Alumni Spotlight: Zach Oren

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Photographer Zach Oren has taken the Art of Freelance several times and he’s currently working on a project photographing members of the trans community across the U.S. We recently talked to him about his work.

What were the origins of your project Ides of Gender? 

The origin for Ides of Gender came from me wanting to photograph a community that doesn’t get enough visibility. As a gay artist, I was disappointed in myself for not knowing much about the trans community and thought that it would be a kick-ass opportunity to celebrate those who aren’t being celebrated. 

How has Art of Freelance helped you realize your vision? 

AOF was where I created my first (and second and third) photo essay. I never knew it was something that would completely engulf my creative everything, but by helping to create a photo essay about my mother and another project, it led to this year-long project. The past 2 years with AOF has led to me being laser focused and equipped to photograph strangers in such a limited time. 


Why is this project so important to you? 

The political climate now demands we create a narrative and visibility for a community that is under attack. It’s important because as artists we are keeping a record for someone who gets to see this 20 years down the line and say “they’re trans, what’s the big deal?” But you don’t want to potentially take the struggle for granted. You see it with the AIDS crisis. People now aren’t as affected by it, and yet you can see a Nan Golden Photo, which serves as a visual Rolodex. It’s proof for those who didn’t get to feel the trauma and heartache when at the time our political system refused to acknowledge the crisis. On a personal note, this project is important for me because I crave human connection and I have to photograph. It combines my two favorite things. I’m absolutely addicted to this project. I can’t think of doing anything else. I don’t even want to think about it. 


What are the frequent challenges you encounter while working on this project?

The technical challenges are that 99 percent of the photos are taken with people I just met. I have no idea what the location is or what the light situation is like, but that feeds me. I love not knowing what to expect; that’s where you find these spontaneous golden opportunities. Mental challenges are getting past my own expectations of how and in what capacity these images will be shared. I have to consciously remind myself to focus on the work, which is a great reminder for any artist. 


What kind of support are you looking for as you continue Ides of Gender? 

I would love any support from anyone. If you know any trans individuals that would like to participate, please let me know. I would also welcome any grants given to artists celebrating LGBTQ people or a publisher that wants to take a chance on a 39-year-old waiter that has been photographing since he was 12. 

See more of Zach’s work by visiting zachoren.com or on IG @zachoren

Conor Gallagher