William Zuback (born 1964) is a photographer from the USA currently residing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
He is fascinated by working with traditional photographic processes to create his art, mostly using black and white negative film.
William Zuback studied photography at Brooks Institute, Santa Barbara, California.
In another interview on this site William Zuback talks about the art of nude photography and explains why the naked body is often not the center of attention in nude portraits.
“My personal work most often explores the theme of ‘Identity’.
Whether I am photographing inanimate dolls, other inanimate objects or people; the underlying narrative is of identity of ones self, group, society or family.
I am currently represented by the Frank Juarez Gallery.”
Interview with William Zuback
William, why did you become a photographer? And what does photography mean to you?
I became a photographer to have a career in something I love doing. I discovered photography in junior high school, fell in love with it and it’s process and knew that that was how I wanted to make a living when I got older.
“What visual elements are important to communicate the idea?”
I have been a commercial photographer for over 25 years. To me, photography means communicating through the craft or discipline of the photographic process.
It isn’t any different from other forms of communication, you are trying to tell a story, make a statement or convey an emotion.
With photography you do this through the visual elements of lighting, camera/lens function, and composition.
How do you best shape your narrative to communicate your visual sentence? What visual elements are important to communicate the idea; is it the texture, the color, the shape, the scale of an object/scene that you highlight through the craft of photography to punctuate your statement?
Why are you particularly intrigued by traditional analog and alternative photographic processes?
I’ve found my way back to traditional analog processes after working exclusively with digital photographic technology for the last twelve years.
“The only alternative process I’ve experimented with so far is encaustic.”
Revisiting the view camera after more than a decade absence has allowed me to really slow down the photo process. This is a statement heard often with those who work with the analog process. I’m shooting exclusively black and white 4×5 film, photographing people portraiture and nudes.
I am reminded of the great amount of discipline and technique required with using the view camera and analog, to pay attention to all the details in the ground glass to get it right at point of capture.
At this time, I’m scanning the film and output to archival ink-jet prints. The only alternative process I’ve experimented with so far is encaustic. I need the alternative process to add to the narrative component of the work for me to use it.
I’ve used the encaustic with my nudes to illicit a veil or curtain, creating a barrier or obstructing the viewer from the clarity of the nude print.
A photographer has many “tools” at hand to bring across his message: lenses, lighting, framing, color treatment etc. Can you elaborate a little bit on the techniques you used for this particular project in order to link form and content?
My tools and equipment have never been the best but I’ve always made the best images with the equipment I had available to me.
My training has taught me that the craft of photography, which encompasses all that you listed in the question, is how you help formulate your visual statement or narrative.
When I teach, I talk often about the vocabulary of photography. Are you choosing the right words and punctuation (lighting, composition, lens focal length, depth of field, etc.) to best tell your story?
So my learned techniques have become important to bring together the visual shape or configuration of something to best express the subject matter and better tell the visual story of the idea and it’s meaning.
In other words: How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
My photographic language is pretty much described above in the last answer, my creative process is to express a visual narrative. Whether it’s inanimate objects or people/portraits, my creative process begins with a visual idea in my mind.
“I always allow for the photographic experience to organically grow.”
I like to create simple sets or props to communicate my idea through little vignettes or tableau’s.
I’m always trying to tell a visual story, even with a portrait. I usually choreograph these idea’s in my head and replay them over and over with how I plan to light and pose the subject.
When I finally get to the stage of actually doing the photo shoot I have a pretty good idea of what it is I want to accomplish. Having set objectives in mind is great but I always allow for the photographic experience to organically grow.
This is when, with portraits/people, I pay attention to their visual cues and body language.
The shoot might take a whole different direction based on the collaborative exchange and being in the moment. It might sound a bit odd but I’ve explained to people in the past that by the time I actually do the photo shoot, I’ve played much of it figuratively in my mind and it really takes on the quality of a dance or music.
I can actually feel a particular rhythm. The music I play during the shoot will often reflect what I experienced in my mind while developing the idea’s and execution.
What reaction do you intend to provoke in people looking at you photos?
In the past the reaction was often a more intellectual one and as much as I can respond positively to work like that I also felt it had gotten me away from what brought me to photography so many years ago and that was the power of a single well crafted image.
“I want to invoke beauty, strength, confidence and introspection.”
Since committing to using traditional photographic processes and a 4×5 view camera again, I am looking to create images that achieve that singular visual impact.
With the work of my portraits, linking the form and content of the craft and subject. I want to invoke beauty, strength, confidence and introspection.
My most recent work speaks more to the aesthetic qualities of the image and less about a specific ethical idea or concern.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
Gordon Parks, an absolute renaissance man.
He did it all, anything he set out to do, he did it. “The Learning Tree” is one of my all time favorite books.
His photography represents the gamut as a photography professional. Commercial, fashion, documentary, fine art, this man has done it all in photography and the other arts as well.
Parks described all of his work as, “Not allowing anyone to set boundaries, cutting loose the imagination, and then making the new horizons.”
What’s your favorite inspirational quote about photography?
“Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: ‘Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?'”
What kind of camera and equipment do you use?
I use a pretty basic camera, the Cambo 4×5 view camera with Schneider lenses.
My studio lights are white lightning strobes but I often use just the modeling lights instead of the strobes.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
To be honest, I don’t frequent photography websites on a regular basis. I find my inspiration in poetry and visit a website called Madswirl.
I do enjoy looking at work on a variety of websites but have never really become a loyal follower to any. That is the beauty of sites like Facebook, your art friends post a bunch of inspirational art and photography links on a daily basis so I’m always looking at work from a variety of sources.
What book about photography would you recommend?
I don’t know if I’d recommend it but let me indulge in explaining the book that was a big influence on me early in my career.
The book was “Forbidden Dreams” by photographer Rebecca Blake.
My biggest visual influence has always been the album art of the late 60’s, 70’s, and some of the 80’s.
In 1984 Pat Benatar released an album called Tropico and the album cover photo was created by Rebecca Blake. Remember that this was before the internet made it so easy to research and track down information on things of interest, the album listed the photography credit to Rebecca Blake and I then researched to find out who she was and then discovered this book, Forbidden Dreams.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to get started with photography?
It’s an old cliche but you must learn to walk before you can run and you need to know the rules before they can be broken.
If you choose to make photography your medium for visual expression, take the time to learn and perfect the craft of photography.
It will add to your visual narrative and give it a greater visual dimension and nuance.