How Rebecca Zagoory Avoids Photographing the “Ugly” World

My name is Rebecca Zagoory. As a photographer, the world around me does the talking; I am compelled to listen, watch, and then capture its moments. Or create new ones where none existed before. What sets my work apart is that, other than cropping, color correction, and the occasional overt use of color for intentional artistic purposes, all work is presented as captured in the lens and without external digital manipulation. The human eye and the brain’s susceptibility to illusion are my central pieces of equipment. 

All images are by Rebecca Zagoory and used with permission. Want to get featured? Click here to see how!

I utilize the camera to extract from stone, brick, glass, and steel those elements of a building that give it a living relationship to the viewer as art. Some works capture what appears to be the architect’s intentional form, style, and beauty while others capture ephemeral, contextual, narrative, or abstract experiences of buildings and the built environment. 

As an artist, I draw upon this same approach when photographing architectural hubs where thousands of people pass through. Some of my works have unique alchemy, using photography in a way that transforms architecture into a painterly image. 

The Essential Photography Gear of Rebecca Zagoory

I used my Rebel T2i for years. Inevitably when I had a gallery showing people would ask, “What camera do you use?” When mentioning the rebel people were disappointed I wasn’t using something more expensive.  I find this question funny because I’ve always believed it’s not the camera that makes the photo, as much as, it is the photographer’s eye. We’ve all met people who have every piece of expensive equipment yet are puzzled why they can’t capture a great photo. They don’t understand composition, lighting, angles, etc. So after getting all these snobby looks about my camera. I folded and purchased an EOS 5D Mark IV. 

I like to use my lens not always for the purpose they were made. Some of the results are good; some not so good. But, isn’t that what makes one elevate their craft?

Why did I get into photography?

I first got into photography at the age of 15. I got into photography to help with two issues that were plaguing my life. I tend to read about the darker side of life and I have a mild case of agoraphobia. Photography helped me overcome the two sometimes debilitating issues it got me out of the house and I became committed to creating beauty. 

Which photographer is my greatest influence? 

Margaret Bourke-White – Her extraordinary photos of industrial complexes and architecture mesmerized me. She found beauty in the ugly industrial landscapes. She also looked at architecture as a detail not only as an entire structure. 

How did Margaret Bourke-White affect who I am and how I create? 

I look at industrial landscapes and architectural structures as possessing ethereal and/or abstract elements. Those elements are what I try to extract when approaching and capturing the subject before me. 

How long have I been shooting? 

I have been a photographer for twenty-plus years. 

How do I feel I’ve evolved since I started? 

I firmly believe having worked only with film for years forced me to become a better photographer. Not being able to review your work until the roll is developed forces one to focus intently. You must account for everything because once you leave the subject. It’s game over. You either took a great photo or you didn’t. Sure digital makes it easier, but using film as my foundation, my composition was strong. 

My identity as a photographer. 

I am primarily an architectural photographer. However, I love to photograph anything that captures my fancy. I try to get the best photo no matter what my subject is. I don’t believe in being pigeonholed into one genre. However, for business purposes most of my work is architectural. 

Fundamentally, I am fiercely independent. I like to take a subject that hundreds before me have taken and excavate the hidden treasures that were overlooked. As a photographer and as an individual I have never taken the more familiar road.

Natural light, always. As an architectural photographer, natural light is my assistant. Because I rely on what exists at that moment. I have to make it work. The photo I take at that time and place is the best I was able to create. Natural light is how we see things every day. Of course, some genres require one to use flash or extra lighting. I have never been drawn to those genres. 

Why is photography and shooting so important to me? 

The world is too complicated at times. My photography offers a visual rest to examine a small part of this world in a way the viewer has yet to come upon. 

Do I feel more like a creator or a documenter? 

My work falls into the creative format. There is enough ugly in the world and I choose to stay away from shooting that part of life. Because I have several lenses, I can play with focal lengths and apertures to see what might emerge.

What typically goes through my mind when I create images? 

When I first come upon my subject, I look for angles. Architecture by its nature is math. So finding lines that intersect, colors, and textures that coalesce is what I strive to capture. In my abstract photos, I am focused on light, texture, color, and subject matter (people moving within a particular shoot). There is always a pattern that emerges which creates the abstraction. 

What made me want to get into this genre? 

To begin with, my subject be it a building or its interior space is almost always available. I’m not beholden to models, assistants, or extra equipment. I go out find something that strikes my fancy and shoot. In my larger series entitled,  Commute (Grand Central Terminal and The Oculus) I am drawn to these tremendous hubs of human exchange. 

All images and text are by Rebecca Zagoory. Used with permission. Check out her website!

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.