Naked. A completely natural, yet inexplicably feared state of being. We are born and bred sans clothes, yet live within a culture that subdues and censors. We are mortified and shocked by the exposure of the anatomy that we all possess. Photographer Zach Hyman is no stranger to this paradox, and bases his artwork on the very feeling it evokes. Drawing the attention of art critics, media, and mere observers, Hyman showcases the natural human body in all of its glory: in the middle of a busy street, on a deserted mountain top, and even on a crowded New York City subway car. “I think it’s the idea that underneath all of the insecurities and knowledge we wall up in front of us, all the fashion and objects we use to build our identities, there is the same composition of humanity,” he says, referencing the appeal of his subject matter. In a revealing interview, Zach Hyman talks to two + seven about his past, his work, and what it really means to take it all off.
Photo: Israel 2010
two + seven: You went to school for theater arts and left to pursue photography. Ever think of going back?
Zach Hyman: I had been interested in photography since a very early age. My grandfather and uncle were huge hobbyists and I considered them very interesting people and still do. I think I got my first camera when I was around 8 or so. It was one of those long Kodak cameras with the wide format double spool film. You could shoot three sizes: 35mm to Panoramic. I left it at a wedding in Carmel. I was crushed.
But to answer the question, no. I never think of going back. I think of it as more of a hiatus, as I studied photography throughout high school and for some reason decided to go the acting route. I have recurring dreams in which I am about to go on stage and have no idea what play I’m in, or have completely forgotten all my lines, but that’s about it. I don’t like to be told what to do, and during the conservatory theater training there was a lot of that. I realized that if I were going to be an actor I would have to deal with not getting tattoos, cutting or not cutting my hair; just having someone else dictate my appearance and actions on a regular basis didn’t appeal to me. I do, however, keep finding the parts of performance art that I do enjoy showing up in my photos and artwork.
‘El Parque’ Taken in Parque de Mexico, Mexico City. A man in the iconic crucifixion pose is doused in the colors of his native flag. 2011
2+7: You must get this question a lot: why naked people?
ZH: The nude works are representative of my past and present concerns and ideas. My aim at the start was to symbolically scream out in a moment of silence by placing the nude form in a public setting. Although I continue to work with nude figures, my work has moved into a realm containing more specificity pertaining to relevant worldly issues as well as personal struggles, victories, and dreams. My continual work with nudes, both portraiture and self portraiture, is derived from the desire to promote a more open, honest, and vulnerable society through imagery.
Many of us are taught from a very early age to bottle up our emotions and hide away our thoughts unless they align with a certain school. I feel that by disrobing we can metaphorically shed the preconceived thoughts and ingrained ideas that have been fed to us over the years, while at the same time become more readily available to receive new and important insights as to who we are as a world society and to the relevance of our existence. When these moments are photographed the energy and concept of the image are more easily received by the viewer. Because the nude form is considered to be taboo, the desire to continue on looking and interpreting for one’s self is simply human nature.
After finding this means of transmission I began to delve into the experimentation process of abstractly representing the multiple crises apparent in the world as well as within myself. While still retaining cohesiveness with the previous work, I explored ideas such as war, greed, depletion of resources, the artists struggle etc. Interestingly enough, the subjects are beginning to become less and less visible underneath the other mediums. Using materials or methods to change the shape or color of these figures have become an interesting way to relay the concepts that are of most importance to me as an artist and world citizen.
Studio 2012 – Work in Progress
2+7: How do you avoid the police? Any close calls?
ZH: Avoiding the police was something more relevant in the beginning, but I would ask friends to be look outs and just find the right moment to give the go… 15 to 30 seconds tops. There was a shoot planned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We went for it and the model (KC Neill) was arrested, charged with indecent exposure, endangering the welfare of children, and lewd conduct. All of the charges were dropped. I have close calls all the time. It seemed that a cop car or police unit would roll or walk by very soon before or after almost every shoot. The scariest times seem to be when I’m out of the country. There were a few times in Israel, India, and Mexico when I felt very much out of my comfort zone, especially when I was the one posing.
‘Untitled’ After experiencing a week in northern India, a self portrait was taken in a small town in Phalodi, Jodhpur. 2011
2+7: Would you (or have you) ever posed nude yourself?
ZH: After my first Series of nudes I began to pose in my photos, it moved to collaborative work, and has now taken on a life of it’s own. A majority of my work is now based on nude and implied nude self portraiture.
2+7: On a deeper level, what is about the human body that inspires you to create art?
ZH: I think it’s the idea that underneath all of the insecurities and knowledge we wall up in front of us, all the fashion and objects we use to build our identities, there is the same composition of humanity…and when we look past all of those walls and barriers we come to a whole new set of problems concerns and ideas that are ACTUALLY relevant. The body interests me because it is always so covered up. Not just in clothing, but in its seeming knowledge of self. I believe in the “don’t know” mind. When you don’t know there are infinite possibilities. When you know everything your scope is narrowed and leaves you stranded.
‘Chinatown‘ The first shot taken in the “Decent Exposures” series. 2009
2+7: Tell us about your upcoming exhibitions/body of work. What can we look forward to?
ZH: I’ve recently been working on some large scale installation/sculptural pieces. Some are photographed and some are the installations and sculptures themselves, but all rely on some sort of self representation. The new work is all about process; both artistic and humanistic. I plan on finalizing all concepts and work by the end of the year and finding a home for it in early 2013.
Zach’s studio space, East Williamsburg
2+7: When you’re not shooting on city streets, where do you set up space?
ZH: I have a studio space in East Williamsburg.
To rent Zach’s studio space for photoshoots, yoga, events etc., click here
Contact him at email@example.com