Stuart Zaro // An Unordinary Storyteller

Photographer’s have the ability to capture moments in time and in those moments tell a story. Stuart Zaro’s photographs reflect “ordinary life”, but they are uniquely his stories. He captures the contrasts he sees in everyday life, but in his view, he oftentimes portrays it with a wink and some humor. The lightness is juxtaposed against darker subjects and issues.

In becoming familiar with artists and their work, I find learning of their influences and journeys helps to put their work into a context. I’ve known Stuart and his photography for many years, but a recent conversation we had shed a new perspective on how his work has progressed. Stuart was intrigued with photography after finding a random camera lens on the Washington DC streets while in college. Upon moving back to NYC, he studied photo at NYU, enrolling in the program that became the Tisch School of the Arts.

Zaro has spent his professional career at Zaro’s Bakery, a NYC family business started by his grandfather. (I have to add, that I’m a huge fan of their delicious chocolate babka and classic black and whites!) Business and family demands took priority for a number of years. After raising his four sons, Stuart had time to revisit his passion and return to photography.

A trip to Cuba with Maine Media Workshops began an exploration of photojournalistic portraits, a genre that he was drawn to - as he sought to capture the essence of the people he met there and on many subsequent trips throughout the world, to Africa, Bhutan, Asia and across Europe.

This documentary-style work was a result of Stuart’s early interest in the photography of the government sponsored Farm Security Admininstration started in 1935. A group of photographers and journalists were selected to report and document the plight of rural  farmers.  He was drawn “magnetically to the compelling photos” taken by the 11 artists, including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks.

Their images, along with John Steinbeck”s The Grapes of Wrath, are credited to have defined this era. This early influence shaped Zaro as he sought to reveal the depths of his subjects and tell his own stories.

Zaro continued to study throughout NYC at various schools, including The School of Visual Arts and The International Center of Photography. After a number of years, Stuart wanted a new direction and returned to Maine. A course with Cig Harvey, led to new work. At her suggestion, he began to “shoot in the dark”.  A new project evolved, as well as a book, Driven Deep. With Harvey as Stuart’s mentor, he returned to get a Masters degree in photography and immersed himself in his art and a new approach to story-telling. Driven Deep is literally dark and figuratively, it’s  “symbolic of shooting darker things."

But just like Stuart, there are contrasts and often the “wink” I referred to earlier, images are tongue-in-cheek even if the subject matter is serious.

His work has been called Surrealistic. Surrealist art often has an element of surprise, objects that don’t quite belong together that create contrast. Photographer Spencer Lim, described Zaro’s work in his blog, Stale Bread, as insightful.  “Insight is looking not just at something but into it. To fill an image with a potentiality that expands our awareness of the world. It surprises in its plainness, leaving us to wonder how something so simple could say so much. Stuart Zaro is exactly that type of photographer.”

WAITING, which has become Share Life’s signature photo is just that. “Where else but Grand Central Station in New York CIty, could you see a line-up of bridesmaids, identically dressed, poised as they are, waiting to buy a train ticket, standing behind a very average NYer?” asked Zaro.

or capturing a man in a rural graveyard in an astronaut helmet, that’s filled with interesting reflections, truly a surreal image.

He primarily works in black and white, but when there is color, there’s a reason. This is from The Aquarium Series. The exaggerated color and contrast transform the jellyfish into a graphic image.

Stuart, his wife Keri and their family are dear friends, they have supported my husband and our family since the time of Howard’s diagnosis with a life threatening lung disease through his  lung transplant and recovery.  And now, Stuart is exhibiting his work, and selling it to benefit the New York Organ Donor Network at Share Life’s Inaugural Event. 100% of the proceeds will go to the New York Organ Donor Network.

Zaro’s work has evolved, but at the core is an interest to capture people in their everyday, ordinary lives and to find a story to tell, sometimes with levity, but always with heart.