Anna Zajac is a photographer from Chicago, Illinois who moved there from Ohio three years ago. We sat down with her for a coffee and to hang out in her local ceramics studio, followed by a walk on Montrose Beach where the air was crisp, and the conversation encouraging.
Tell us about yourself. What do you spend your time doing?
I’m a wedding photographer from Chicago. I’ve been shooting full time for around two years now. It’s been an adventure; my background is in graphic design, and I worked at an ad agency for a bit, then took a leap of faith in pursuing photo work exclusively which has been a wild ride. People hire me to be an artist for their wedding day, which is such an honor. I can’t believe I get to do it.
What’s your faith journey been like?
I grew up going to church, but didn’t really believe in it. I thought it was a little crazy. It wasn’t until I was around sixteen when I picked up an SLR camera. I was following this girl on Myspace named Joy Newell, who’s a Christian and someone who talked about their faith in this real way. She’s also a photographer who I looked up to very much – she influenced my work quite a lot early on. Her work is very ephemeral… she’d do these shoots with her sisters in fields where they lived in California, so I’d dress up my friends and do the same in Ohio.
I didn’t become a believer though until a few years later. I was definitely at a place in my life where I needed to be woken up. I had a bad relationship at the beginning of college which ended abruptly and caused me to wake up, and take a look at my life in asking, “Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going?” That lead to me having a life in faith. The first book in the Bible I ever read was James, which was a perfect book to read at that time. I think James is full of wisdom; he made me think that the Bible as a whole was a source of wisdom, which caused me to read more. One thing lead to another and I became involved with a church & community, and I became a Christian. Fast forward to today, from college to now, where I’ve graduated and now work, God’s continued to be insanely gracious in my life. Having moved to Chicago has opened my eyes to all God can do in my life. Moving here’s been a gift.
How does God influence your work?
For what I do – shooting weddings – I want my clients to have the best experience ever. Of course, I want to capture great images and tell their stories intentionally, but at the end of the day I want excellence and consistency in my work. I think if you look at God as the creator, he does the same thing with his work, which is why I want to reflect him in that way. Doing great work, whether or not my clients are believers, reflects that. That being said, I’m not a Christian wedding photographer, rather a wedding photographer who’s a Christian.
Other than Photography what else keeps you inspired?
I do ceramics on the side. That’s been a really great creative outlet – I feel like most creatives can get burnt out easily when they’re making work for other people all the time, which can really weigh on you eventually. I was feeling that last year, so last October I started throwing clay at a local ceramics studio, and it’s been a great creative outlet to be present and create work for myself, which I rarely get to do.
I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself through ceramics, which is crazy, but if you show up to a pottery wheel in a bad mood or if something’s off, you can really sense that in your work. It’s a great pulse for me to gauge where I’m at and to make some things for me for a bit. It’s a different way of thinking about creative work than photography – most of my work involves digital, whether it’s shooting or editing on a computer.
Working with my hands is a really nice change. It makes me think of the verse in Thessalonians where it says to live a quiet life and work with your hands.
Why do you do what you do?
It sounds so cliche, but it’s just how I’ve been made. It’s knit into my fiber – creating experiences and making work like this is when I feel most alive. That’s why I do it. I just feel most alive when I’m making beautiful experiences, and you can apply that in ceramics, photography, design, or really everything. I think it’s a reflection of the heart of God. Walking outside and feeling sunlight, smelling air – that’s a gift. Who made that? God did. It’s just a reflection of him and his heart, as well as what he created.
If someone’s looking to start engaging with being a professional creative, where would you have them begin?
The creative life starts with the self. When you start to let yourself accept the fact that you’re someone who is a creative, don’t feel intimidated by it. Don’t feel like you have to strive to be a famous artist to be called an artist. Be okay with making, and make a lot of it. Don’t wait for this big opportunity to come or for a huge job to show up. Rather, take a look at the people whose work you enjoy, ask yourself why you enjoy it, and start making work that’s inspired by that. You don’t have to copy your heroes, you just have to see like them.
Write a bunch of emails to people you admire and start making work with them! Once you make a bunch of work, you’ll start to see a theme come out of it, and you can call that your style, ask yourself why really is your style, and start to put words to it.
The world is going to tell you success is plenty of other things, but if you can come to terms with who you are, your identity, and who God is, as well as how He sees you and made you - that’s what success is.
How would you define success?
To me, success isn’t measured in salary or even cool jobs, Instagram followers or getting free stuff. Those things are nice, but that’s not what the goal is. Success is whatever your work is, creative or not. Getting down to the heart of it all and viewing your work as a gift, taking delight in that work, and in the present are important to me. Plenty of us strive for false things that aren’t going to fulfill us.
Being mindful of how God sees you in your-day-to day and in your work is what fulfills me. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. That’s what it boils down to.