Donatas Zazirskasi (2016)

I featured another of Zazirskas’ images in a post from almost exactly a year ago. (Incidentally: it’s probably the most popular OP in the history of this project.)

I’m still not over 100% on board with his work but I ran across this earlier in the week and I had a very strong reaction to it.

I’ll try to explain but in order to do that I do have to dissimulate–at least initially.

Nothing about this pose makes sense. You’re standing outside wearing a light dress. You bear your left breast while leaving the right covered touch your index and middle fingers to your collar bone while throwing your head back with the back of your palm seeming pressed against your forehead. Why?

The only thing that makes sense is that she’s trying to remain anonymous. As as much as I personally loathe images that decapitate the subject in order to preserve privacy–there is a fundamental contradiction between her pose and the mise en scene, i.e. she’s presented as being unaware of being observed but is also trying not to be seen while self-consciously revealing her breast; all with the background so carefully presented as to vertically bifurcate the frame.

That was my first reaction anyway. Running into it a year later, I’m almost willing to wager that this image is an extrapolation upon Fan Ho’s magnificent Approaching Shadow.

As far as an homage, it’s uneven. But if Zazirskas is actually spending time with Ho’s work then that would explain both my ambivalence about aspects of his work and the fact that I’m not exactly ready to dismiss it either.

Ho is a hell of a lot more formal and technically astute–however, I can’t suggest that it’s the wrong photographer given Zazirskas’ over style. The choice actually strikes me as thoroughly prescient.

Donatas ZazirskasUntitled (2016)

It occurs to me that one of the things which hinders the teaching/creation of art is placing too much of an emphasis on originality.

I am honestly not sure where I personally fall on the whole spectrum of innovation is still possible vs it’s all already been done; however, I do know that focusing on whether or not something is original is just about the quickest death that the momentum of doing can die.

Consider Zazirskas–who favors either highly, manicured, even lighting design which restricts most of the tonal range in his scenes to Zones IV through X (a la this, also this) or a darker, moodier chiaroscuro where there’s very bright light, truncated mid-tones and very dark portions of the frame (as above).

Unfortunately, his work rarely fires on all cylinders. (And I do not mean for that to be a dismissal; I think he just needs to keep working, pick one tendencies and explore it instead of trying to embrace and enact three very different approaches to scene setting.

I don’t think this is an especially original picture. It trades in the same fierce backlighting that folks like Paul Barbera have expanded into a wistfully sensual, visual nostalgia kick-to-the-head. There’s also similarities to Hannes Caspar and STOTYM–less stylistic more in tone and content, respectively.

Point is: what interests me about this is the equivocation in Zazirskas’ handling of poses and gesture. His most technically astute image (here) is too tied to a rigidity of conceptualization, i.e. the subject’s reflect vs her poses that the rest of the image–no matter how interesting the setting, details or color (I mean god that eggshell blue is to die for)–the frame hanges loosely around the insistence on a pose that doesn’t work.

Yet, with the image above all the elements–the composition, the lighting, the floor, chair and board behind the chair with faces cut from magazines and glued to it presumably, all gathers to suggest a fluid unity of concept and execution.

Back to my point about originality, though: all the photographers/image makers I’ve linked with Zazirskas are all folks whose work I think is more prescient and refined. The thing that distinguishes Zazirskas, however, is the fact that he is very much not doing fly-on-the-wall work like the others.

The angle of the model’s left leg in this is actually both demurely shielding while also being a provocation–exercising agency over what is seen and what remains discreet while complimenting the lighting (the darker portions of the outside of her left leg contrasting with the hot spots on the outside of her right thigh).

For as much as I like the other work, I feel like this is at least more honest with itself about what it’s essential nature is. That’s rather something, actually.