19 Dec Through the Lens: Q&A with Zach Louw
Authentic and engaging are two words that best describe Zach Louw’s photography. The self-taught photographer boasts an extensive collection of imagery from across the African continent and further abroad – his artistry has allowed him to showcase his works in Berlin, Tokyo, and Los Angeles.
He shares the story of how being an identical twin led him to pursue a career in photography:
“Growing up under a lens of comparison has driven me to differentiate myself from my brother. This drive wasn’t and hasn’t ever been about being better – because I by no means am, but instead, it is about being different. Abe [his twin brother] and I had the same first chapters in our life’s book, but I wanted to write a different story. And when you have to get that message across in a conversation with someone who sees you as the same person, with the same book cover, you get good at representing yourself by telling stories,” he says.
“I think at its core, that’s really why I was drawn to photography as a medium. By taking someone’s photograph you have the opportunity to represent that person. And whilst a photograph captures these frozen frames in time, what they can do is represent someone’s history before that frozen moment. It can take you back in time.”
What normally catches your eye?
Images that make me stop and pay attention are ones with complex happen-chance compositions, from street photographers; a street-and-walker unconscious interaction that when photographed makes serendipitous sense.
Tell us about this photo. What was happening when you captured this?
This photograph was chosen as a finalist for the EyeEm Awards (the world’s largest photographic competition) in the Portraitist Category from 77 000 entries. With a storm brewing and pregnant with precipitation, the clouds graced Rwandan soil with rain. Whilst fumbling in my backpack for my coat, Cyriaque saw me getting wet and invited me into the courtyard of a house on the roadside. His grey hat caught my attention as the rain welled up and dripped from the brim. Once I was invited inside to shelter, a single-window cast a beautiful soft light on any shape or form it touched. Cyriaque and his grey hat was one such form.
In addition to being a photographer, you work as a Digital Marketing Strategist for Google in Dublin, Ireland, where you currently reside. Do you find any ways in which both of your seemingly disparate career practices (strategy and photography) are paralleled?
Taking a photograph is telling a story. The right settings represent the data points that you need to tell a compelling story. The subject is the right business and stakeholders that you’re consulting. There needs to be a rapour that you build, and your compelling composition is how you frame and position the gap that you can fill as a strategist. The light is all about timing.
Tell us about a project you have been involved in?
Before I arrived at Google I started an initiative called ‘The School Portrait Project’ where the aim was to get more of these photos into homes that can’t afford it. I secured funding from Nokia Mobile, put together a make-shift studio, got two friends Giorgi Young and Maliya Muhande to help. Using a mobile phone, I photographed, printed and framed school portraits for 603 children. We used a mobile phone because I wanted to test if we could create professional-grade photographs without a professional photographer – so that one day we could simply send over the lighting kits with instructions, a mobile phone and get the teachers or even the headmistress to take the photos themselves. The project is about making photography accessible – I’m planning to extend this and shoot schools in India.
Written by Ella Petousis.