Sara Zanella: Life, Death, Time and Beauty

Sara's work will be exhibited at Villa Kultur, Copenhagen 22nd February until March 15th.

Interview and words by Sonia Dajuk.

Global movement One Billion Rising Denmark and Girls Are Awesome are getting together on Feb 14th to mark V-day 2018. The event promotes female empowerment and creativity which is exalted as the powerful force acting as catalyst to bring change in the world. Event tickets are long sold out but fortunately you will have the opportunity to explore the photography exhibition of two remarkable artists which are featured parallel to the event.

Introducing Italian born, Copenhagen based photographer Sara Zanella – one of the artists exhibiting at the 1BR x GAA event. Sara’s photography captures a nostalgic spirit of freedom, sensuality and adventure. With unstoppable passion she explores the perpetually daunting existential questions embedded into the meaning of life, death, time and beauty. Embracing the eye captivating contrasts of light and dark, the artist delves into the phenomena of human connection, emotion and vulnerability. Dive into the photos and read the story below for further insight into a relentlessly curious and passionate mind. 

Hi Sara! Tell us a bit about your background. Do you feel that your roots and cultural heritage have had an impact on the way you express yourself through photography?

I was born and raised in Italy, a country where I consider that everything is moved by some sort of art form and creativity. I feel every artist from Italy brings to the present the cultural heritage inherited from all the different eras that populated from the mediterranean area. It’s a part of us and probably also of every artist, carrying the questions, what is life, what is death, time, beauty and thanks to this wonder we move around. In Italy things are done with a real sense of spirituality made of strong emotions and a precise aesthetic. This is seen in architecture, literature, painting and sculpture and of course cinema and photography. Nowadays I recognise there is that poetic vision and drive for me to see, shoot and edit my work. Lately I am really much into Andrea Camilleri´s poetry which is sharp and ironic, dramatic and naive, simple and deep. 

After high school I moved to Denmark to study at Fatamorgana. At the same time I started to work for Jacob Aue Sobol. The two taught me how to take that raw material inside me, made of intense curiosity and wonder, and put into real and concrete projects. Of course the path of learning different ways to express your heart and curiosity will never end, but especially Jacob gave me a big kick to keep it real, as I consider him to be one of the greatest artist that expresses his deepest feelings and emotions.

When did the journey with photography begin for you? Do you remember a specific moment when you realised that it was going to be a strong step in your creative career?

Everything, of course, began because I fell in love while being on summer vacations with my family, in southern Italy. We were living in two different cities, he was in Rome, I was in Verona and in high school so I couldn’t really move around. Facebook or social media were not working like nowadays. I asked my parents to buy me a video camera so that I could film my daily life and show him how I was feeling. In this way, I was showing my surroundings and it was like having him in my hands. He is a movie director. Slowly the clips became pictures and here I am.

The strongest step and the most important moment that showed really clear why I am doing this is when I was really close to dying. The night of my birthday a car passed over my leg injuring it to a great extent. At the time my mother was in India for a pilgrimage and of course I did not tell her anything until she came back 2 weeks later. It was completely impossible to move for some weeks, in those days of silence I had just my camera and my cat in my bedroom. During this time I thought about the danger of losing my life and the vulnerability of the body. This critical moment made me reflect on the role of photography, as it was the only object really speaking to me. Somehow the link with my deepest and personal emotions crystallized with photography.

What camera and lens do you work with?

I began photographing with a Contax T3 and I cannot absolutely let it go, it is like the imprinting process. For bigger projects that I did in Mexico and Russia I used a FujiFilm X100T. It is a warrior, that can survive every temperature and keep the speed of shooting. I work with these two cameras, and maybe you may think it’s a bit autistic of me to keep using the same, but I am a little zen monk with them so I do not have to think about how to use them and at the same time I really don’t think that it’s the camera that makes a photographer. 

What does photography mean you?

Photography is the dialogue between my vision of trying to understand the “everything” and the world outside, including everything in between and in the present. It’s an intricate relationship with personal and universal, past, present and the future. Photography represents this intense tool of seeing the everyday life for me ever since the tragic accident I mentioned earlier.

The 1 Billion Rising Revolution Movement is all about seeing creativity as a force that empowers and has a great potential to transform and bring change into the world. How do you relate to this in your creative work?

I relate to this in a way that I believe that art can have the strength to make people step back from their political, ethical or whatever other stance and look at things with a big fearless heart.

What triggers your source of inspiration? What do you experience as meaningful to be captured in  your photography?

I love challenges and big projects. Therefore, I am constantly in search for finding connections to things that are in contrast with each other and make them coexist in the same frame. My photography projects involve exploring questions such as: What is mankind? What is the nature of humanity?  What is this planet? How do people live? What is the relationship with nature? What is spirituality or religion for people? All of these are questions that move me to photograph and investigate. I will not be in a hurry, but that is what I will do for the rest of my life, in every country and region on earth that I find myself to be in. I guess all of this is comes from  my personality. I am doing this to communicate it is healthy to keep on searching, not to hide behind walls and barriers. We are all human and it is beautiful to discover who we are and without judging. I do not like to give one final “meaning” to my work to denounce something. I do not want to be some photojournalist. I just want to witness humans through the lens of another human’s eyes.

Sara Zanella’s photography will be showcased at the GAA x 1BR event at Villa Kultur, while the vernissage will be held on the 22nd February and open for viewing until March 15th. Explore more of Sara’s work at