Eva Zar on Queer Representation: "Take us off your mood boards, hire us and pay us."
Eva Zar is a photographer, filmmaker, and content creator that currently lives in New York City. Originally from Russia, Zar grew up in Vienna, Austria. Her visual focus centers on warm-toned, euphoric images that are reminiscent of the warmth of human connection. Zar sat down with Milk to dive deep on the beauty industry myth, breaking down boundaries of perception and representation, and, ultimately, what she wants to leave behind as her legacy.
Tell us about your recent work.
My work over the past few years never came from wanting to photograph someone queer. I never thought, “Oh! I’m going to be this queer photographer”—I thought about beauty and what the beauty industry does to us. I started to take that all in. What beauty means? Why do we think something is beautiful in the first place? Why do we fetishize someone? Why are we sexually attracted to someone? Who tells us what we have to like? How to keep us from aging, how to keep us in this image, it’s all bullshit. I think the problem with beauty is, it doesn’t matter because when you are old you’re old. You know? Who cares? That’s when I got into photographing drag personas, that was such an extreme of taking what the beauty industry is to the next level. We all have these structures and roles we have to play for. Seeing all these performers taking all these rules and structures and making them their own. Embodying that. Ok like, you know, I’m going to be Violet Chachki and have these insane hurtful heels and corsets and all that. It’s so mesmerizing, that was crazy for me. That’s how I started getting into photographing people that aren’t trying to be that angel on Sephora’s ad, that Mary, but being what they see in the mirror. Fuck that. I don’t want to be that beautiful traditional beauty standard, I want to be my own standard.
What made photography click with you?
Yo, man. That’s such an interesting question and so hard to answer. I think in a weird way I like being in an uncomfortable situation and being relieved afterwards. For me, photography is really uncomfortable. When people say, “I love photographing, I love being on set, my camera is always next to me”—I’m like, “Really?” I’m always nervous. I think I just like pressure and in a weird way photography has always given that to me. In general, I don’t go out that much, I don’t just get to know someone and be best friends with them. Through my work I’m able to talk to someone—a lot of people that know me know me through my work. I’m so uncomfortable to meet someone new to photograph them but when I do I’m so happy I did that. It’s always such a great experience to photograph someone and also get to know their story. That’s what photography has always been about. Just storytelling and at the end of the day we are going to die.
The question we need to ask ourselves is what do we leave. What is our legacy?
What do you mean we are going to die?! [Laughs]
[Laughs] What do you mean? I’m going to live forever, or at least that’s what Clinique tells me! No, but seriously the question we need to ask ourselves is what do we leave. What is our legacy? What did you do today that goes beyond Instagram posting or stories? You need to create something meaningful, something people can relate to. Even if it makes them aggressive, you know? Even if they are upset with themselves. At least they are feeling something. We are so ignorant to feelings, especially in New York, you aren’t shocked anymore. I think it’s just to create something meaningful, something people can look at and feel at home. Not just for the sake of content or producing. It’s a tough industry out here, it’s necessary for us to feel like we aren’t by ourselves. If someone can watch something, like the video I made then that’s a connection I made with you. I hope that connection can give you the reassurance of not feeling lonely. Not that being lonely is a bad thing but we aren’t islands, so if I’m able to give someone that familiarity and comfort then I’m a successful artist.
What do you hope your photography is able to do for people with different and layered identities?
Ok, so here’s the thing: if you are a drag queen you have that space of being published in Gay Times or Grindr or any of these stereotypical, “You’re queer, so this is your section. This is where you are going to go.” But there are all these other sections and all these other magazines. I shoot for both queer and non-queer publications and when I get to shoot a queer person, they’re able escape those categories for a minute. With that in mind, they hope and I hope that we can bring that photo of them into other spaces. There’s this quote by John Waters where he is like, “Gay is not enough anymore. It’s a good start, but I don’t want my memoirs to be in the gay section near true crime at the back of the bookstore next to the bathrooms. No! I want it up front with the best sellers.”
What do you think is your overall goal as an artist for your future?
Why are we asking this? Like ahhhhhh, so real. I’ll be back. [Laughs] Time’s up!! There are a bunch of projects in the works (that I’m not allowed to talk about yet). But I guess you are asking less about the work but more of the meaning of it all. You can never be happy with yourself, as soon as you reach that one goal of yours, you are like,”Ok, what’s next?” If you are able to make something that goes beyond clicks and content and if you are able to touch someone’s heart for real. If you are able to redefine a beauty standard. If I’m ever able to do that in my lifetime, if I’m able to have someone look at my work and they express, “I feel her, I feel home,” as I said before, “I hear you and I feel safe around your work,” that’s the most precious and meaningful thing. Even if it’s shocking! Even if it’s in 20 years I want to make fetish porn, feminism bondage film and someone watches that and is like, “I like that.” I’ll be like, “Exactly, it’s hot! you can be horny, it’s ok!”
Vogue should hit me up and be like, “We want you to photograph our next cover of Violet Chachki, but not because we need to have a queer persona on our cover but because we love Violet Chachki.” The problem with media is, the person who has the power behind all of it makes those choices (most of the times that’s not the editor-in-chief, it’s the brand that is paying for it). Stop hiring your male photographers, take us off your mood boards, hire us and pay us.
Images courtesy of Eva Zar
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