Mossless in America is a column featuring interviews with documentary photographers. The series is produced in partnership with Mossless magazine, an experimental photography publication run by Romke Hoogwaerts and Grace Leigh. Romke started Mossless in 2009, as a blog in which he interviewed a different photographer every two days; since 2012 the magazine has produced two print issues, each dealing with a different type of photography. Mossless was featured prominently in the landmark 2012 exhibition Millennium Magazine at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; it is supported by Printed Matter, Inc. Its third issue, a major photographic volume on American documentary photography from the last ten years, titled The United States (2003–2013), was published last May.
Suzanna Zak is an intermedia artist living and working in Los Angeles and wherever her travels take her. Moscow-born and New Jersey–raised, Zak is a prolific artist whose work stretches far beyond the reaches of her photography alone. The artist statement for her installation Driftland (it brings me much/such pleasure) describes the work as a "foggy trip" and explains that she scribbled down the names of eight locations from Google Maps she liked the place names of, and then went to them. Incorporating text, sculpture, and found images, she pulls you to the location of her stories of single instances. We talk with Suzanna about trespassing, the aurora borealis, and watermelons.
Mossless: Where are you from?
Suzanna Zak: I was born in Moscow, and my family immigrated to the US when I was pretty young. I grew up in suburban New Jersey but spent some summers on my grandparents' farm in Ukraine. The farm is no longer there, but when I was younger, the dichotomy of New Jersey and Ukraine definitely shaped me.
Your images have a transient quality. Do you travel a lot for your work?
Taking photos isn't my main objective for traveling, but the two go hand in hand, like they do for most people. That being said, having a camera in hand has brought me to certain spots that I don't think I would have had the initiative to end up in otherwise. I guess what I'm mostly talking about here is minor trespassing.
There is a familiar feel to your work. The viewer can sometimes feel the weight of your experiences even though the photographs can be ambiguous in nature. For me this has a lot to do with the way you choose to display them, with artifacts, found objects, and text. Do you view these artifacts as supplementary to the images or as an integral part of a single piece as a whole?
I consider artifacts as components of a larger whole when I'm building the installations. However, each element should be able to convey some information on its own. The objects in the installations are taken from their original context, thus shifting their meaning. I like thinking of that decontextualization as a fluid process that continues happening over time.
What is your process for finding these artifacts?
It seems silly to say, but I really just run into them. I'm not out searching for particular things. Sometimes a friend gives me a matchbox with a photo of the Swiss Alps printed on it while I'm printing my own photos of mountains. Other times, I'm out walking up a dirt road, and I trip over a rusty bit. Originally, all the objects came from the same site of the photographs. Now, I'm a lot more open to different possibilities. I hope that they function as a reference point to the original site of the photograph, while also providing a new experience for the viewer to engage with.
You've made a number of books and zines of your work, one of which is called The Copier, that you made with your partner Nicholas Gottlund (of Gottlund/Verlag) while you were living in LA and he in PA. I snagged a copy a few years ago at the New York Art Book Fair, and it has remained one of my favorite contemporary independent photo books. It's such a tender study of creativity in relationships, and so beautifully crafted. How did you find working creatively with someone you're romantically involved with?
Collaboration is one of the most satisfying aspects of art making. For me, there's a real ease to working with Nick. I think there's a lot we understand about one another's individual relationship to printed images that made this a really exciting project to work on.
We could bounce the book back and forth, mold and alter the editing process through the use of image(s) rather than discussion. The Copier feels like a visual conversation of mostly laughter.
We were chatting earlier, and you mentioned you were heading to Yukon in a few days. What takes you out there?
There's a whole slew of reasons why I keep going back there, but I'll pick just the two main things right now: aurora borealis and old friends.
You've recently moved out west, and I've been peeping on your Instagram that you've been growing some fruit. Since I live in New York City, where the heat melted the grapevines right off my window, this makes me quite jealous. How's the harvest coming? Is having the land and the climate to harvest fresh food as amazing as it sounds?
Farming is a form of freedom. This summer was just part of a small gardening experiment that I hope to continue for the rest of my life. It feels important to mention that water is a huge issue in Los Angeles right now, so that doesn't make it the ideal climate. Mainly, I focused on watermelons this season. I wish I had more (time) to invite more people over to taste them. I kept joking about a watermelon festival. Even before I was able to harvest them, growing the watermelons has been a huge source of joy. I thought they wouldn't be ripe before I left for my trip, but I got a good harvest to enjoy and share. Now that I'm away from my garden, the book I just started reading is Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar.
Suzanna Zak is a Los Angeles–based wild seed. Find her previous contributions to VICE here.
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