by Phoebe Eis, Staff Writer
18-year-old photographer Matan Ziv– the only AP Studio Art student concentrating in the medium this year– is a testament to the roles commitment and diligence play in artistry. He’s spent much of his high school years honing his skills with the camera, but it wasn’t always so prominent in his life– he’s only been at it seriously for about two years.
“The actual reason I got into photography,” Matan explains, laughing, “is because my cousin –who’s about three years older than me– had a film camera… I’m always jealous of him, so I asked my grandma if she had one that she could give me.” While his initial interest was sparked by envy, perhaps a passion for visual arts was inevitable thanks to the creative influence of his family. “My dad has always been into movies and photography,” Matan explains, adding, “my grandmother used to be into photography, so she’s a big inspiration.”
Because he grew up traveling between New York, California, and Israel, Matan has gathered artistic imagery from literally all over the globe. “I have a lot of airport photos,” he tells me, “traveling is definitely a big advantage.”
Ziv lived in New York City when he was younger and still visits frequently, but he also has family in the Berkeley, California area and abroad, in Israel. “Probably fifty percent of everything I’ve taken is in Israel,” he says. One of the photographs he’s most proud of was created spontaneously– a capture of an old cellist on the street at the gates to the Old City in Jerusalem.
“That’s one of my favorite photos I’ve taken,” he says, noting that it earned him a gold key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. “That was just, I was in Israel and that guy was there. It just worked out that way,” Matan explains. For all his technical poise, he’s often at his best in those spur-of-the-moment captures. “I kind of prefer when it’s not planned,” he admits.
However, as in all disciplines, a healthy balance is key. “It’s also really satisfying to spend a ton of time planning and then get a really nice shot,” Matan reflects as we pour through his collection of shots. This foresight proves especially helpful when he’s visiting somewhere with limited time and a specific vision. “If I’m going to a new place like I’m going to the city, which I do quite often, I research locations, so that way I know what gear to bring with me,” he says.
Photography has also created opportunities for Ziv to appreciate the scenic beauty of our own Hudson Valley. After seeing photos of spectacular waterfalls and wishing to replicate them, he found out there was actually one nearby– in Ellenville– so he made plans to take the hike. Although conditions were frigid and there were unforeseen crowds, he managed to capture unique and stunning, portfolio-worthy photos– making the experience all the more rewarding.
Currently, Matan is focusing on capturing his connection to the city and revealing the stories behind the images in his portfolio– from the nostalgic familiarity of a favorite restaurant, to the toll of COVID-19 and the industrialization-related environmental destruction. While the AP curriculum has tested his versatility and prompted him to find his artistic voice, Mr. Martin’s photography class has opened the door to more complex technical processes, namely, traditional film and darkroom practices.
“I’m shooting a lot more film now, even outside of the class,” he notices, remarking that with film, “you just get better photos, because you have limited resources. When you’re looking through the viewfinder… it just makes you really take your time and compose.” This mindfulness has resulted in more intentional compositions and exposures in his work this year.
Recently, he experimented with long exposure photography to capture the star trails of the night sky, which took “weeks of pre-planning.” Matan explains, “it has to do with where the moon is in the sky, and then there’s a ton of technical stuff as far as the camera.” Ultimately, this tedious work paid off, producing an effortlessly mesmerizing final product.
Eventually, going through the motions becomes instinct; somewhere along the way, art is born. Above all, it’s this lingering sense of intrigue and atmosphere that ties Ziv’s diverse work together. Essentially, in Matan’s words, “there’s a story behind it.” His confidence with the locations creates immersive photos and a sense of unpretentious familiarity. “I don’t really impose that many of the classic composition rules like the rule of thirds,” Matan says.
Because of this, his work feels intuitive and natural, yet surprising. The way he can capture seemingly everyday, pedestrian scenes and showcase their poignancy is indicative of his skill.
“I’ve been doing it for enough time to kind of know what makes a good composition,” he says, “so when I’m framing, I know when it clicks.”