We had the good fortune of connecting with Zachary Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zachary, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
The journey to becoming the type of photographer I am today begun as an independent contractor specializing in electrical and computer engineering. For most of my life, I’ve been a contractor. One day when I was working as an IT project manager, I was sitting at my desk in Basel, Switzerland working at a bank and I watched the sun rise at 9 am, then start setting at 3 pm. The file I was working on all day turned out to not be needed anymore and I thought to myself, I just sat here all day for nothing. I hated watching the day pass by and considered what I actually preferred: working all day to be creative at night (at that time I was also performing with my band in different cities every week, so a lot of train rides) or do I start choosing contracts that allowed me to be creative on my own projects and enjoy working from sun up to sundown. There’s a deeper connection that flows when you create the things that provide your security. It’s a mixture of pride in your work, humbleness for the journey there and how anything could take it away, and a spark of joy in survivalism, like when you get a campfire going for the first time. Furthermore, there is no such thing as wasted time because the experience of creation changes you for the better. I pursued an artistic career so I could express myself, but I continue this journey because I learned how to better understand how others express themselves. It has been a wonderful journey taking this mindset and applying it to photography now. I wanted to take a break from the contract life and go full fledge into becoming a master’s apprentice so I could learn more than the technical, but the philosophy. I never would have imagined Bjoern Kommerell would take me under his wing to make me his apprentice. Now we are growing the business to Atlanta and will be opening our new studio by the end of April.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Art is an expression of self, yet photography is expressing how you see another, which helps me from focusing on myself too much during the process. What you think about always translates into your work, so the biggest challenge I had to overcome has been to always be present and intentional when I’m creating. The energy I was using to doubt myself transformed into the energy I use to create. Each new adventure allows me to practice all the skills I’ve learned before, but also learn from a different perspective. I learn my first lessons from having fun and enjoying being bad at things. Then it becomes more fun for me to try new techniques and practice that technique until I feel I’ve mastered it, then take a break, reset my mind, and return refreshed with a new mindset and set of skills. The trick to mastery is just doing the same thing over and over again and allowing yourself to get bored. Once you’re bored, you get creative. Producing music taught me the discipline to sit for hours at a time performing tedious tasks, which is the same discipline I have when I’m editing a client’s 120 photos. The way I performed needs analyses for the banking IT projects I managed is what helps me understand what kind of character types my current clients are looking to represent. Even working the drive-thru at Starbucks taught me how to shift my energy from one moment to the next, which is necessary when you shoot multiple clients in a day or even completely different vibes in one shoot. Yet, the skill of seeing people in so many lights, taking the time to know and find their different sides, it’s a skill only photography could teach me. It’s about taking the time to realize you’re breathing, notice the temperature of the air on your skin, the sounds of the world around you, and then existing inside that moment. Once you’re present in that moment, you feel relaxed and at the same time energized. When I’m in that zone on stage, my tool is my voice, in the studio, my tool is my camera. Whatever the medium you express yourself with, have fun and don’t waste energy on what you don’t want, but rather align your intention with your expression.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Atlanta has so much to offer! Edgewood is always a great time and is close to Jackson Street bridge, which is my favorite place to get Atlanta postcard-style shots (aka the first walking dead poster location). Our new studio is close to the Beltline and Ponce City Market, which are definitely great for walks and good food, and the art is really cool out there as well. I love Little Five Points and you’ll definitely catch me shooting friends out there from time to time, maybe grabbing Savage pizza and going to Starlight drive-in to catch a double feature. Sweethut is a major favorite of mine, unless it’s late at night, whereas then Insomnia Cookie is the right move.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There’s a list of people who have helped shape me, from work ethic to creativity. Firstly, my family has had the biggest influence on me. My parents have worked for themselves for as long as I’ve been alive, so learning to be responsible, hard-working, and self-reliant comes from them. When you’re an independent contractor on any job, those values will take you far. My creative influences definitely flourished when I was acting in Switzerland with a group called the Caretakers. I had already been into making music and acting, but being on stage again fueled a fire that eventually led to acting in short films and gave me the confidence to perform my music live with my bands. I have my creative crew in Atlanta that I’m still creating with (Michael D’mitri, Diana Riley, JP the Artist, and Deusmediaworks). Khalimah Gaston has been an incredible influence with the Screening Room ATL and Screening Room LA which is what started my bicoastal journey, but furthermore, she has been a wonderful friend who motivates me to constantly evolve and master my creative flow. The biggest influence on both my work and creativity today has been Bjoern Kommerell. I knew for me to begin the journey of mastering visuals, I would need an apprenticeship, and he was in search of an apprentice. I met one of his friends on Hollywood Boulevard and we facetimed Bjoern right then and there. Since that day, Bjoern has not only helped me hone my technical skills but taught me the philosophy of being a master of light. To truly light someone is to truly see that person. You take in every angle, groove, “flaw”, and you appreciate it. Then you bring out the different faces that person has to match the character they’re representing. That philosophy affects every aspect of your life. You take time to appreciate what you see without judgment as well as understand that you are in control of your own perception. I have been his apprentice for over a year now and am excited to be working in both our LA studio and our new Atlanta studio!
Other: Scores and album art: www.soundcloud.com/ok_zero
Photos of Zachary Smith taken by Bjoern Kommerell All other photos taken by Zachary Smith of BK Headshots