Paul Zizka: An Appreciation of NatureInspiration
‘I believe there is, in all human beings, a deep connection with the natural environment. My hope is that, through my photography, people will rediscover the previous connection they can have with the wonders of our planet.’ – Paul Zizka
San Miguel has created a Rich List, unearthing a group of 20 ‘life-rich’ individuals from across the globe who have unique, compelling and aspirational stories to tell. Paul Zizka is featured in this list. This photographer captures the worldly beauty of the Canadian wilderness, from still, snow-covered lakes to awe-inspiring icebergs floating on a glacial blue sea. Zizka realised that he could create an impact with his photos for people who might never get to experience these things.
You appear to have found a magic recipe for combining incredible adventures while documenting them through your photography. Did one passion come first, or are travel and photography intrinsically linked for you?
Photography started for me as a way of documenting the places I was visiting and chronicling the mountain experience. With time, however, I became increasingly fascinated with the interplay of light, weather and the landscape. Photography allowed me to observe nature more closely and made me more aware of my surroundings. Soon this magnified way of observing the natural environment became indistinguishable from living life as I had known it. I purchased my first DSLR in 2007, and thus the journey began.
You describe a desire to record the under-documented. Is this part of a wider need to explore? Are you more attracted by those parts of the world that are relatively undiscovered? What drives you to photograph these areas?
I’m constantly researching interesting and relatively undocumented locations to explore. Discovering these places is a draw for me, both as a photographer and someone who loves to travel. I love showing people that there are so many more places out there to see other than destinations that are already highly photographed.
You have a wide portfolio, but there is a clear thread of wilderness running through many of your images. What drew you to this area of photography?
A lot of my images capture authentic moments of exploration in the wilderness. I spend my spare time in the mountains with family and friends, and these images capture real moments experiencing the grand landscapes. For me, photography provides a way to connect me to nature and I hope that others can feel connected, too.
Unusually, there are a lot of self-portraits in your work – albeit against a much more spectacular backdrop than your average selfie. What motivates you to include yourself in the images?
The trend started rather haphazardly. I liked the idea of including a human in the frame to give a sense of perspective and reinforce our connection with the landscape. Often I was out shooting alone, so the human in the frame would be me. Of course, it would be easier to shoot a model instead of going back and forth to the camera to change settings and fix any compositional issues, but in time the self-portrait aspect became a part of the photographic journey, and I enjoy the challenges it brings.
Is it just to bring human interest to a shot when you are travelling solo, or more of a personal record?
The identity of the person in the shot is irrelevant. That’s why most people are unrecognisable or silhouettes. The hope is to show the connection and make the image relatable.
What have been the most challenging conditions that you’ve shot in? What did it entail?
It’s hard to choose, but an image called ‘Marooned’, taken on a tiny island in Berg Lake stands out. To capture the image, I set up the composition, got the intervalometer going and headed out towards an island rock, which turned out to lie in deeper water than I expected (almost neck deep). Safety did not seem like a real concern until the Berg Glacier released an unknown amount of ice into its namesake lake. I say ‘unknown’ because it was dark and I could not see how much ice had calved off, nor how much water was coming my way as a result. It ended with a gentle surge of water, and me and camera safely intact.
How hard do you have to work to find a unique viewpoint? Do you naturally see alternative compositions?
It can be challenging to find new compositions when revisiting a familiar place, but this is what forces skills to develop and grow. Part of my journey as a photographer has been getting out into the wild and finding these new places to document.
What kind of kit do you bring with you? Are you forever balancing the downside of excess weight with the desire for more options?
I like to make sure I’ve got the right lens to shoot any scene when I set off on a trip, because I never really know what photo opportunities might arise! Having said that, I like to use lenses that are multi-functional to cover different types of photography, if possible.
My 17-40mm has been my workhorse lens since I started. I love its versatility. It is also quite sharp and relatively lightweight. I carry a telephoto to get those sharp and dramatic mountain peak shots. I love the detail you can capture from so far away! And my fast prime is perfect for night/aurora shots. The quality is spectacular and always reliable. I have all my gear listed at zizka.ca/gear.
Are there still places that you want to visit and document? Can you share any with us yet?
I’m looking forward to shooting Namibia later this year. I’d also love explore the rarely documented Tajikistan. That rugged, mountainous landscape just looks phenomenal!
Paul Zizka is the latest discovery by San Miguel as part of its search for the inaugural San Miguel Rich List, a list of ‘life-rich’ individuals from across the globe who have unique, compelling, aspirational human stories. To find out more about the campaign, and discover other life-rich individuals, visit www.sanmiguel.co.uk/richlist