Zachariah Szabo (b. 1989, Richfield, OH) uses photography and sculpture to examine personal identity, loss, reference and subculture. As a native of the midwest and a former competitive figure skater and dancer, he uses visual cues from the early 80’s and mid-90’s to compose images and installations that often provoke thoughts of nostalgia and memory. Szabo received his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan in 2013. He currently works and resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: rare as a winter rainbow

2016 – 2018

I was designed to be a boy beauty queen. Growing up as an adopted only child that was homeschooled, I was constantly reminded of how different I was from other boys my age every time I’d go out of my house. I was a figure skater, a dancer, and my mom signed me up for pageants. I was often the only boy enrolled in my activities. I always knew I was a little different, but being queer was never an opportunity I was exposed to until college. My mother was the buffer between myself and the world, often making every decision for me, “for my own good”. 

My childhood was a constant uncomfortable combination of things that were visually incoherent. Much like my identity, the home that I grew up in was a work in progress, utilizing discount flooring and mismatched sale wallpapers and paints found by my mother. The home had no cohesive character or atmosphere; it was a visual disaster. My mom passed away shortly before I came out, moved out of the house and began living on my own. I began critically analyzing my mother’s aesthetic and linking her design sensibility to my childhood development. 

My still-life photographs are an effort to connect my feelings toward my formative years and my relationship with my parents. The combination of materials in my images are structured to reference otherness and isolation in a visually functional manner, in an effort to rebuild the home in which I grew up. Many patterns and objects in the photographs are those that I’d see in friend’s homes or on TV, but never in my own. The stand-alone objects are pieces that are too dominant or minuscule to be included in the still-life images, but are documented against a white background to give the viewer an opportunity to examine the piece on its own. The photographs are taken with a digital camera tethered to a computer and each composition is made in-camera. Each image relates to a memory from my past, whether clear or vague, and by combining certain objects with others, I attempt to bridge the gap between the environment I knew and the one I may have desired.

The Sleeping Bear, 2016 © Zachariah Szabo

Pinnacle, 2018 © Zachariah Szabo

Untitled #101, 2016 © Zachariah Szabo

When and where did rare as a winter rainbow begin?

This series started as a bunch of visions in my head about a year after grad school. Prior to this series, I made a series of self-portraits based on my childhood photos, and I was really attracted to the elements of glitz and camp so I wanted to make some still life work that played on those visual cues. I knew for my next series that I wanted to use pattern, I knew I wanted to use geometric shapes and I knew I wanted to shoot in the studio. I was living outside of DC at the time and I attempted a few tests in our tiny apartment but nothing really materialized until we moved into a larger apartment in Akron, OH with studio/office space. Prior to being able to shoot, I had collected a lot of objects and materials and it was a cathartic experience to finally make the visions into images. The images have become more mentally complex (to me) as the series developed, and some of my favorite experiences in making the series has been the adventure of finding the objects and materials used in the images. I always get some quizzical looks from the cashiers at the resale shops depending on what I purchase.

Vanity, 2016 © Zachariah Szabo

Where do you see this project going?

rare as a winter rainbow is still in-progress but it’s slowing down. I’m trying to collect less materials but I still have some that I want to use! The work has been shown in a couple group and two-person exhibitions and I’m hoping to have a solo show sometime in 2019. I consider that my ‘deadline’ to fully complete the series. I’m toying with the idea of a sculptural spin-off project of the objects in my images but I don’t see that happening soon.

I think my ideal outcome of the series is for my viewers to have a moment of memory or nostalgia, and perhaps get a glimpse of what I visually absorbed as a child in the 90’s. When viewers look at my images, they usually say something to the effect of "wow, my grandma had that in her house” or “I had those bedsheets as a kid.”

What helps you sustain your current creative practice?

I am fortunate to be a part-time photography professor, so during the school year I am constantly surrounded by creativity. Even teaching introductory and mid-level courses, I am still stimulated by the ideas my students come up with for their projects! Of course, all the planning and teaching takes time away from my own practice, so that seems to flourish during the summer. I am part of a small collective of photographers and artists in the Pittsburgh area that meets monthly to discuss work, readings and ideas, and those meetings always leave me stimulated and excited about art. In addition to photography, I am still figure skating in my down time. It’s a different creative outlet but some of the elements like structure and musicality seem to trickle into my art practice so I try to keep active with that facet of my psyche.

One Man's Nightmare, 2017 © Zachariah Szabo

What’s next for you?

As this series is winding down, I’d really like to focus on a documentary-style photography project on a small community in the Pittsburgh area. I’m also in the process of making a zine with the working title “Chicken Bones of Pittsburgh”… You can creep on my Instagram to get a small preview of that. In the meantime, I’m excited to share that I will be part of a group exhibition entitled “The Past Is Present” at the Atlanta Photography group in August 2018.