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Digital Surrealism



Text By Missy Harris • Images By Carl Zapp

Carl Zapp is a photographer with singular vision; singular in his originality and in his subject matter. He specializes in taking ordinary, everyday objects, and lending them an iconographic status.

While he still shoots 90 percent of his images with film, he scans them for manipulation magic, giving them a surreal quality rarely achieved.

Curiously, his objects somehow appear greater than in real life, yet nothing seems altered. There is an image of a chair on his website that is a great example of this heightened status of the mundane. Sunlight seems to permeate the whole image, filtering through the slats on the back of the chair, making it glow with depth and movement. A breathtaking achievement.

Studio Central

Zapp began his career 20-plus years ago in his native New York City and has remained there, because it is where he truly belongs.

"I've grown up in New York and couldn't live anyplace else," says Zapp. "I have every resource I could ever need, in addition to working with incredible people."

At a little over 4,000 square feet, the studio boasts an enormous amount of equipment. "We mostly shoot tungsten and so we have many, many lights in all different sizes. When you shoot tungsten, even if you're shooting a tiny little object, it's not unusual to have eight lights on the site. So we're now equipped to have many sets going simultaneously."

This studio's configuration is different than the last one, which was essentially a large, open space. It's divided into two self-contained, separate shooting areas.

"It can be rented to another photographer on a daily basis, or, accommodate another photographer, which is an option we're considering. It's also makes it a lot easier to work if we're shooting at the same time, with two sets of clients."

Team Works

Zapp partners with a photographer named Satoshi and has a digital wizard on staff named Dan Lipow, who takes Zapp's luminescent shots into Photoshop.

It's a healthy collaboration, with Zapp looking over Dan's shoulder, each bouncing ideas off the other, until they come up with something spectacular.

One set of images had Zapp tackling Photoshop on his own . . . and creating a super promo piece as well. And it all began with a glass bowl of gumballs (bottom).

"It was the first time I ever did this, where, basically, everything was put in digitally," says Zapp. "Each gumball was shot separately then, as I sat at the computer, I started positioning them. Each one became a layer, which was then moved into position and sized.

Then Dan came in and added shadows and some other subtle effects to kind of marry it more dramatically to the background.

All of a sudden, we were creating these three-dimensional kind of things that had a feeling you could never get from a straight photograph."

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