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Ones to Watch: Zamar Velez

Zamar Velez is the LA-based photographer who makes color count. When asked what message he is trying to get across with his work, he responded, “…that our imagination is really important because the colors in my photos don’t exist in real life.” What started out as an 8th-grade fascination with taking iPod touch photos, Velez’s love of photography became a staple in his life because of the emotional reactions he is able to incite in others through his work. Today, the 20-year-old  has shot for the likes of Dazed, Ilegal Civilization, and Office Magazine. In 2019, he released his first photo book and will release another along with Shawn Rojas by the end of the year. We sat down with the artist to get a glimpse into his quick-style shooting and to find out what piques his interest in a subject.

(P.S. @theweeknd, if you’re listening, Zamar Velez wants to take your portrait.)

You shot Munachi Osegbu for our Next-Gen series – tell us about that experience.

Munachi is really tight and I instantly knew how to shoot him when I walked into his house. All my shoots are really fast so we shot everything in about 20 minutes. I got a lot of respect for him and his work!

How did you plan your self-portrait shoot, how did you decide the locations and mood? What was the process like?

I wanted to shoot either in my room or somewhere close to home in Orange County. I came up with some self-portrait ideas, but they were kinda trash so I had my girlfriend shoot them for me at a park walking distance from my house. I composed some of the images and she took the picture. I edited them to my liking and sent them off! She killed it, I think they came out pretty good.

Your images have some stunning colored lighting. How do you go about lighting your subjects, what’s your process like in terms of planning the direction for a shoot?

Thank you! Color is really important to me so I always want that known in my photos. I light my subjects flash most of the time or a mirror as a reflector because it makes for really harsh light which looks cool to me.

What has been your most challenging project to date? Why?

My most challenging project was probably working on the book I dropped last year. I didn’t realize how much it would take out of me, but it was so worth it. I think it was so challenging for me because I also had little side projects going on as well which made it hard to focus on completing the book. I’m really happy with how it came out though.

How did you get started with photography?

I went to New York in 8th grade to visit family and brought my iPod touch with me and took so many photos. My family really liked the mediocre photos but it made me really happy seeing their reaction so I continued doing so on my iPod until my grandma bought me a fully manual film camera. I had so many blank rolls and my photos were trash, but I stuck with it and here we are.

What do you want your viewers to take away from your images? Do you have a message?

I want my viewers to know that this is how I see life and how I photograph someone is how I see them. I want them to feel as if they can touch the images. I guess my message would be that our imagination is really important because the colors in my photos don’t exist in real life.

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sunny suljic for illegal civ

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Are you working on any projects you can tell us about? What are you most excited about?

I’m working on a project with my friend Shawn Rojas that’ll drop at the end of the year. We are gonna put so much into it and I’m confident that it’ll come out perfect. I’m just really excited to see the feedback we get and all the great memories we get from this project, can’t wait.

Tell me more about these images. Is there a particular one that has a special story or stands out to you?

I love going back and looking at these photos because it brings me back to the night each of those were taken. I really like the second and fourth image and they were both taken at the same party. The fourth one is my friend Austin’s reaction after getting champagne sprayed all over him on new years right after the countdown. Makes me laugh every time I see it, he has the funniest facial expressions.

What kind of subjects draw you in? What qualities do you look for in a subject?

I get drawn in by people so easily because everyone is so interesting. I guess the only type of people I don’t get drawn into are the people that look like they’d be in a stock image. I like when you can see someone’s personality through their style and how they carry themselves. I look for anything I find beautiful to highlight my subject like someone’s smile or their cool hair. 

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers looking to expand their body of work?

I would advise aspiring photographers to not be afraid to experiment to find your own unique style. Try out all mediums of photography and figure out which one fits your needs and roll with it. I struggled with developing my own style for the longest time and would tell my mom that I wanted people to be able to tell I took that photo without question. 

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j'ai besoin de te voir

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Where would you like to see yourself at the end of the year?

I would like to quit my day job and just put all my time into photography and get a nice portrait of The Weeknd ahaha. 

Stay tuned to Milk for more Ones to Watch.

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