People can get lost in big cities — ground down by the hustle. But they’re are also a breeding ground for artists and creatives of all types. For self-taught photographer and writer, Zak Bush, the city life only offered positive direction as he charted his artistic path.
Bush stumbled into the photography world after a skateboard injury that kept him from surfing in the cold, Halifax waters. This minor annoyance (his cast wouldn’t fit underneath his wetsuit gloves) opened the door to a career he still pursues today. As the former Photography Director and Photo Editor for Saturdays Magazine and the Senior Content Editor for professional surfer, Kelly Slater’s, brand Outerknown, he is a true and honest example of an artist pursuing his craft in the (often overwhelming) cities of New York City and Los Angeles.
I had a chance to speak with Bush about his motivations as an artist, the way big cities have influenced his art, and how he finds motivation and determination to take advantage of his surroundings (where others end up jaded).
You’ve been recognized for your surf photography a lot, but your Instagram shows so much more of an array of photography and styles. I was wondering if surfing is what you prefer to shoot or was that just how you got started off and then it escalated from there?
I guess the easiest way to put it is I love taking photos of surfing with my friends. It’s really fun and when you take a really good picture together, because it takes a lot of teamwork. It’s not just like taking a picture of a bird. You’re working with the person. Especially with shooting in the water. It’s like a team effort where you’re trying to position yourself with the other person to get the right angle for the photo.
Everybody’s like a small fish in a big pond in New York. What kind of challenges did you come across as being an artist in New York?
It opened a ton of doors. I think the biggest struggle is to elevate the quality of your work to be competitive in a market with all these great people. There’s so many talented creatives in New York City that, when you go there and you become a part of that community, well, I got there and I was like, “I’m a good photographer. I’m going to do fine.”
I got there and realized that I knew nothing.
And you wouldn’t have had those same opportunities in Halifax—
Yeah. I didn’t really ever look at it as a challenge, I looked at it more as opportunity where I saw these people doing all these great things. Manhattan’s amazing, or New York, in general, is amazing, because everyone who is basically the best at what they do, in the country, who’s competitive, or hungry, or driven goes there to try and do really great work. When you’re surrounded by people like that who are working really hard, it makes you do the same thing.
I don’t think I really understood, when I started taking photos, thinking that I was wanting to try and make a career out of it. I didn’t really understand what that meant yet.
Did you not really have any expectations?
I think that, almost on a daily basis, my opinion of what things are, why they should be, or what I’m trying to do changes.
How do you see the photography world differing from Manhattan versus L.A.? I find them to be two very different worlds.
It’s completely different. The style of general photography in New York and general photography in Los Angeles is completely different. When you’re walking down the street in New York City, it is a pretty hard place that’s very exposed and very open to everybody, in this really tight, condensed thing.
L.A. is this expansive, also huge, but softer place because everyone here, from my experience, it’s such a weird feeling to get in your car in the morning and drive to work, and not really see or talk to another person until you walk into your first meeting of the day or coffee with a friend, or whatever. In New York, as soon as you walk out of your door, you’re immediately inundated with people. You just can’t hide from anything. I think that shows up in a lot of people’s work.
Is there one style that you prefer?
No. Again, because photography for me is a tool to tell stories, I think that as long as a photo is a beautiful thing and evokes some sort of emotional response from someone, it should be different when it comes from a different place. I don’t think that one is better than the other.
What would you say is your ultimate goal as a photographer or as an artist?
One part of it is just putting food on the table. I’ve never been good at any job that I didn’t like. If I really like what I’m doing, I tend to do a much better job at it, like anyone, I think. I hope that I’m able to make some photos that have some staying power. I hope that some of my pictures last for more than like three seconds in someone’s hand.