We had the good fortune of connecting with Zach Oren and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zach, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Now that I see the word risk in front of me, it brings up perspective. The word risk conjures the feeling of taking a chance on something or someone. Crossing the street, going on a first date, pursuing your passion; all risky, but for me it’s always been in the wording of something. I moved to the US when I was 10 and didn’t speak a word of English, making the specificity of words much more pivotal, not only in being understood but to my quality of life. Sometimes it’s just how you word things, so risk for me is lovely, I t’s an opportunity. A byproduct of taking a chance. What’s the saying, “If you aim at nothing you’ll hit it every time.”
There’s so much that goes into risk. I have to acknowledge my privilege as a white, cis-het presenting male. Society allows me to take more risks and if I fall short I don’t feel condemned or written-off the way women, BiPOC or conspicuously queer folks are dismissed, and that’s if they’re even given a chance to shine.
Every risk I’ve ever taken no matter the outcome, has led me to some sort of truth. That’s a beautiful lesson if you choose to see it as that, perspective. All of the biggest gifts I’ve been given started with taking a risk. People who I’ve pursued relationships with whom are now family, a job I took that didn’t work out but led to an amazing, unexpected detour. The photo series I started in 2017 which I received push-back at the start of, that led me to meeting 400 of the most honest, proud and resilient strangers who are no longer strangers.
Risk is there for everyone, I suppose it’s the trust that even if things “fail”, you’ll end up being exactly where you’re suppose to be, otherwise you wouldn’t be there.
As with most things, it’s all in your perspective. I don’t mean to sound cerebral but that’s what you get when you ask a photographer about risk, a whole lot of perspective.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
After years of taking photos, it feels calming and euphoric to finally have my voice. To know what my intention is. I’ve always taken people’s photos instead of trusting in my subjects, that they’ll willingly give me their portrait and we’ll create something authentic, together.
I know what projects make me feel creatively fulfilled and I pursue that with fervor, it’s not taken for granted.
As a queer, middle-eastern immigrant, I focus (I know) on celebrating diversity and folks from marginalized intersectionalities. It validates my (past) experiences. Representation is everything — you don’t see yourself, you don’t exist.
My love for photojournalism translates in my portraits, as I only photograph using natural/available light with zero production value. It’s just me and my camera showing up somewhere I’ve never been and photographing someone I’ve never met. It’s pretty fucking special!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We would drive to PCH and get some much needed lunch at Malibu Seafood watching the surfers across the street claiming their waves. Go hear the howling of sea-lions on the way to Big-Sur. Camp overnight at Julia Pfeiffer and wake up to some over-the-fire coffee and homemade shakshuka (my Egyptian mom has taught me well), before heading up to SF. Get some amazing Vietnamese at Mau in the Mission, take in the beautiful architecture and visit FAMSF. Joshua Tree would be a prerequisite. Depending on the time of year, try to get my favorite camp site at Jumbo Rock (not telling you what number) and enjoy a sunset hike or two.
Once back in LA, cross my fingers that MhZh has reopened for the best dinner in LA and stop at Gjusta for breakfast and a final beach stroll before dropping my friend at LAX because I have some photos to take! The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I give credit to the 400 and counting trans folks around the country who have taken a chance on me. While their community is under attack every day, they still come out to represent and face the camera head on and with absolute integrity. They show up, they tell their stories and they fight the good fight. Most folks that I’ve photographed come from rural areas in red states. Still, they hold space and tell their stories proudly. As a queer person living in LA, their fortitude and beauty fuel and inspire me to get on the road over and over again.