David Zimmerman was always inspired by photography. He admired his father’s fascination for photographing landscapes—some of which hang in his apartment today. It wasn’t until taking digital design courses in high school that Zimmerman discovered his own passion for visual art. He asserts that it is here that he received his first pump of creative energy which led to more exploration of photography years later. Zimmerman’s love story with photography truly began in the place where many photographers can attest it occurs—the darkroom. The tactile and very involved experience of processing prints breathed new life into the way he saw the world around him. He knew then that he wanted to do this for the rest of his life.
Zimmerman’s journey with photography has taken him to new heights—using the human form—beautiful men to be exact–as his preferred subject matter. Through Zimmerman’s lens each Adonis tells a different story that intrigues. He leads a very busy life as a photographer, with clients who request his expert eye to capture moments in their lives they wish to remember. But it is through Instagram that Zimmerman’s photography has been able to reach the masses, with over 17K followers who anticipate his next post that chronicles a man we’d all love to know.
Through Instagram he has made connections that have elevated his photography, providing opportunities to further the dialogue of LGBTQ+ life and culture with black and white photography as a vessel. Some of Zimmerman’s notable collaborators and subjects have been Mr Turk @MrTurk; Eli McIntyre @mr_kid; Eliad Cohen @eliad_cohen; John Halbach @johnhalbach; Kit Williamson @kitwilliamson; Tank Joey @tankjoey; Andreas _musicmokey_; and Brian Justin Crum @BrianJustinCrum—just to name a few. Each has been photographed with Zimmerman’s Canon EOS-1Ds, a camera that has sentimental value as it was handed down to him by his father. It has never failed him—except for one time he dropped the battery in the ocean!
The 29-year-old Texas-born, California-transplant is constantly looking to photograph as a means of perfecting his craft and learning something new from those he shoots. Zimmerman takes great pride in presenting his subjects as great pieces of art that blend beautifully with the backdrops and lighting he so meticulously chooses. He’s a true master with a keen eye, but David Zimmerman is a man who rarely makes his photography about himself. His heart goes into his portraits yet many do not know much about the man behind the viewfinder. Beyond the provocative and masculine images he graces us with, there is one man we wanted to know more about—David Zimmerman.
In the last couple of weeks, I have gotten to know David Zimmerman’s work in more detail and learned much about the message he wishes to share through the art of photography. Zimmerman creates lasting relationships with his models and forms a trusting bond that is undeniable in the final product. He acknowledges that most of the photographs include men who are wearing next to nothing—or nothing at all—but he believes in the power of photography and what it can do for storytelling. And while he knows his photographs will be hyper-sexualized, he hopes his work will be appreciated for the mysteries, the stories, the compositions.
Instinct is honored to share an interview with David Zimmerman who teaches us something about what it’s like to be an independent gay artist forging his own path by capturing the still stories of others.
What got you interested in portraits, specifically photographing male models?
There is a certain bond created when photographing people. It’s something difficult to describe but I love the interaction and collaboration involved in taking portraits. I naturally gravitate towards photographing men because it’s my preference, but I also think it’s an under-told story. I do my best to capture an emotional or vulnerable moment that is only possible when the model is totally at ease. Sometimes our last shot is the very best because it’s at a moment when we have truly connected and their guard is totally let down.
What is one of your most memorable photoshoots/model moments?
It’s so hard to pick such a memory because I live for these moments! But I’ll give two. The first one is when I was working with @tankjoey. He has no fear of being naked and it almost took some getting used, even for me. We wandered around an old abandoned town by the Salton Sea, naked, and got some truly memorable shots. One in particular was with an old car chair that was rotting on the beach. Despite being totally disgusting, Joey humored me by hopping right on it without hesitation and the shot is really spectacular.
The second was with @mr_kid, his energy was so playful and creative. With very little direction he was able to blend the outfit and location into this perfect combination that made my job so easy! Each set of images really tell a story and when I have to resist falling in love with each shot I was taking from behind the lens, that’s when I know the shots are going to be special.
How do you select your models?
This really seems to work itself out. I do reach out to people periodically and will send a message if I like someone’s Instagram, but I try to let it happen organically. I have been transitioning more into paid work though, which is a bit self-selecting as well. I have been gaining a lot more exposure and that has allowed me to work with a wider variety of models that truly represent the community I am part of and my artistic vision.
What do you hope to accomplish through your photography?
My dream is that my work is enjoyed. I want to bring joy, happiness, and a little introspection into people’s lives in a way they may not have imagined. I always post a caption with my work and it is often related to my personal daily mantra or mediation. Sometimes it’s uplifting, sometimes it’s a challenge, and sometimes it’s a simple reminder. I really post these captions as messages to myself, almost like a journal, but I do try to be mindful of the message I am sending.
How do you feel about objectifying the human body and how do you avoid crossing that boundary in your work?
While there is always an undertone of sexuality in my work, it’s really not about the sex. I view it as self-expression in its most raw form. My goal is to capture something so beautiful, so well composed, that regardless of the content, any audience can appreciate it. Some people do get stuck on the sexuality, and that’s when the objectifying comments roll in (eye roll). But my favorite comments come from followers that reflect on how the photo made them feel or the reaction it gave them. It makes me happy when my audience appreciates all the work that goes into the creative process.
Have you considered photographing any models that are a little less fit?
Of course I have. There is no fitness requirement for shooting with me. My Instagram has been branded a certain way, yes. But part of business is creating and sharing content that gets a reaction. In addition to my Instagram portfolio, I also have many shoots for private clients that prefer to be just that, private. Many of my models don’t feel that they are fit or ideal, I constantly hear them say their abs could look better or their legs could be bigger. We all have our insecurities and my job is to make sure that the photos are so beautiful, all those insecurities melt away. We live in a world ruled by fashion and perfection and there is a certain appeal in portraying something almost surreal feeling, but it can be a fine line. I like my work to feel real enough that people can relate to the emotion in the image, but surreal enough that they wonder how the photo was possible.
What can you say to the LGBTQIA community who are fans of your work?
It’s interesting to think that the community would want to hear something from me, it’s all a bit new to me. I don’t claim to be the most well-informed or the most proactive, but what I do believe in is trusting yourself and giving to the world around you. It was not an easy journey for me growing up in Texas being gay, but it DOES get better. I’m 29 years old and just this past Easter I finally let go of some resentment I had been holding onto and it truly changed my life. You may never know why, when, or how it will get better, but if you give up, you’ll definitely never see the other side.
What do you think of the idea of the Instagram famous models that are popping up everywhere? Do you consider this art?
Instagram modeling is such a crazy phenomenon. But it is what has allowed me to create so much art in such a short period of time. I would never have been able to get in touch with these models without Instagram. I’ve connected with models from Los Angeles, New York, Berlin, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Toronto, and have so many more in the works. Is it art? Of course it is. There is varying quality, thought, and planning that goes into a lot of the content, but there is so much inspiring art out there right now. With the ability to gain so much exposure and appreciation so quickly, in my opinion, the time for art is NOW.
David Zimmerman’s photography will be celebrated with an art opening on June 2, 2018 at the legendary Main Street Bar in Laguna Beach, California. One of the most iconic gay bars in Southern California, in a gay community that has seen the disappearance of many gay establishments over the years, Main Street Bar is the perfect location to acknowledge Zimmerman’s art and voice. The exhibition will kick off National Pride Month and Laguna Beach Pride.