Meaninglessness and Male Nudes with Photographer Ben Zank

Ben Zank is the New York born photographer people have long tried to categorise; ‘surreal’ is one label that has been bandied around, but this is, as it were, a post-production classification. “I only started calling my work surreal when other people started calling it surreal”, he’s disclosed, and this hesitancy in the face of labelling is apt given the spontaneous and playful style of Ben’s work.

road service
VTL-ben zank

His characteristic focus on composition is clear in the set he’s shared here with The Plus, along with his now almost trademark faceless subjects and ‘road lines’ images, that peel apart the fabric of that which is familiar and reform it into evocative and curious images. It’s a style he’s developed since he first picked up the Pentax ME Super from his grandmother’s attic at the age of 18, and began shooting.

Ben grew up playing video games with a background in journalism, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. “I used to run around the woods just to break s*** and set stuff on fire”, says the self-confessedly obsessive photographer, who’s worked with snails, smoke bombs, and had run-ins with the police and the fire service. Yet, the superficially destructive process masks a careful exploration of the conceptual possibilities of photography that lie just beyond the edge of the envelope: and so, Ben pushes…


The Plus: You seem to favour form and composition– why do you continue to use people in your images?
The most interesting thing about photography to me is the relationship of humans between themselves and between their environment. In a way, using people in photography is akin to evoking an involuntary emotional response from the viewer. You’re already relating by also being a human.

TP: Is it important to you that your images ‘mean’ anything?
No. If it were, then I would get too much into the ‘conceptual’ realm of it all. I’m more interested in the process and aesthetic. Above all, we’re supposed to be creating a visual experience, and I think that stressing over whether there must be a meaning can seriously hinder or even dilute an organic manifestation of one’s inner workings.


TP: Is courting the line between humour and bleakness something that you deliberately bring into your work?
I don’t think my work is funny. It’s the most serious thing in the world. Why would you find it funny?

TP: You’ve mentioned before that you suspect your work to have an underground following of older gay men; could you expand?
I’m only half joking here, but the accounts that reblog my nudes on Tumblr could back me up here. Let’s be real, I shoot nude self-portraits of myself. It’s expected.

Surface tension

TP: Whilst much of your work is spontaneous, is there anywhere in the world that you’d especially like to shoot in?
I’ve learned my lesson after living in New Zealand for a year that, no matter how intriguing a location is, it is nothing to me without a subject. I was thinking of Germany, though.

TP: As a professional photographer, what is your stance on the current Instagram/selfie phenomenon?
I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into Instagram, so wishing it ill would not be in my best interest. Will it be around in 10 years? That depends on the technological advances made in that time-frame. Selfies are fun. If you can make a living off a selfie, then go for it.

TP: What next?
I’d really like to continue making moving photographs. They are challenging to make, and have added a new dynamic to my work that I am really enjoying.

black crater