Inside the Head of Bil Zelman

Inside the Head of Bil Zelman

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Personal work can be described as a series of images that tell a story. These images truly represent a photographer; their vision, their voice, executed in a style developed exclusively. It is synergy that peaks interest. If you’re lucky, this unique style is what the client will request, when they want a special moment, a spark for their brand. Prepared happenstance.

Making the magic happen is one of Bil Zelman’s strongest skills. Wild and crazy, yet poised and focused, Bil is a ‘rogue’ whose passion for photography pushes his own personal and photographic boundaries in life and on set. He will stop at nothing to get the shot (um, he was once strapped to the hood of an old 67 Mustang, going at full speed down a dirt road, with leather belts strapped to his arms and legs, so that he was limber enough to shoot through the windshield without falling off).

He’s an expert at blurring the lines between his personal and commercial projects.

Even though I’m shooting commercially all the time my book is STILL filled with personal work. I adore the fact that most people can’t tell which is which- but that’s a style thing really. Sure, an ad I shoot for CocaCola doesn’t look like my street photography but there is definitely a large piece of me in both.”

Known for his really unconventional production and casting techniques, Zelman has developed a tried and tested methodology that has delivered successful results. The keys to this success, can be attributed to “a good team and casting.” 99.9% of the time, he uses street cast talent, (did we mention he has a casting team on the streets of Atlanta right now, casting people in bars?) He is one of the few people who like to have the casting agent and producer to be the same person, so that there is consistency. It is this consistency that allows him to go to extreme lengths to make his sets as authentic as possible. Even if that authenticity includes throwing real parties, or throwing real potatoes at people, to evoke true emotions.

“ Well – I like a little crazy and some of my clients love me for our carefully calculated chaos.”

Developing and maintaining a brand is no easy feat, but Zelman’s experience in the business has earned him a smattering of accolades and tear sheets to prove his worth. But before all the bells and whistles, it is his passion for photography and desire to communicate authentic stories that has earned him his stripes.

Maintaining a brand is long process of shooting and culling and shooting and culling. My agent helps me to stay on vision in the edit that we share with our clients, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of my assignments involve people crowd surfing or lighting people on fire.”

Zelman is now in the process of writing a new book titled “The Authentic Photograph” scheduled for release late 2014. A contemplative process that requires true focus, Zelman has now resorted to setting up a mobile desk in the desert!

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It’s my first written book actually. I published Isolated Gesture, a 15 -year street photography project which Albert Watson gave an Art Directors Club award to this year, but writing a book is an amazing process. A fantastic publishing house asked me to write it after hearing me speak at the PhotoExpo NYC this year and I was both flattered and interested. Being endlessly introspective about the subtleties of your work is something you can’t help but learn and grow from. As I think on it I’m owing more and more of my success to each of these chapters- Topics like Trust, Touch, Subject Motivation, Style vs. Technique, Proximity, Isolating Talent from Production and a bunch of random unconventional techniques like when to whisper and when to throw potatoes!”

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When Zelman isn’t accosting the talent, he can be found working on his 1977 Datsun, going for long swims or cooking for his beautiful wife.

Stephanie Baptist

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Stephanie Baptist is an independent art producer and writer. She has more than 10 years experience working with visual artists, with a focus on photography and video. An Art Consultant for Tiwani Contemporary, Baptist is the editor of several publications for the London-based gallery. She also spends time as a correspondent for Contemporary &, an online magazine focusing on international art.