We had the good fortune of connecting with Bella Zahn and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bella, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
As someone who’s dealt with a lot of anxiety, so much of my mental and emotional energy as well as time has been spent trying to minimize the amount of risk in my life. Whichever decision was going to lead me in the direction most void of uncertainty and apprehension, that was the path to choose. Rarely with hesitation. In high school I wound up taking more difficult classes not because I wanted to challenge myself, but because my friends were taking those courses. The cost of putting myself through immense academic pressure was almost worth the trade-off of feeling socially comfortable in my learning spaces. This type of thinking became evident in a lot of areas in my life. It prevented me from trying new things and taking advantage of really beneficial opportunities right in front of me. Once I started to stray from prioritizing comfort and ease over what I actually wanted, I quickly learned that scaring myself a little bit nearly always brought me the most fulfillment and genuine happiness. I’d even say it’s usually necessary. A great example of this and one that completely changed the course of my career was switching colleges. For my first semester of college this past fall, I attended CSULB. While a really great school, it didn’t take me long to realize that I had no idea what I was doing. I was aimlessly majoring in psychology and going through the motions of a seemingly risk-free life plan. It began taking its toll on me mentally, so I made the decision to transfer to Long Beach City College and focus on what I truly love to do: photography. I’m remarkably happier finally setting real career goals for myself and having a true idea of how I want my life to pan out. The initial jump into something new will always be scary on some level. I would liken it to diving into a cold pool. The harshness of the cold water is striking at first, but you adjust much more quickly and easily if you go all-in. I used to be the kind of person that would test the waters with their foot, then abandon the idea of swimming if the temperature was too intense and sudden. Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned that diving in head first and fully committing to something that has even just a chance of improving my life and bringing me true fulfillment is the way to go.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I feel like after 3 years of doing photography and just taking it completely seriously over the past couple months, I’m definitely still figuring out where I want my art to stand in the grand scheme of things. Especially given that my main source of work was live music, I haven’t had the opportunity to apply anything I’ve learned in the past year to that field yet. With that said, I’m easily most excited for when concert venues are able to resume events safely, as I really miss covering live shows. I’ve grown so much as an artist since the last time I shot a show and am pretty antsy to see the concert-related work I’ll be able to create now. Concerts were the first professional photography work I did, and they’re still my favorite things to cover. Booking my first gig (X Ambassadors at HOB Anaheim) was shockingly easy, my only explanation being luck as I barely had any sort of portfolio at the time. Most of the challenges in my work came in the middle – creative blocks, limited availability, lack of commitment, etc. I was still treating my photography work as a hobby or side-gig and never (until recently) let myself view it as a long-term plan. I hit a point where I just thought, “Screw it. This is the one thing I’ve ever felt passionate about career-wise. Why in the world am I stopping myself from being happy?” I’m by no means in the clear of challenges or roadblocks in my career and am really just at the tip of the iceberg here, but I’ve cleared the hurdle of getting in my own way, and I consider that to be an accomplishment in itself.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Living in Long Beach my whole life, I don’t think I ever truly appreciate how many fantastic spots we have throughout this city alone, not to mention all the perks of being in close proximity to everything in LA and Orange County. The 2nd & PCH center is a beautiful place to hang out and watch a sunset over the water, see a drive-in movie at the top of the parking garage, or just walk around and grab dinner. I actually work part-time at the candy shop inside (Tuesday’s Sweet Shoppe, it’s absolutely amazing) and never took advantage of how great the mostly-outdoor center is until I began frequenting there. One of my absolute favorite things to do with friends is grab some ice cream at Handel’s in the LBX shopping center then drive up and down PCH for hours with the windows down, blasting our favorite tunes. Simple, but reliably a great time. Lately we’ve had Machine Gun Kelly and Yungblud’s newest albums on repeat, and I can’t recommend enough listening to their collaboration “acting like that” cranked at full volume. Now that’s a live show I’m really looking forward to.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Although she’s the one who introduced me to you (getting a little full circle here), it would be idiotic of me to not give some major props to my good friend and fellow photographer Kay Pham-Nguyen. Career-wise, I’ve gotten a handful of really great opportunities, connections, and tips/insight about the photo and music industries because of her. She’s an incredibly talented and driven creative, and I always make sure to thank her whenever I get the chance. Regarding more of my personal life, I owe a lot to the youth ministry organization at my church (St. Cornelius in Long Beach) and the fantastic people that have been a part of it over the past 5 years. I’ve learned so much about my relationship with faith and developed a lot of incredibly useful leadership and communication skills. Specifically through the retreats we put together and attend, I’ve been able to grow in ways that would be considered unimaginable to a younger version of myself.