As the main character in most of his own images, Ben Zank is no stranger to the art of the selfie. But for this New York City-based photographer, expressing himself in front of the camera goes beyond the typical headshot.
Ben’s work explores our common feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as our relationship to nature. While the majority of Ben’s photos use basic, everyday props to shift the viewer’s perception of reality, he’s also been making a living behind the camera for the past three years doing commissions and campaigns for commercial clients – particularly clothing companies, which he says seem to gravitate toward his style of simple surrealism.
Though Ben got his start on Flickr, shooting self-portraits every day for a 365 project, his work has now been published and exhibited around the world. We chatted with Ben about how Instagram has changed the meaning of the self-portrait, how the natural world influences his unnatural compositions, and how his color blindness impacts the way he uses color in his work.
When did you first begin to consider yourself a photographer and artist? How did you get your start?
So, I first picked up the camera at the age of 18. I was coming out of high school and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself, and I was trying a bunch of different, I guess, creative avenues. One day, I was at my grandmother’s house and she let me rummage through her attic, and I found her old Pentax ME Super in perfect condition.
I was super excited about it, and she let me take it home. I didn’t even know how to open up the back of the camera, so I couldn’t even shoot with it for three months. But once I figured that out, I was hooked. And then, by my next birthday, I was begging my parents to help me get my first digital camera. And then I joined Flickr; the rest is history.
I ended up getting into a lot of self-portrait photographers; I’d followed them and saw they were doing 365. So several years later, when I was in college and I was majoring in journalism and kind of really disenchanted by it, I decided that I didn’t have anything to lose, so I started my own 365 that I did on Flickr and ended up making a lot of other friends through that.
I didn’t really start considering myself an artist until much, much later on. Even still, to this day, if people ask me what I do, I’ll say, “I’m a photographer, but…” I either refer to myself as a photographer or artist, but I would more consider myself an artist because I don’t shoot weddings or do headshots. I’m kind of just out there in the woods sort of messing around.