February 06, 2019

Five Questions with Alex Zyuzikov: Photographer

Growing up in a family of architects, Alex Zyuzikov was exposed to the world of art and creative thinking early on. Although he tried his hand at drawing, painting, and graphic design, today he works as a photographer and visual storyteller, and he describes his work as “creative environmental portraiture.”

Alex is a commercial advertising and editorial photographer and his photos are atmospheric, immersive, vibrant, imaginative, and moving.

You can check out some of Alex’s work on his website and in the gallery of photos from 2019 In/Visible Talks. Alex and his wife—and business partner—Anastasia shot all the beautiful photos at the speaker dinner and conference on January 17.

What is your relationship to the creative process?

“Photography as a career exists because we can show things in a way that other people can’t. It’s our own interpretation of the world. We can look at the same subject in the same room with the same light as 20 other people, but portray them in a completely different and unique way through our photos. By choosing what to show (and what to hide), we have the power to show the audience what the subject and their surroundings mean to us personally and thus make others see a completely new side of them.

“We also have the ability to create work that has extraordinary power and meaning for our clients. By learning about and studying our subjects—what’s important to them, their passions, their fears, and what makes them happy—we can create the deepest of meanings in the simplest of photos. Pretty photos with little substance are soon forgotten. Meaningful photos make you feel something and make you come back to them again and again. Meaningful photos need to move you in some way, to make you see an ordinary place or a familiar face in a different light. We, as photographers, have the power to do that.”

How or where to you find inspiration?

“I find myself drawing inspiration from the world of physical art and its design principles when thinking up new ideas for photos. My curiosity is what helps me keep myself inspired, as I am always trying new ways to make my photos interesting and unique.”

When did you first realize you needed to be in a creative field?

“I had absolutely no interest in photography—never owned a camera or wanted to take pictures of any kind—until about 2009 or so. What sparked my interest was going on a shoot with a photojournalist friend of mine. I was fascinated with the way she was capturing people in their environments and her unique way of translating moments into photographs. I went out and bought a camera the next day and started shooting everything I could—landscapes, urban life, portraits, and eventually commercial assignments.

“In 2010, I did a personal 365-day project during which I went out and created a photo every single day. These weren’t just simple snapshots; a lot of them involved my packing a backpack full of expensive camera gear and going out into the city, often with no idea of what I was taking a picture of that day. Day or night, rain or shine, I still took a photo every single day. A lot of them were portraits (and a lot of them self-portraits, for the lack of a better model), and most of them were multi-light setups on the busy streets of San Francisco. I had my lights on light stands, my camera on a tripod, an interval timer, and me running back and forth between adjusting camera settings and posing for the shot. I even tried to recreate a few pretty complex sets used by such masters of light as Joe McNally—all while trying to make sure none of my gear got stolen or damaged. Needless to say, each shot took hours to create. This was exhausting, but it accelerated my learning process tremendously and helped me launch my photography career. It also made me realize how important it was for me to keep pushing myself creatively and how much I enjoyed the creative process.”

What was one of your biggest creative challenges?

“How to see the extraordinary in normal, everyday things. How to look past the obvious. How to create work that is meaningful.”

Who is one of your heroes and why?

“Steve McCurry is a true genius when it comes to composition and capturing moments. Some of his work is almost too perfect, but I know that this comes with a lot of patience and year and years (and years) of perfecting and refining your skills and I was finally able to fulfill my dream of working with him and learning from him in Myanmar earlier this year.”