KT: How did you get into photography? When/what was your first encounter with visual media?
GZ: I am a child of popular culture. I grew up with movies, video games, graphic novels and of course images were omnipresent. It is hard not to absorb them. Once you reach a certain degree of awareness, you ask yourself about the consequences of all this visual input. And as an artist, I love to play around with the sheer endless possibilities visual media give you. To talk about topics that I think should be of interest for us as a society. I do not see myself so much as a photographer although I also work with a camera. But the important part is not the images themselves, the important part to me is always the story, I am trying to tell.
KT: Your self-published photobook ‘The Sentinel Script’ is a mysterious book based around the aftermath of the catastrophic 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. What do you like about the medium of photography in book format? Why did you decide to call your book-project ‘The Sentinel Script’?
GZ: A photobook gives the artist the chance to tell a complex story in a compact form. The density compared to the required space opens possibilities you can hardly find in an exhibition space. Also, there is the obvious advantage of accessibility especially if you compare it to an exhibition. Admittedly it is not as accessible as an online project, but then again it comes with other qualities that an online project can hardly offer: you can hold it, you can feel it, you can smell it. And since we are already talking about the aftermath of nuclear catastrophes, I think the chances of survival of a book are far more probable. But well, let us hope we never have to find out.
The Sentinel Script is a name that can be found in psychology as well as in computer language. In the book, the sentinel fulfils a twin assignment. He is the guardian of the zone on one hand and the storyteller on the other. So it is his script, his story to tell. The fact that a script is also something used in computer language makes it all the more fitting since the book combines photography with video game still-images.
KT: What was the collaborative process between you and the Italian collective ‘Discipula’ for the editing of your haunting yet powerful book ‘The Sentinel Script’? What were the difficulties you faced during this project?
GZ: Discipula had a remarkable impact on the book. It was my first major project and they were an incredible help in forming my still raw idea (in the beginning) into something more accessible and defined. Their way of editing also gave me the distance I needed at that time to reassess and to become more precise in my own vision. They had a great understanding of where I wanted to go right from the beginning and I am very thankful I had the chance to work together with them.
To be honest I cannot really think of any major difficulties. At some point, you just have to take a little time to to get a more distant perspective and to get a clearer focus. If you are impatient these might be tricky times, but then they are definitely well spent.
KT: Your book ‘The Sentinel Script’ is like a 32-year-old bewildering science fiction novel with a haunting history that comprises dark elements like huge forests, dead animals, grey weather and forgotten plants. It also includes images taken from thematically related movies and video games. What was the intent behind these dark elements? What was your fascination with images from movies and video games?
GZ: To me, it was clear from the beginning that the story would be way more dystopian than utopian. I guess it stands to reason that if you want to tell a happy story, you probably do not choose Chernobyl as your shooting location. So before I even started, I decided on a film and a technique that emphasised the vision that I already had. Also, I wanted to achieve a look that mirrored the visual language with which Chernobyl is utilised in popular culture, speak in movies and video games.
Generally, I am fascinated by this idea of transmedia storytelling. I do not care a lot about the – what you could call – classic aesthetics of photography. And with this topic, in particular, I was fascinated that we are talking about a zone, which exists in an entertainment reality just as much as in our real world. And merging these two realities was incredibly exciting to me. We are on the verge of an augmented reality revolution, so I think, this topic will become ours and now sooner than we might expect at this point.
KT: In one of your interviews, you quoted – “For somebody concerned about where our society is heading, it can be a very exciting period. For me personally, I try to walk a healthy line between submerging myself in this fast pacing craziness and taking a step back every now and then and simply enjoying some good old “unconnected” time somewhere in and with nature. What is this healthy line? Please elaborate.
GZ: I simply find myself overwhelmed quite regularly by all this noise, we are confronted with on a regular basis. Save the planet, capitalism, eat healthy, social media, Vorsprung durch Technik, intolerance, religion, politics, feminism, take care of your beloved ones, consume more, consume less… yes, you can pretend that all these topics are of no concern to you. I can not. And at the same time, you simply need to take care of yourself, to protect yourself. And to me there is no better way than spending time in nature, in the countryside, that is where I can recharge my batteries. Sometimes I think it should be a hermit’s life for me, but as I said before, I cannot simply pretend the world outside does not exist.
KT: With your self-induced visual storytelling, focussing on societal significance, what do you do you want to achieve with your photography in the end?
GZ: Basically to raise awareness. The machine, the way our society is organised, is becoming more and more complex and is getting increasingly harder for us as individuals to see through all the complex mechanics that we initiate and that affect us. As an individual it seems nearly impossible to change anything, but as a group changes become feasible. I have no influence on education, but what I can do is to try to raise awareness.
Well, our lives are short, our footprints will be washed away by the sea of time all too quickly. But even if there is the slightest chance that I can have a teeny-weeny influence on the progress of our society – that I would consider a huge success.