Zahra Reijs is a Rotterdam-based Dutch photographer who skillfully transforms the mundane into the magical by capturing surreal moments in the real world. Her art infiltrates your mind and makes it wander. Suddenly you understand exactly what Lewis Carroll meant when he wrote Alice in Wonderland’s philosophy of the world:
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?
What made you decide to dedicate yourself to photography? What did you find so appealing about the medium?
I once got a camera for my birthday and instead of playing outside with friends, I would go into the city to photograph. I was always very quiet and shy, and I think because of that, it was very easy for me to photograph without being noticed. It became a way of communicating with the world in a way I finally felt comfortable with.
How would you describe your photography style?
I find it hard to describe a photography style in words, especially my own. But I guess I like to keep things real, which gets me to documentary portraits, with sometimes a bit of fiction.
What kind of stories you are looking to tell in general? What inspires your storytelling?
I feel like most stories lead me to them or start to live after I have unconsciously created them. One thing I do find very important is that there is always a sense of reality, even though things may be romanticized.
Do you use photography as escapism or a way of mirroring who you are?
A lot of times in non-commercial work, when I look back at a portrait, I feel like it carries a lot of my own emotions. A lot of times I wonder if I portray more of myself than the person portrayed…
How can photography transform the way we see and think about ourselves and others?
Photography is an amazing medium to photograph the best, the worse, and everything in between. It is your world and your view of it that you are capturing, but we need to realize that if we look like a goddess in one picture, we may not always feel or look that exact way. A photograph is only a fragment of a second and I think we sometimes forget this. For me personally, when I portray someone, I like to peel off layers of representation. Don’t think about how you want to look on camera. Just be, even if that makes you uncomfortable. That, to me, is pure beauty.
What makes a good photo good for you?
I have to love the photograph for the rest of my life, it needs to be timeless in a sense.
Most of the content today is aimed at immediate gratification. Do you think people just scroll and like photos or are they still able to appreciate them?
I sometimes feel sucked into an endless stream of images and it’s hard to not lose sight of your very own handwriting. So, for myself, I don’t appreciate it because it’s hard to filter what you get to see, but on the other hand, because of this exact reason I’ve seen the most beautiful images and discovered amazing artists that I would’ve never seen if this endless stream did not exist. I sometimes like to go to this library full of photography books where I can filter what I look at and not be distracted by things that scream for attention in the wrong ways and when I leave, I feel energized instead of empty. Whether other people are still able to appreciate is hard to say for me.
I think we developed a new way of looking that is not to be compared with how we viewed the world without social media, but I do think that was a healthier world.
You shot Sevdaliza’s Bluecid video. Do you think moving images create a sense of emotion more clearly and quickly than still images?
One photograph can tell more in a shorter amount of time whereas in moving images you may need a little bit more information or time, but that doesn’t mean one is better than the other.
Art has always prevailed, even in times of pestilence and hardship. Shakespeare wrote his best works during a plague. Edvard Munch painted a self-portrait during the Spanish Flu. How do you keep yourself moving and motivated? What do you do to keep yourself inspired?
The amount of pressure we carry to create constantly is insane and it doesn’t work for me. I’ve learned that in order to create at my best, I need to accept when I’m not inspired or motivated– and that is totally fine. I feel like these phases are part of our creative process, as if they are a spring cleanup, and when all is clear new things will prevail.