrealist and Dada periods so intriguing. I particularly enjoy the exploration of the uncanny in his work and the surreal atmospheres in his photographs.
Please share 5 to 10 of your best/favorite photos and tell us about them.*
#1. These Strong Winds & #2. With Peace – These two shots are of my beautiful friend, Tiyana. Believe it or not, these were actually for a grade 12 photography assignment and it was one of the first times I shot in RAW. There’s something about these two photos that will always be in my top 10 favorites.
#3. Where You Invest Your Love – I took this photo in my backyard during the summer of 2011 of my friend Jennifer. I love this photo because it can be interpreted in so many different ways. She almost looks ghost-like through the weeds—like an angel ascending to heaven.
#4. Chasing Leaves in The Wind- This is one of my favorite compositions that I have ever put together. It contains three photos and some film and gradient overlays. It is actually plaqued on the wall of my bedroom in Toronto.
- Laguna- This photo of Orlean was taken at Laguna Beach during our trip to California last summer. The lighting, the ocean in the background, and her hair messily blowing in the wind all coexist so seamlessly. We took a lot of photos on this trip, and this one has to be my favorite of her.
- The Scene- This HDR image was taken in California at Balboa Island. It’s my favorite landscape shot from the trip. I have this on canvas in my apartment and it looks like a painting. It draws a blurred line between a painting and a photograph, which for me has it enter a surreal realm.
- Perception- I took this shot of the ocean in the Bahamas and, surprisingly, didn’t get my camera wet. Someone pointed out to me that there’s a little heart formation in the top of the wave in the shot—I thought that was the neatest thing.
#9. So we beat on- This multiple exposure was taken with my Nikon FE2 and Lomography X-Pro Chrome 100 35mm film on the harbor in downtown Toronto. I titled it after the quote from The Great Gatsby, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past,” because it just felt like a nostalgic image to me.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your work?
I once received a kind of weird compliment that has resonated with me ever since. They said something along the lines of, “a lot of girls your age just run around with cameras and look cute—but you actually have talent. You’re going places.” I guess I can’t say it’s the best compliment I’ve ever received, but one of the most interesting. I definitely appreciate any and all feedback.
Please share milestones/projects that you’re particularly proud of and tell us the story behind them. Please share some pictures too.
It’s hard to say because I’m so young. I feel like I’m moving from project to project so fast that I sometimes don’t even realize how much I’m growing as a photographer. Everything I do feels like a new and exciting adventure. This past summer has been remarkable. I recently just reached 500 likes on my Facebook page, which is huge for me, and this interview is definitely a significant milestone. It is one of the greatest feelings to have your hard work appreciated! All I have ever wanted to do is share my work with the world and try to get others to see the magic I do through my camera eyepiece and to look at their surroundings a little differently…and I feel that I am well on my way to achieving this.
Do you remember your first reaction when you saw the Petzval on Kickstarter? How about when you received your Petzval lens? Please do share.
When I first saw the project on Kickstarter I was so intrigued by the magical swirly bokeh effect the lens produced and also how visually pleasing it looked in gold. I instantly knew I needed it for my collection and backed the project right away. When I first received the lens I was beyond excited and so anxious to begin using it. I was so impressed with how beautifully it was packaged—receiving it was like a dream. It is the most unique lens I own!
Please tell us about your experience with the new Petzval lens. Did you encounter any difficulties? Please share pictures and tell us about your favorites.
The first time I really tested out the lens, I ran around my backyard and shot everything. Getting the focus just right was a little bit difficult at first, but that was really the only problem I ran into. The majority of my favourite photos taken with the Petzval are with my very talented and beautiful friend, Orlean. We did two shoots in my hometown, Beamsville, both around sunset—so you can see a continuation of the same mood and colours. I think my favourite photo is ‘Child of The Earth,’ which is actually one of the first shots we took. I feel like it captures the essence of the entire shoot and interprets the objectives of innocence and freedom, all under a surreal, dream-like tone. Our ‘Star Child’ shoot was unplanned, but sometimes I find the best shots are taken spontaneously. Using the star aperture plate during this shoot, the subtle star bokehs heighten the original magic the lens makes and creates a beautiful atmosphere within the photos.
I am so excited to continue taking photos with the Petzval lens and creating magical compositions with it for years to come.
What is your favorite Petzval and camera set-up?
I’ve only ever used it with my Canon 5D Mark III, so I guess I’ll have to say that! I would love to try it out with my analogue camera as well.
What advice would you give to aspiring photographers? How about on shooting (portraits) with the Petzval lens?
Shoot, shoot, shoot! Then shoot some more! The best way to learn is through experience. Get creative and try different experiments—you never know until you try. Remember that there is NEVER such a thing as too many photos.
When shooting with the Petzval lens take your time—especially with portraits. Getting the focus just right can be a little tricky at first. Try shooting in live-mode so you can have a larger view of the subject and the focus points. This lens creates some pretty magical imagery when you get the hang of it.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to promote?
There aren’t any specific projects coming up. During the school semesters I usually don’t have a lot of time to work on personal projects, but I’m constantly brainstorming new ideas for when I have the time. I love video as well. I have a Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/iamsarahzanon where I post small projects I have done. I’m planning on making a short film in the future, but I need to find the time to dedicate all my focus and do it right. I have been doing a lot of experimental photography lately. I do have a new series that I am currently putting together—it’s a work in progress—it may be one of those projects/series that I’ll continually add to. You can see a little teaser of it on my Facebook page; it’s called the “Ultraviolence Series.”
Any last words?
Beauty is all around you. Take the time to scope it out and enjoy it, even without a camera around your neck.
You can check more of Sarah’s work on the following: