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I stopped in to Riddle Gallery on First Friday in Bryan, Texas, aware that they were featuring a photographer.  I usually don’t think much of photography; since the development of digital cameras and digital manipulation programs, everyone thinks he or she is a photographer.   The last time I was impressed by a photographer was Bernard Mendoza.  I found myself excited and impressed by the work of Christopher Zebo.  Damn, he’s good.  I felt compelled to ask him to be one of the artists on oldartguy.com.  Thank the Lord, he agreed.


How did you get into photography?

“It was accidental. I never intended to become a photographer. I don't consider myself a photographer even today, after the show. 

“A little over a year ago, I bought all of my camera gear to use for a print publication I was working for. The intention was to augment the paper's visual presence, in digital media and in print. As everyone knows, print is in dire straits. And paper's don't have budgets for stuff like photographers or photography equipment.

“I purchased all of my gear from savings I tucked away over the past five years. I was excited to enhance the publication in ways it really needed. The paper couldn't afford a photographer or the gear, but like everything I do in life, money wasn't an issue. It was about doing things right. 

“Well, a month after I purchased all of the gear, the paper and me parted ways. I was left with thousands of dollars of camera equipment. I was also physically and emotionally exhausted from all of the work I put into that paper over the years. So I did what I do best. I got into my car and I just drove. I needed to clear my head and recharge my soul. I drove for thousands of miles around Texas and beyond. And I took my camera with me. I'm not one to take pictures of places I visit, but since I had the camera, I decided to chronicle some of the beauty I saw along the way.

“But I wasn't taking photos to be a photographer. I was actually taking photos to study composition, because I originally wanted to use the gear to produce video. I wanted to produce documentary shorts. I still do, at some point. But along the way, people had strong reactions to my stills. The next thing you know, I've got an exhibit I have to produce.”

So you don't consider yourself a photographer?

“Not at all. Really, everybody is a photographer today. Just look at some of the breathtaking images people are taking with their cell phones. I'm amazed by some of the quality of work I see on social media today.

“Everybody can be a photographer. I consider myself, before anything else, an artist. I've been doing art my whole life. First, I was a musician, then I was a writer, then I was a professional salsa dancer, and now here I am taking photos. I never anticipated doing any of those things. They just kind of fell into my lap, similar to the story I told you about parting with the paper. All of the creative pursuits were never pursued; they just happened organically.

“People have been asking me at the gallery, when they see the exhibit, what do you plan to shoot next? What is the theme of your next show going to be? And I tell them, "I have no idea."

“And that's the beauty in all of this. I don't even know what's next. And that's exciting.

A lot of people who have seen your work have made comments about your images looking like paintings. Is that intentional? Something you do in post when editing?

“I've done a lot of different arts in my life. Music, writing, dancing, and now photography. I'm probably forgetting something, too.

“But I've always wanted to be a painter. And God didn't bless me with that gene. I wasn't born with a paintbrush in my hand.

“So, I'm always looking through the lens like a painter looks at a scene with a canvas in front of him or herself. I studied the great painters when I was in college. I studied composition; but as a critic, not as an artist. I think all of those years of study are coming out in the photography.

“Some of my photos look like David Hockney landscapes--expressionistic and saturated with bright colors. Late modernism runs in my blood more than anything else. But there are also traces of the early American landscape painters in me. The romanticism of the Hudson River School painters runs through me.

“My photos of people are largely influenced by my love for European film. Especially the realists, the Italian directors from the 50s and 60s. The French new wave is in there, too, especially in the quirky and subtle humor some of the images exude.

“Ironically, when people ask me who some of my favorite photographers are or if any photographers have influenced my work, I draw a blank. I was never really into photography. I'm not sure that I really am even today, which is probably startling for some people to hear. I just like making, what I think, are beautiful things. And a camera is achieving that for me right now.”

You say you haven't given much thought to what's next, but have you thought of any potential shows or themes you want to pursue in the future?

“Yeah. In the past few weeks, after pouring over some of the shots from the barbershop shoot and the abandoned houses shoot in West Texas, I've thought about producing a show called "Past Present."

“I'm really into anachronisms. I love places that belong to another time but exist as they were in this time. The barbershop shots, for example; being inside that shop, a place that hasn't been updated in 40 or 50 years physically, watching old barbers do hot shaves in the tradition of barbers from 100 years ago--it fascinates me.

“It fascinates me to see ways of life that are so out of time in this strange non-place we call the digital age, where nothing is authentic and yet there's this desperate desire to make life authentic again by copying the past, re-manufacturing previous eras for nostalgic reasons, because those eras were actually real and ours is floating on a digital cloud. I'm fascinated by people and places that still inhabit previous eras like they really were rather than how our era tries to replicate them but idealizes them in the process.

“There's a huge irony about these people and places. They exist off the grid of our current fascination with old ways of doing things. People are making so much money from reinventing the past, and yet these people who are still in that past are doing the things that are trendy, just not for the same reasons.

“These barbers have been doing what they do for 40 or 50 years--and yet they're tucked away on forlorn sidestreets in uninhabited downtowns with little foot traffic. They live in time capsules. And there is something otherworldly-beautiful about it all.

“The same is true of these abandoned houses I photographed in the West Texas desert. You walk into them and find artifacts from previous eras rotting away and forgotten. And yet these old stoves, televisions, and fixtures hold this kind of stoic majesty, just sitting there forgotten but exactly where they want to be. Where they belong. Where they feel at home. And yet no one pays them visit.”




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