“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is not.” This is a quote that I have been particularly interested in as I learn about more people in the music industry. It means that people who are pretending to be something they are not are very confident in that fake persona they attempt to create; those who are legitimately following their passions are not (always) very confident in the path they are taking. Following your passion, especially in the entertainment or music industry, is very difficult. It requires patience, awareness, acceptance, and an immense work ethic. Based on those 4 things alone, here’s Emma Zanger.
We interviewed her previously to learn more about her work as a music photographer, how she got started, and what inspires her. This time, she is back with a completed goal: a photo book. This was a goal she set for herself around the time she was last interviewed by BTM and it has been very enjoyable to watch her progress from the sidelines as she shared it. I wanted to catch up with Emma to learn more about this particular project and what it means for her as a photographer.
Last time we interviewed you, you had just committed to creating a photo book for 2019. What initially sparked that goal?
I always thought publishing a photo book would be a really fun experience. I knew I wanted to eventually create one and I had a small list that I started of different themes and ideas. It never seemed like the right time but I figured, if not now, when? The initial inspiration for VITALS came about when I began working regularly with bands on a personal level, and started noticing the interesting personalities of introverted and extroverted people within the music industry. More often than not, there were more naturally introverted people with extroverted moments. I became fascinated with the rapid heightening and decompression of energy that artists would push themselves through for their art, on stage and off, which sometimes meant pushing through a tough mental state as well. I learned that I was the same in my process. On my social platforms, I was getting asked a lot of questions about how I stay so open and honest about my bad days in the process of my creative ventures, which I didn’t realize at the time was a lot harder for some people than it was for me. I was inspired to create VITALS in order to send the message that allowing yourself to be fully present with who you are and to let yourself feel vulnerable is not weakness, but can be a great aid to your growth as an individual, especially in the creative brain of artists. With them in mind, I started production.
What were the immediate next steps you took after committing to that goal?
First thing I did was set a release date, a deadline for myself. At the time, I had just graduated, I was working three jobs at once and knew how chaotic my life was; intensely fast paced, always running around from place to place, task to task. So I knew that introducing some kind of regularity in my life for the book needed to be done. I chose December 14, 2019 because it is exactly one year after my graduation date, and one year since I released my showreel, which was the first project I created on my own to showcase my work, recapping my move to Chicago and working in music for the prior three years. After choosing the release date, I set monthly goals and budgeting in place. After that I filled in the gaps, and decided when I wanted each aspect of the book to by completed, such as the photo layouts, fonts, cover photo, and what company I wanted to publish the book. I didn’t think I’d be capable of keeping my word to myself and meeting each one of them to keep the book on track for December, but I guess that’s a discipline VITALS instilled in me along the way.
You shot dozens of shows to create this book. Do any in particular stand out?
I went to a lot more shows in 2019 than are actually included in VITALS, and it was difficult to cut some of them out. I love the fact that there is a great mix of large and mid level bands throughout the book. Ultimately, it came down to which shows I felt more emotionally connected to, and which written entries I actually wanted out in the open. For me, I think the LANY, Reignwolf, and Enter Shikari shows stood out like this in particular. They presented a sense of real community and passion. However, the Friday Pilots Club show that starts the book off, was such a fantastic night. There were about four local bands all smushed in a green room together and it just felt like one big family between all of us, and in that moment I felt so lucky to have a job I love so much.
How do the shows tie into the themes of your book?
One thing was exactly the same at every one of these live shows: all of them sent the message about letting yourself be a work in progress, that struggling is communal. All of these artists wanted to help the people in the room, whether that was tens, hundreds or thousands, come to the understanding that it’s okay to be going through rough times and it’s okay to not have everything figured out. This vulnerability, this rawness about life, is what I wanted captured as one of the main themes for the VITALS.
You mentioned a couple books in our last interview? Did any ones in particular influence your creative process with VITALS?
I have a list of all the people and pieces that inspired me throughout the creation of VITALS on the final page, but one book in particular really stood out to me amongst the process that I spent time reading and re-reading quite a lot. It’s called “The Big Thing: How to Complete Your Creative Project When You’re a Lazy, Self-Doubting Procrastinator Like Me” written by Phylis Korkki, and it was such an insightful book. It really knew how to draw my attention, hold it, and then inspire me to move forward with my craft. It aided my work ethic and hustle towards finishing the book when I was skeptical that I could in the first place. Phyllis Korkki’s openness about her own process helped me keep my word to myself which, again, is such an important thing to trust in when creating works of art.
I’ve been involved in book publishing in the past for various friends and have heard so many different experiences. What is one thing about the book creation process that you would change?
If I could change anything, it’d probably be to cut out all my panic attacks surrounding the financial aspects. I’m not afraid to admit that money triggers my anxiety very easily, but it was tough and I knew this would be a part of creating VITALS I’d have to face. I didn’t enjoy it.
What do you hope people learn when they pick up VITALS?
This is such a heavy question for me because there are so many things I want people to gain from VITALS and messages I want to come through, but at the end of the day art is perceived in a variety of different ways and I know that I won’t be able to control everyone’s emotional connection, or lack of, to the book. It’s almost like I’m paralyzed to the endless possibilities of what I want people to feel from it. But what I hope comes through is the message that no matter what goal you set for yourself or how difficult it may be to reach, that the actual process of reaching that goal is beautiful and artistic as well as the final product. This is why I chose to publish each step of creating VITALS on my instagram page. I wanted people to understand it wasn’t always easy and that I didn’t give up simply because of that. I hope people will gain the understanding that negative days are just as crucial as the positive ones to individual growth and that vulnerability in is not weakness, but the most valuable strength.