inspiration | leah zawadzki

most of you probably already know that leah is one of my dearest friends, but she is also such a huge inspiration to me -- not only in photography, but also in life. leah inspires me creatively.  she inspires me to be a stronger photographer.  she inspires me to be a better wife, mother and friend.  i can honestly say that i wouldn't be the photographer or person that i am today, without leah in my life.  i will forever be grateful for her friendship...and her inspiration.  i have no doubt that she and her work will inspire you too. If I remember right, you’ve been (seriously) pursuing photography since 2005. Obviously your photography has evolved over the years but has your style changed? And if so, in what ways?  It is always so hard for me to answer questions regarding my style.  I have never thought very hard about it—in terms of creating it or making it something.  I have always been asked how I found my style, but I believe style is something that finds you, evolves with you as you grow as a person and as a photographer.  Maybe it’s because I have been a student of Cheryl Jacobs since the very beginning and I’m comforted by her words and her ideals.  I have never been one to force something to happen, to stylize moments or invent myself.  I can only be myself.  To sit back and see, to observe and record, to let go and shoot freely—that’s when I do my very best work, that’s when my style grows and comes into it’s own.   So I can’t say that I think my style has changed much, no.  I think my heart has always been deeply rooted in my work and that is what defines my style. I must admit that over the years I go through periods of hiding it and other times letting it show.  Why would I hide it—because I’m scared to show it to the world, and more importantly to myself.  I think that at the heart of my life’s journey is becoming comfortable with who I am as a person and what I have to give, and crazy enough it’s photography that helps me work through that.

You recently started a ‘fifty-two portraits each’ project.  Can you share a bit about your inspiration behind the project?  I needed to do something—anything to get me shooting my family again.  It’s not that I didn’t shoot them before, but it was so hard.  It was so hard because I always put so much weight on it.  It became so important to get just the right shot because I did it so infrequently.  I also love projects where you can see growth—I can’t wait to see all the photos together at the end of the year.  I haven’t informed them yet, but this might not end.  I might just have to get a portrait a week of them until they are not mine anymore.

A great side effect of this project is what I am getting from it as a photographer.  Not only was I not taking (what I thought was) enough photos of my family, I was shooting less and less in general.  When I first went truly crazy over photography I wouldn’t put the camera down.  Last year it became increasingly harder to pick the camera up.  I have learned that the longer I go without shooting the harder it becomes.  The more I shoot, the more I grow and the more comfortable I am with it.

You also recently began to shoot weddings.  What inspired this and is this a new direction for your photography?  Honestly, I am not certain exactly where my photography will take me—I am still looking for the right fit with my work.  I felt compelled to give it a try.  As I mentioned before, I am not one to fabricate a moment—I enjoy observing and capturing moments as they unfold.  Weddings are perfect for that.  There is something so special about a wedding day, the love, the hope, the dreams—all right there in front of me, just waiting to be captured.

What artists inspire or influence you and why / how?  Oh gosh.  There are so many artists that inspire me or have at one point or another… Le Corbusier, Rothko, Mondrian, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe, Calder, Georgia OKeeffe, David Hockney, Barbara Cole, Cig Harvey, Sally Mann, Mona Kuhn, Mark Tucker, Max Wegner, Hugh Forte….

I think what draws me to these artists is that they are so grounded, so strong.  They all have a great sense of who they are and what they want to express in their art.  They don’t compromise themselves or what they believe in for anything.  And even though I have listed artists across three mediums, there is a common thread that draws me to them—line, composition, color, depth and strength.  As for some of the photographers on my list, I always find it interesting that they are so different then me—the content they shoot, the way they shoot.  Most of them have a vision and then go execute that vision, and as I mentioned I shoot very different then that.  But still, there are qualities to their work that speak to me, that move me and inspire me to create my own work in my own way.

What has been the best part of your photography journey thus far and why?  Connecting with people.  Seeing and getting know people, and not just my clients but my kids too.  As an introvert, I sometimes have a hard time connecting with people.  But when I photograph I make connections I never thought possible.  I am always amazed at how in love I am with my subjects after the process is over—not just in taking the photos, but in selecting and editing the photos from our time together.  In the end I feel so connected—I appreciate them, I feel like I understand them better.  It’s very hard to describe, but it’s like I see a little bit of their heart, and a little bit more of my own heart too.

What is the most important advice would you share with aspiring photographers?  Slow down and get it right.  Bit by bit.  It doesn’t happen all at once.  Be patient and true to yourself.  Shoot what you love.  And most importantly—read the Cheryl Jacob's interview.  Nobody says it better then her.

And last but not least, how do you envision the overall future of your photography?  I am still exploring and finding my way.  I am not sure if I can say I have a big vision of what that will look like exactly.  But I know what it will include—creating work that is honest and meaningful, and hopefully a little bit beautiful.