Literary Orphans

Interview with Zak Milofsky

1. What sparked your interest in photography, and when did you know you would pursue being an artist?

My parents deserve much of the credit. From a very young age I was interested in all things creative and they always encouraged me to pursue different ways of expressing my creativity. My dad was a keen photographer in his teens but working full time and having kids put that on hold, so I sort of picked up from where he left off. I still use all of his old equipment for film photography. It was probably my interest in Photoshop which started in the early 2000’s that led me to purchasing a DSLR when I was fourteen. I always knew that art would be a major part of my future, but this was when I decided to become an artist.

2. What other artists and art forms have influenced you and your work?

My photography influences range from the over-the-top manipulated works of Ben Heine and Dave Hill, to the more traditional candid styles of Henri Cartier Bresson and Richard Mosse. I love to explore the possibilities of editing through Photoshop and often use it to create something surreal. Actually, the infinite amount of editing possibilities offered by Photoshop plays a large part in the outcome of the work I produce. I am in art college at the moment and I find it quite inspirational to just walk up and down the studios and view the other students work. It’s a really important part of my education and constantly provoking new ideas and helps me think differently about my own approach to and understanding of my art.

3. Can you describe your current artistic process, habits, techniques you have formed?

My ideas generally come from all different sources. For example, many of my photographs are candid shots of friends or family. My work is rarely planned but one day I might wake up with a visual idea and I will work to realise that idea as soon as possible. Almost everything passes through Photoshop at some stage but sometimes I start with a quick sketch on paper. I always carry a pen and notebook for when I get an idea suddenly that I think might be worth developing further at a later stage. I also love to do things on a zero budget as it forces me to adapt and develop my DIY side.

4. Is storytelling important in your photography?

Every photograph tells its own story, but I personally think each viewer has their own interpretation. I focus more on the aesthetic which enhances the underlying subject and sets the tone.

5. What are some of your favorite books, poems, authors?

I like biographies and short books. Music also plays a big part in my life and I always work with it playing in the background. Usually something calm and acoustic, so it’s not too distracting.  A few years back I was really into the band The Eels, led by Mark Oliver Everett. His biography is an example of the sort of thing I like to read. In it he talks about the artistic endeavor as well as the meanings and influences behind his music. I also found the songwriting process described in it fascinating – the creative process is very similar in art and music and no doubt in other creative pursuits as well.

6. Can you put into words the way you have evolved over time as a photographer?

I started creating as a child, using traditional media such as paint or pencils on paper but as I grew I began to experiment with digital photo manipulation. I would swap the faces of my family members and place things in the background of photos that didn’t belong there. Everyone usually laughed at the images and their responses really motivated me. I guess at the start lot of my work was made to entertain people. Now it’s less about that and much more about changing people’s perspective on everyday subjects.

7. Where do you turn for motivation and new sources of inspiration?

I always scroll through the ‘Art’ tag on Tumblr. With such a broad selection of art I could endlessly scroll, but once in a while there will be something that stops me in my tracks. It’s those pieces that push me to try a new medium, or make something totally new.
I also get inspired by observing the ordinary and seeking out the details that interest me. I spent some time recently in Paris and my photographs were overwhelmingly about just that, observing the everyday but from a totally different perspective.

8. Discuss the role of community and gallery showings, etc to your growth as an artist.

With the internet, the whole world has the potential to be my community. My website is made to mimic a gallery wall. It is simple and   I have been able to display my work to family, friends and people from all over the world. Being exposed to such a wide, constructively critical audience has really boosted my motivation to continue creating and increased my confidence as an artist. It makes it a lot easier to showcase my work but I believe that viewing a physical piece is so much more satisfying than viewing something on a monitor. A photograph of mine was displayed in the centre of Dublin last year as part of Ireland’s photography festival and I hope to continue to exhibit at my college and in places around the city.

9. What do you think is more important for your craft: passion, dedication, or raw talent and can you elaborate on why?

Passion, definitely. I believe that talent can be taught but only people who are passionate will succeed. Personally, my passion for art is about pleasing others to please myself. This passion drives my motivation to continue to create regardless of if my work is received positively or negatively. It pushes me to make my next piece better than the last.

10. What is a project, or theme you are currently working on, or something that is currently taking your attention, that you are aiming to explore in your work?

Currently I am obsessing over the idea of the ‘portrait’. I believe most people think of the typical ‘Mona Lisa’ style picture when they hear the word, but I am looking into exploring the idea of portraits as anything but the face. Can an empty house be a portrait of a person? I believe that it can, with the right methods of documenting it. I saw a photo series online where an artist photographed the last meals of inmates on death row. A simple photo of a meal was a lot more revealing than a photo of their face.