meet art wall artist: jen zahigian of roadside photographs

June 03, 2010

Got the summer adventurer's itch? Not to worry, you may now travel back in time and across the country with Jen Zahigian of Roadside photographs. Today Jen will share about the making of her work.

(AW) You mention in your bio that your grandfather helped you in the darkroom when you were younger - do you think that his voice carries through at all in your work today?
(JZ) Yes, definitely I do think that his voice carries through in my work. I still use many of his cameras and lenses, and his darkroom equipment now decorates my studio. Although our subject matters tend to differ (I opt for urban subjects and my grandfather focused on wildflowers). I think our approach to photography is somewhat similar. From him, I learned that seeing the world through a viewfinder is like seeing into a new and different world. He instilled the idea that there's much to be found when we take the time to really look around. I think too, because of him and his excitement to experiment with photography, I maintain a playful approach. I love the surprises. Whether photographing a field of wildflowers or a decaying roadside sign, there's always much to discover upon closer inspection.

I'm really fortunate because my Grandfather is still around, at 96 years young. He was able to attend my first gallery exhibition, which was so exciting. In many ways I feel like I'm continuing his legacy, in my own style.

(AW) What makes a successful photo in your eyes?
(JZ) I think a successful photo communicates emotion. I don't think it's necessarily about what the photographer has intended to say, but more about sparking an emotion within a viewer.

(AW) What interests you about the scenes you capture?
(JZ) I guess I must be interested in the passing of time. I love to see signs of age and wear, and how time affects people, places and objects. When I see an old sign or abandoned building, my mind instantly begins to wander and create narratives on what a scene may have looked like decades prior. I grew up in a town that continually tears down the old to replace it with new, so in a way I think I create my photographs as a way to remind people that however forlorn, there's still beauty to be found.

(AW) That's an empowering notion. "Wonder No. 3" and "Wonder No. 4" (above) are perfect in their simlicity. Have you always been a photographer?
(JZ) Yes and no, I guess. Photography has always been my primary artistic method. As far back as 4th grade, I remember taking my SLR camera on family vacations. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English Lit, and planned to enter into book publishing. The day after I finished my final exams, I pulled my camera out from under my bed, and walked around campus to shoot pictures. On that day, I snapped a photograph of a group of boys climbing a tree, which I am still proud of. I call the photograph "Graduation Day," but it's not the boys in the photo who graduated, it was Me. As soon as I developed that roll of film and saw this photo, something clicked and photography became my focus. Although I hadn't used my camera in years, my photo excursion that afternoon felt so wonderful and meditative. Quite simply, I realized photography makes me happy.

(AW) What inspires you to make your work?
(JZ) I'm inspired by illustration of the 1940s - 1960s, typography, the color of old movies and book covers. And of course, travel. I love the excitement of being on the road, because you never know what you'll discover. Inspiration is usually not a conscious thing for me, I just know it when I feel it, and thankfully I seem to feel it quite often. One of my favorite forms of inspiration comes in the form of words, via books or song lyrics. My Father is probably the best storyteller I know, and I'm inspired by his colorful stories of growing up in California. I'm inspired by the notion that my photographs are storytellers too. I'm continually inspired by people, and the act of sharing my work. Because I photograph a lot of signs and old defunct buildings, people often share their memories of such places with me: "I ate my honeymoon dinner there..." or "my father used to work there..." or "my family vacationed there every summer..." Interacting with people in this way is truly a joy.

(AW) I think the reminiscent quality of your photos carries through, even for those who don't know the places you're shooting. It seems like the images are full of history by nature - almost as if you're uncovering the past for the rest of us. Thanks for sharing, Jen!

Jen's piece, "Skycab #2," is in the Nursery on Artwall. Her Etsy shop is something of a vintage photo album, as is her personal website. For daily thoughts and photo ventures, visit her blog.


My Owl Barn said...

Loved the interview! The photos are stunning especially the second set. Have a great day!

Creategirl said...

WOW I am so drawn into the picture of the woman looking over the city. I feel like it could be me, loving my city life and taking in each little piece of architecture! lovely!

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