I like honest photography, the type that you look at and either immediately reject or appreciate (sometimes for reasons unknown). As part of the latest Third Looks photo feature, I’ll be sharing the work of of California based photographer Shona Sanzgiri. He’s taken photos for the likes of Adult Magazine and Vice and has a great eye for natural beauty whether found in travels or everyday moments. Check out an interview and selection of his work after the jump.
How did you get your start with photography?
I’ve owned plenty of point and shoot cameras since childhood. In high school I took photos of my friends skateboarding. When I eventually started toying with digital cameras, I struggled to find my “aesthetic,” got discouraged and quit.
A few years ago, something compelled me to revisit. I literally woke up and thought, “I should go buy a camera.” I found an old Pentax K1000 on Craigslist, looked at lots of photo books and exhibitions and borrowed from what I liked—not necessarily subject matter, but tone, technique, light, etc.
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years. In one form or another, I’ve been studying photography since I was a kid. I was happy to finally take that “education” into the field.
Your photos have a very natural feeling to them. How do you select what and how to shoot?
Thanks. I guess that’s reflective of my life, or a lack of imagination. I have a day job and am not interested in staging complicated scenes. I’m drawn to the history and geography of the world, and I think real life, in its own quiet way, is absurd and tragic and beautiful. All I have to do is wait.
Is there a hidden message that you would like to come through your work?
Good question. I’m hesitant to answer because I want people to have their own experience.
But photography is a communicative medium, and I do have something to say, obviously. I guess the message is to give life—and the people and the places in it—more credit. There is no shortage of grace in the world.
You said your Pentax K-1000 really changed how you view your world. Explain how your equipment and technology can impact your life and work.
A film camera, especially a totally manual tank like the Pentax K1000 or the medium format cameras I use, requires me to slow down and consider what I’m doing.
Convenience is oftentimes the enemy: sure, I could take gorgeous photos on a digital camera that somewhat approximates the aesthetic of film. But the process is different—with digital, I can shoot, fast, until I get what I want.
With film, I actually want to slow down. I don’t mean to sound precious. It’s about developing a relationship with what’s in front of you. I want to make sure that when I finally decide to click the shutter, I did so because I saw something there.
When and where do you take most of your shots? Do you have a certain process?
I try to get that morning light—nothing like it. I do think the quality changes depending on where you live, and Northern California has some of the most gorgeous light in the world. Our house is eastward facing and has lots of windows. Every morning, when I wake my son up for school around 7 AM, we sit together on his bed and watch stray bits of dust float in these golden, rectangular halos. When I’m not hypnotized, I remember to grab my camera.
In general I prefer golden hour, whether at dawn or dusk, like most photographers. But I’ll shoot any time of the day.
As for where, it doesn’t really matter too much. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time going from Bolinas in the North Bay, just past San Francisco, all the way down to Big Sur. Those places have gotten really popular, it seems. But my experience with them, being a Bay Area native, is different—I’m reminded of my childhood.
What’s your dream shoot and what do you have coming up in the next few months.
I’ll have to get back to you about the dream shoot. I’m interested in doing more fashion work. But for the most part, I’m doing what I want, which is to travel.
In December I’ll be traveling around India, especially along the Himalayas. When the British ruled India, they built a series of hill stations to escape the humidity. Those stations look like rural England, with Victorian cottages set against green landscapes, and the juxtaposition sounds incredible.
Next month I’m going to Mexico and back to Cuba on assignment for VICE. After that, we’re doing a Mediterranean trip, crisscrossing from Morocco to Greece. No shortage of photos or words!
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