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Behind the Lens: Zak Bush

5th/58th discusses cameras, snow surfing and fashion week blizzards

It may seem odd… asking a surf photographer to capture what unfolds backstage at New York Fashion Week but we wanted a different perspective.  While a seasoned fashion photographer instantly recognizes the big names and famous faces, someone new to the scene may see beauty in the unexpected… so we took Saturdays Surf house photographer (and 5th/58th contributor) Zak Bush behind the curtains of Rag & Bone, Helmut Lang and 3.1 Phillip Lim and asked him to photograph as he saw fit.  Unlike others on the scene, he didn’t know the Next Big Face or the latest street-style sensation… but he knew what was significant and precious in context and we trusted him to capture it in a fresh, new light.  Of course there were limitations and challenges (respecting models’ privacy as they changed, navigating the City during a massive blizzard and learning the backstage ropes, to name a few) but in the end Bush found his quiet, beautiful moments and shared them with 5th/58th.

Today we sat with the Canadian photographer to regroup on the project, see how the series compared to his regular assignments and learn just what it was like to be a fashion outsider on the inside of February Fashion Week. 

BG: First things first: what’s your preferred camera?
Zak Bush: My favorite is my Leica m6 it was my great aunt’s. She was a photographer in Northern Sweden. My mom inherited it when she passed away, and I’m lucky enough to have it for now.

BG: So how did you get into photography? We may know this but our readers do not.
ZB: I was always interested in photography and always had a camera. It wasn’t ’til I broke my arm skateboarding that I actually learned how to use them properly. Surfing’s a big part of my life and fact that I had to be out of the water made me find another passion. I was lucky enough to have some friends that were really great photographers who were willing to put up with my barrage of questions. I read a lot of books and websites when I wanted to figure out things that i couldn’t on my own. Pretty soon after I started shooting regularly a surf magazine picked up some of my photos and that was basically the beginning of how I got to where I am now.

BG: And are you entirely self-taught?
ZB: I never went to photography school or took a class. There’s so much info out there that it’s pretty easy to learn on your own if you’re dedicated. I was also lucky and had a few close friends that were good photographers. They were always happy to help me when I needed advice.

BG: You’ve traveled all over the world, from Bali to Nova Scotia… what’s your favorite place to photograph?
ZB: I like to shoot a variety of different places, usually when there aren’t really many other photographers around. Usually remote places are my favorite, where there aren’t too many other people around.

BG:  And do you have a favorite photo from these remote places?
ZB: I can’t really say to be honest. Sometimes I look back at stuff and hate it all, to be honest. I have some photos that I took in a blizzard of people surfing in Canada that will always be some of my favorites.

Photography: Zak BushBG: Most memorable project?
ZB: I’d say that was the time I lived in an 70′s RV in Baja Mexico for 6 weeks with a few good friends. We documented the trip and made a story out of it. When you spend that much time with a couple people going to remote places it brings you really close and consequently makes taking pictures really easy. People forget that the camera’s there and really open up.

BG: What do you typically look for when taking your pictures?
ZB: Natural beauty, I love when things line up, you don’t have to pose someone or move them into or create good light. Natural emotion is really great too.

BG: How does photographing in the City differ from your most previous home, Nova Scotia?
ZB: It’s nice because it’s a fresh landscape, there are so many new things for me to capture here it’s been really fun. There are also so many great photographers producing good work in the city that there’s a lot of inspiring images that I can look to. thats not to say that there aren’t great photographers in Nova Scotia… there are just so many more here.

BG: What’s your favorite photo opportunity? When are you most inspired?
ZB: I’ve been the in-house photographer at Saturdays NYC for the past year now, they’re great to work with. They have a really different fresh angle into fashion as well as the surf industry. That’s been really fun for the last year.

BG: Based upon what you’ve seen in the media & what you experienced, how is fashion week reality different?
ZB: It’s surprising to me that you see so many of the same people at the shows. A lot of the models are the same from show to show, as well as the stylists and hair and makeup artists. I guess I assumed that there were a million different people working on every show but the world is a little smaller than I thought. They also go so quickly, for that much work to only be seen in 20 minutes or so is crazy to me.

BG: How does fashion photography differ from surf photography?
ZB: I think it really varies. It’s not even comparable to the surf photography that I do (which generally involves a lot of exploring and surfing in places that are a bit off the beaten path)…but for guys in Hawaii or those who shoot contests it’s probably kind of similar. This is solely in terms of runway and behind the scenes imagery. As far as the rest of the industry there’s obviously a lot more money and production that goes into the entire process.

BG: Of the three shows you covered, was there a favorite moment?
ZB: I think my favorite moment was at the 3.1 Phillip Lim Show when I found a spot at the top of the scaffolding and shot from a different perspective than most of the other photographers there (who are located at the end of the runway, in what is lovingly referred to as the pit).

BG: Ok… so you don’t have all-time favorite photo but was there one from February (we have many but….)?
It was a photo that I took outside of the Helmut Lang show of a really pretty girl (model Jessica Hart) on her way out. There was a delayed flash.  It was in the heart of the snowstorm and there were these huge snowflakes falling everywhere. I didn’t really plan to be out there to shoot, the show was done and I just happened to have my camera out still…

BG: And your biggest challenge during the whole project?
I think that the biggest challenge was honestly navigating that snow storm, Nemo; the city was a mess and it was really hard to get around… not to mention the soggy feet we all had. BG.

Zak Bush on the Highline

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