Whether I am making a portrait of a monk in Bhutan or of an American rock star on the side streets of Istanbul, the one absolute parallel in what I am trying to convey to the viewer is the simple humanity found in one's eyes, body language or facial expression. That unspoken sense of 'Here we are - all in it together.'
Steven Tyler soulfully playing the piano, Joe Perry busking in front of Red Square in Moscow, a vibrant young monk in Bhutan, horses galloping gracefully in sunlight and a soot-smeared girl holding up a Turkish sign in protest. All of these images compose the artistic vision of emerging photographer Zack Whitford.
On opening night, a wonderful energy filled the gallery. Zack enthralled guests with the colorful stories behind his works and laughter reverberated throughout the space. Red dots splattered the walls. Within the first two days of the show, half of the exhibition sold out. Whitford's "CONTRAST" was featured in Crain’s, Huffington Post, New City and Euro News.
Official photographer for Aerosmith and son of rhythm guitarist, Brad Whitford, 32-year old Zack Whitford had his debut exhibition at Hilton | Asmus FOTO on May 29th. Documenting photographs of people, animals and cities in their natural state, sometimes with irony and humor, and at other times he surprises us with the contrast of the experiences he shares, his photographs are a telling commentary on our times.
Casually, yet thoughtfully, dressed in blue jeans and t-shirt, Stetson hat, a bandana knotted around his belt loop and a camera slung around his neck, Zack was what I envisioned – rock n’ roll, Los Angeles hip, fused with a creative soul. He warmly introduced himself and began to tell me about his time in Chicago so far. Accompanied by his father, Brad was the opposite of the stereotype that comes to one’s mind when we think ‘rock star’ – very warm and humble. In jeans and cowboy boots with a warm smile, he shook my hand. Rather than going off to see the city, Zack offered to roll up his sleeves to set up for the show and Brad insisted on helping us spackle the walls in preparation for Zack’s exhibit.
“CONTRAST” was the result of a conversation between curator Arica Hilton and her friend Maria Leone. Maria grew up with Terry Hamilton, the wife of Aerosmith bass guitarist Tom Hamilton. Aerosmith was on their way to Istanbul for a concert. Maria wanted to take them to a special, non-touristy place while there. Arica suggested they visit one of our favorite artists at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary, Yasemin Aslan Bakiri, one of Turkey’s most respected internationally renowned glass artists, whose studio and gallery is comprised of two ancient Byzantine houses excavated nine years ago. This was a special place beyond parallel, Arica told Maria, that would impress her rock star friends.
Upon her return from Istanbul, Maria suggested Arica take a look at a budding new photographer’s works. Upon seeing Zack’s imagery, Arica knew he was more than just a rock n’ roll stage photographer. Capturing the spirit of musicians playing on stage and behind-the-scenes, to national and international street scenes and wildlife, Hilton was inspired to curate CONTRAST.
The collection features photographs taken on the road with Aerosmith in the United States and various countries, including Russia, Turkey, Lebanon, Peru and Bhutan. One portrait of Steven Tyler, lead singer for Aerosmith, shows him surrounded by young fans taking “selfies” with their iPhones. Titled, “These Are Our Times,” the photo a commentary on the digital obsessed culture of today.
From the stage to the streets, Whitford navigates his way seamlessly into the lives of his subjects. The exhibition will feature images of Johnny Depp on stage with Aerosmith, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer. In contrast, Whitford presents us with a man playing a guitar who is missing a hand. He presents us with the cycle of life, a little girl and an aging woman from the Quechua tribe in Peru, and Syrian children in refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. He travels the back roads of America and rivers in Africa, allowing us a lens into worlds we may or may not know.
Coincidentally, the Aerosmith concert in Istanbul was cancelled due to protests for the mining disaster that killed hundreds of people. Instead of photographing Aerosmith on stage, Zack photographed the protesters in the streets of Istanbul which have become an integral part of our show.
Documenting but not interfering, with the exception of a photo that captures a homeless woman sitting in front of a large banner advertising, “New York’s Next Great Neighborhood.” States Whitford, “After I photographed the homeless woman, I tried to give her some money and she spit in my face.” Ironically, the company in the banner recently sold an apartment building on Wacker Drive in Chicago for $333 million. His ability to capture human beings in their environment is elevated by their social relevance as a documentary of our times.
Writer for New City, Michael Weinstein states in his review of the exhibit, “Sometimes it can be playful and sometimes mordant or sardonic, but it always defies the myths of promotional culture. Whitford makes one wish that more street photographers would invade the entertainment landscape.”
Beyond just traveling with the band, Whitford submerges himself in various cultures. While at a monastery Bhutan, a young monk wearing a vivid red robe, bounced around corner. Like many young boys, he playfully leapt down the hallway and sprung up and down the wood planked floor, showing off his impressive athleticism. With a captivating smile on his face, he jumped up, sandal-clad feet against one wall and palms outstretched on the other. Whitford beautifully captures the young monk’s playful and uninhibited spirit. He aptly titled the piece “Nonconformist.”
In his podcast with Elysabeth Alfano for Huffington Post, he explains what he has learned from his travels, "Everybody cherishes their children's future. Most people love dogs. I'm not really interested in people who don't like dogs. By traveling you realize that the world is a much smaller place than it seems."
We are also grateful to Crain's Shia Kapos and Fox News' John Kelley for taking the time to interview Zack.
Hilton Asmus Foto is proud to introduce this fine young artist's works to art loving public. We are excited to continue working with Zack and share the powerful images he has and will produce.
~ Erin Benator
Hilton | Asmus Contemporary