We all wish we were free, feels Zach Bohannon (NSFW)

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“I think about how my DNA responds to and informs my identity,” says photographer and visual artist Zach Bohannon of his personal lineage. This seeps into his surreal photography, which borders on ethereal and otherworldly concepts. And he says life is all about the cyclical process of awakening and reawakening to find the right balance for each of us.

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Seeing some of Bohannon’s work made me remember the first time I saw it The Matrix. The amount of subtext in this film is incredible. On the surface, it revisits and repeats (across the expanded trilogy) the very concept of awakening that Bohannon presents in his work. I wasn’t surprised when he said this film was one of the inspirations for his style of photography. It’s about escaping what we’re used to and becoming aware of what’s around us.

Zach Bohannon’s must-have photographic gear

Zach told us:

I almost always shoot with a Nikon D800, but I also use a Canon 6D to work. The Nikon system is much better suited to my practice as it allows me to take self portraits with an interval timer.

The Photographer: Hello, Zach. Please tell us something about yourself and how you got into photography.

Zach Bohannon: I’m 22 years old now and I remember getting interested in fine art photography when I was 12 or 13 years old. Seeing the work of the likes of Brooke Shaden, Kyle Thompson, and Alex Stoddard inspired me to want to create similar things. I was fascinated by how Photoshop could render an impossible scene absolutely lifelike and believable. Seeing images like this opened up endless possibilities for me. It was the belief that I could create anything I wanted that skyrocketed my motivation to create in photography.

The Phoblographer: A lot of your work is based on self-portraits. When did you want to photograph yourself more in your artworks?

Zach Bohannon: I was first introduced to self-portraits through the photographic work of contemporary artists such as Brooke Shaden, Kyle Thompson and Alex Stoddard. I mirrored what I saw in the work of others and very early began to use myself as a theme in my practice. I’ve always found self-portraits very natural for me. Growing up surrounded by fields, forests and farms was somewhat isolating. Starting from this space of separation from other people, self-portrayal was encouraged. With continued use, I have observed the integration of myself into my art as both therapeutic and introspective. I think that using myself as a subject has allowed me to become more aware of my own being.

The Phoblographer: There are also a lot of outdoor images in your portfolio. Is that because you grew up on farmland and near forests when you were growing up?

Zach Bohannon: Yes, growing up on underdeveloped land influenced the presence of nature in my art. I grew up with a sense of awe and curiosity with a respect for nature. As an adult, it feels natural to not only create work that embodies this perspective, but also allows me to connect with the earth as I create. Nature opens up a variable quality within the work, which always helps me to let go of expectations about how a photo will look like in the end.

The Phoblographer: I wouldn’t exactly call it science fiction, but I see themes in your photos that I’ve observed in some classic cult films. Any inspirations from cinema that subconsciously shape the stories of your projects?

Zach Bohannon: I like this association you made between science fiction and some of my work! Some of my favorite films are those that explore our connection to our different parts of the universe or our relationship to technology. The first thing that comes to mind as unconscious inspiration is The Matrix. Themes of awakening, battling powerful forces, and a very dark relationship with technology definitely resonate in this film for me.

As for the lens, I generally like to shoot with gear that mimics human vision, the Canon 35mm 1.4 and Nikon 50mm 1.2 are staples for me. In the last two years I’ve started to experiment a lot more with the kind of lenses I work with.

The Phoblographer: It almost seems like souls want to escape the clutches of everyday reality. what is New original Above?

Zach Bohannon: New original began as an exploration of the relationship between our species and plastic. The piece death mask embodies the idea I started with; Plastic is our legacy (and stain) on this planet. The idea arose from the ancient Roman practice of casting the faces of the dead in plaster of paris to make death masks. Thinking about how that might look in a contemporary setting influenced my process of using plastic to distort and mimic human forms. Plastic is that weird material that we’ve incorporated into almost every aspect of our lives. It is even present in our own bodies. This series captures feelings I had about this frightening aspect of our reality – one that none of us can live outside.

The photographer: womb memory is a self-explanatory title, but what feelings and emotions governed the composition and lighting?

Zach Bohannon: I can vividly recall this feeling of “wanting to go home” at deeper points in my past life—and sometimes in the present. I understand that feeling now to mean that I have this desire to just be be. The teachings of the late Alan Watts, Terence Mckenna, and Ram Dass greatly influenced my understanding of this feeling. The desire to be freed from suffering: to feel comfort in harmony. womb memory examines the fluctuations of this feeling and how “home” (the womb) is always right where I am in the present moment.

The Phoblographer: Why did you keep this set black and white?

Zach Bohannon: I wanted the composition, the lighting, and the shapes to take precedence in this series of images. It also felt very supportive of the conceptual narrative I started working with when creating these images.

One of my most used lenses lately has been the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f1.6 for Nikon. I find the focal length maintains a nice distance from the subject, while the altered aspects of the lens create a nice, glossy glow around the edges of the frame and subject

The Phoblographer: A lot of these are like poems with pictures, and they have some appropriate captions alongside them. Do these come to mind when you take the pictures, or are they considered after the fact?

Zach Bohannon: I’d say a lot of the titling process revolves around expanding on fleeting ideas that came to mind during filming. These feelings come out when I take photos and when I edit these images digitally. Focusing on issues of liberation, non-attachment and responses to these issues. I wanted to capture a strong sense of the cyclical nature of the spiritual awakening process. Confronting new manifestations, fighting/resisting, integrating and finding a balance only to do it all again.

The Phoblographer: Do people really know where this world is going? Would you say that your work is an attempt to get the viewer to take a good look at themselves in this regard?

Zach Bohannon: I optimistically embrace the idea that more and more people are raising their consciousness in the world. I think that shows in the art that’s being made right now. There seems to be a strong focus on themes of healing and transcending. I create art to encourage this process of awakening inside and outside of myself. I enjoy seeing the different ways that everyone interacts with my work. Some initially understand on a much deeper level, while for others there may be a brief moment of pause. Both are hits in my book.

The Phoblographer: Etheric concepts are not new to you. What reality and awakening based projects do you have in mind for the future?

Zach Bohannon: At the moment I’m getting to a good break point with my work womb memory. Going forward, I look forward to my goal of using my art as a vehicle to express the beauty and gift of being alive on this planet right now. I want to create more art that unites people. Accessibility is something I pay attention to when presenting the work (public space).

Experimentation has led me to use fisheye lenses, specifically the Nikon AI-S 8mm f2.8 circular fisheye lens

The Phoblographer: What does it mean to you to be an Asian American? And how does this identity fit into your photography?

Zach Bohannon: As an Asian American, my family’s legacy carries through me. It means I think about how my DNA responds to and informs my identity. I firmly believe that every person alive today carries within them a certain knowledge and wisdom that was passed on to them by their ancestors. I see those who came before me through the art they made and left behind. My Chinese family tree contained more than a few artists whose art I had learned about as a child. I think a lot of this art has influenced the way I interpret and implement the atmosphere in my paintings. However, at the end of the day, being Asian American is something that is only part of my human body/physical self. It’s interesting information above me, but it’s not my whole identity.

All images by Zach Bohannon. Used with permission. Visit his website and Instagram to see more of his photography.



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