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Images by Ben Zank

The faceless work of Ben Zank and Surrealism in Photography

Ben Zank grew up in the Bronx, New York City. Coming from a journalism background he felt that he did not have a platform to voice his own opinion and took to photography. Finding his voice at the age of 21 by means of a 365 self-portrait project, Zank has a defining style that he refers to as bizarre minimalism. His work is often called surrealistic due to the unconventional poses his models inhabit, his use of composition and the faceless nature of his work. Here I take a look at Surrealism in photography and the relevance of Zank’s curious imagery

Zank’s photography is characterized by its scrupulous attention to composition and his faceless subjects that have the ability to transform that which is familiar into something rather peculiar. “When you shoot somebody’s face, you’re shooting their likeness, their personality, and that’s not really what I’m trying to capture.” Zank is interested in transmitting information about the human condition and his concepts for his images are often stimulated by a certain location and the mood that it evokes in him.

It is thought-provoking that Zank chooses to focus instead on the human form and not the visage, as is common practice with many photographers. His subjects’ faces are often hidden and when they do show their faces, they never look directly at the viewer. “It’s pretty common to see beautiful faces in photographs, but I’m not trying to sell that. I’m interested in portraying the human form as something architectural and surreal.”

Zank feels that in the same way that certain photographers have the ability to capture emotions in people by showing their faces, he has found that he can create a similar effect without the use of faces. Stating that the image itself is the emotion that he is conveying, identity, or rather, the lack of identity is integral to Zank’s work.

Expressing that people are the focus of his work more so than composition as he finds them more unpredictable and multi-faceted, Zank states, “The most interesting thing about photography to me is the relationship of humans between themselves and between their environment.”

Zank has however stated in interviews that his work is devoid of meaning and instead focuses on the organic manifestations of his own inner workings as well as a visual experience he wishes to convey. It is rather contradictory that Zank would make such a statement as his pursuits into photography were aimed at establishing a voice that he does not seem to intend on expressing verbally. Instead Zank lets his bizarre minimalist work speak for itself.

Susan Sontag states in On Photography (1977) that photography has the reputation of being the most realistic and simplistic of the mimetic arts. “Surrealism lies at the heart of the photographic enterprise: in the very creation of a duplicate world, of a reality in the second degree, narrower but more dramatic than the one perceived by natural vision.” (Sontag 1977).

Sontag states that Surrealism has always been open to accidents and disorderly presences. “What could be more surreal than an object which virtually produces itself, and with a minimum of effort? An object whose beauty, fantastic disclosures, emotional weight are likely to be further enhanced by any accidents that might befall it?” (Sontag 1977)

Sontag also expresses that photographs are not deeply bound to the intentions of the artist but that they exist due to loose cooperation between the photographer and his/her subject. These results according to Sontag are exciting and never entirely wrong.

When taking Sontag’s point of view into consideration it is clear that Zank’s work if not all photography falls under the surrealism wing because of its nature as a duplicate of the real world. Zank’s work however does not make use of natural compositions. The poses made by the models themselves and their uncomfortable body positions together with the faceless elements that are so key to his work make his work a perfect example of Surrealist Photography.

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