You wouldn’t necessarily believe it, but photographer Zak van Biljon got bit by the photo bug after using a disposable camera. From the work he produces, you’d think he dove right into medium and large format from the start; but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
He hails from South African, and calls Red Turf his homeland–at least you can tell this from his images shot with Kodak Aerochrome. In 2003 he graduated as best student at the National College of Photography.
In 2004 he left the country and emigrated to Europe. It was in Rome where he discovered another sunlight, and in London where he scored himself on top of booking lists for prestigious underground labels. He continued his career as a part-time commercial photographer in Zurich, Switzerland, exerting his mastery in his fine art projects.
His work ranges from digital to analog, with skills in contemporary advertising and modern art photography. His main focus is the directorial handling of light as shown in his recent art work, capturing the world in infrared. The world seen in red and pink colours provides a new and impressive insight to reality as we know it.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.Zak: My dad was always taking photos with a Nikon F3 when I was a child, and this fascinated me. When I was about 16 I bought myself Kodak disposable cameras, and went on a holiday in the Namibian desert.
There I took my first shots and was hooked. The year after, in 1999, I got my dad’s F3.
Phoblographer: What made you want to get into analog photography?Zak: When I studied it was still all analog, so I can say my roots are with analog. I spent hours in the darkroom developing and printing.
Shooting film is almost extinct and costs a fortune, which makes you double check, even triple check, if all is set up correctly. I love this precision and hands on experience with analog.
Phoblographer: Why Kodak Aerochrome? What does it do for you that other Infrared films don’t besides the green to pink?Zak: It’s so unique, and it is the only color infrared film left in the world. The black and white infrared film has not got me yet. What I love about color infrared is that it evokes different emotions. A green forest will feel fresh and calm, where a pink forest will be warm and energetic.
Phoblographer: When you go about creating your photos, how does your mindset shift vs working with standard film? Do you just go about composing and capturing scenes as normal but the technical side changes?Zak: I try and mix the two here. Composing the same, but having in mind that reds and pinks are the main color.
Phoblographer: Do different plants and greenery react differently?
Zak: It all depends on the health of the plants. The pigment in plant leaves, chlorophyll, strongly absorbs visible light for use in photosynthesis. The cell structure of the leaves, on the other hand, strongly reflects near-infrared light. So a dying plant reflects less than a healthy plant.
Phoblographer: How does lighting play a part in how you create the images? Obviously, you’re not white balancing to daylight here.
Zak: In general it has to be bright, but not always direct sunlight.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use? Do you use Graduated filters at all or other methods to create the images?Zak: I shoot with a Cambo and a Wista 45 with Rodenstock lenses. Then I use orange or yellow filters to filter out the blue light to keep the sky blue. Now and again I will use a polarizer to make the sky even darker.
Phoblographer: Have you ever worked with the film expired? What’s it like?
Zak: At the moment it’s all expired, as long as its been taken care of, it’s not a problem. I travel with a small fridge or cooler bags when I go shoot to keep the film fresh.