Studio Visit: Suzanna Zak

Suzanna Zak is a photographer, multimedia artist and avid rock climber currently based in Los Angeles CA.

What does your studio practice look like and how does your workspace inform (encourage, constrict, etc.) what you do? 

My studio practice revolves around researching and making sense of material gathered while out in the world. I think of myself as an amateur archivist, pursuing used books stores and second hand shops around America, and maybe an archivist of tiny scraps of paper found on the sidewalk. My studio is located in my garage, so I work within 3 walls, the fourth wall being an open door to a drive way and a view of a lemon tree. Recently, I’ve enjoyed the way the wind moves my photographs, so I’ve started hanging images with one nail in the top center to allow movement. Some days I enter the space and see the humidity is changed, the prints are curling. I know in the back of my head I’ll refer to work made during this time period as, “the garage work.”

There is consistent use of construction materials that subvert or limit ideas of a grand, open landscape. What interests you about these materials? How does the landscape influence the objects and images you are drawn to?

Much of my practice begins with a curiosity in my environment and a desire to have a deeper understanding of my surroundings. While initially my subject matter involved investigating notions of “wilderness,” I became interested in my day to day surroundings. I’ve started applying strategies of collecting on my further journeys to my life here in Los Angeles. The construction materials come from the space of the freeways between my home and my job. These materials are the tools used to mitigate our movement through the landscape so I’m fascinated how I can switch this action and arrange this material, rather than being guided by it.

Within your work there is a simultaneous realization of photography as a medium and as a material. Which did you discover first? How does the process of creating photographs influence their presentation? How do they relate to the objects and spaces they are surrounded by?

For me, photography as a medium and as a material are inseparable from one another. While in my undergraduate studies I felt as though there was a lack of a dialogue regarding the materiality of photography, but this was actually incredibly productive for me as it strengthened my own need for understanding photography’s objecthood. Images are around us everywhere beyond a fine art context. I am constantly looking at how imagery is circulated through the world. Sometimes you see an offset printed poster in the window of an old shop and it’s completely sun faded besides the cyan layer. The presentation of the photograph is often influenced by this type of scene. I see the photographs, the sculptural objects, and the sites, as all in conversation with one another.

A number of images reference construction fences and signs, and in many cases they physically merge with the objects they portray. This relationship presents ambiguity as to whether images prevent or allow visual communication. When do photographs become fences? When do they become signs?

Fences often displace us and block our vision. Photography, while seemingly providing the viewer with a vision, is a gesture of controlled intention by the image maker. I am forever skeptical of the image, and would never allow myself to blindly accept a photograph. Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of fences made from pieces of wood very close together. Initially you can’t see through them at all, but if you squint you can see through the small slot. A metaphorical squinting can be applied when confronting photographs. Who erected this fence?

Fences often signify limitation and are restrictive barriers between one space and another. What limitations of photography inspire or frustrate you? Of sculpture?

The limitations of photography are what propel me forward to keep thinking of new ways of communicating, and often lead me to sculpture. I love photography for the fact that the initial process alters the way you move through the world. I’ve walked places I would have never imagined because I’ve had a camera in hand. And yet, you get this little print back and it falls short of the experience. This leads me to start accumulating and displaying all the objects that helped me end up at the site of the photograph. Sculpture allowed me to be more open with what I considered my practice. It was through that medium where I felt liberated to have more of an impact on the body, to attempt to alter how the viewer walks through the gallery, like the way photography changed the way I walk through the landscape.

Many of your photographic installations are complimented by found images, stickers, and posters. What are their sources? Is there any comparison between your process of finding or taking pictures?

I’m fascinated by vernacular graphic design so I collect examples that move me when I encounter them. Visual representation is around us everywhere and I am interested in analyzing the full spectrum of low brow to high brow media. Much of the print material I find is for local businesses and thus feels site specific, it’s another way of coming to understand a place. I often find these materials in gas stations, rest stops, diners, and sometimes just blowing in the wind. Like photography, sometimes you stumble upon these things and sometimes you’re searching, but there’s always a vision in the back of my mind.

Have you been interested in anything new recently?

Recently I’ve been interested in the writings of Mary Hunter Austin. She was naturalist who discusses the landscape in depth from the flora and fauna, but she also has the ability to talk about the spirit of place. Her writing describes areas of the High Sierra and the Mojave, places I’ve photographed in. It’s been inspiring to see how someone working in another medium works with the Sierras as subject. Whenever I drive back from the mountains I stop by her old home.


For more information on Zak’s work visit her website: