Behind the Lens: Surreal Photographer Logan Zillmer Explores the Mysterious

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With images shrouded in mystery, Logan Zillmer's work will leave you wondering how the story will unfold. The minimal landscape of his home in the midwest provides the perfect backdrop for his surreal photos. His journey into photography started in high school shooting film, but as an adult he needed a creative outlet to escape the drudgery of the 9 to 5 job, so his interest in photography turned conceptual. On a whim he turned to a 365 day project taking one photo a day for one year. Throughout the project his love for the art grew until he quit his job to pursue photography as a career. Inspired by his unique images, we asked Logan to tell us more about his creative process.

Logan Zillmer explores fantastical worlds through his surreal photography. Shrouded in mystery, you'll wonder how each story unfolds.

surreal photography logan zillmer mystery fantasy surrealism

Tell us about how you became interested in photography?

I became really interested in photography in high school. I loved shooting film and spending time in the dark room. I was a very active kid with a tiny attention span, and photography was the first endeavor I took on that really required patience. It was extremely helpful in my development. From then until I began my 365 photo project in January 2013, I was really only interested in documentary style photography, a la Henri Cartier Bresson, Walker Evans, William Albert Allard etc. Later on, I made an attempt to turn my interest in photography into a business; shooting senior portraits and the like, and I hated it. I ended up putting my camera down for a year or so. I put my energies into trying to get films made, but that wasn't working out the way I needed it to. After a while I had a lot of creative energy built up that needed an outlet, so I went back to photography because it was something I could do entirely on my own. However, this time I decided to allow my imagination to dictate what images I was going to make, rather than a preconceived notion about what kind of photography I thought I should be doing. It became evident pretty quickly that conceptual photography is what I am really passionate about. Now, I'm trying to make that my career.

What inspires you?


I see you recently quit your job to pursue photography full time, how does that feel?

I did. It feels terrifying. Also it feels like I can finally be myself and live the life I have always wanted to. It's impossible not to think about whether or not I made a terrible mistake; our social system teaches us that people don't leave their well-paying full time jobs to pursue what most would consider a hobby, and that it's a fools errand to even try – especially with two babies at home. So, it's hard to get my mind past that. But, I think it's the most important decision I have ever made for my life and sanity. And I can promise you that the worst days doing this are far better than the best days working retail.

You undertook a 365 day project, shooting a photo a day for 365 days, what did the project teach you?

Yeah, the 365. It was a really intense project and I would never do it again, but it was the best decision I had made at the time for myself as an artist because it forced me to create every day, and that is great for someone like me who gets distracted constantly. It taught me how to live creatively every single day and to pursue ideas with unheeded abandon. It developed my style and process and helped me become really comfortable with my craft in a very short period of time. Doing a project like that is tremendously difficult because by the end of the project your own expectations are so high that you can't create the images you want to create in just one day, so you get really frustrated. However, what it does for you as an artist is invaluable. At the beginning of 2013 I was working retail and on a whim decided to give the project a go, now I am pursuing my passion full time.

surreal photography logan zillmer mystery fantasy surrealism

surreal art manipulations surreal photography logan zillmer mystery fantasy surrealism

How much planning goes into a shoot?

The amount of planning that goes into a shoot really depends on the image, but every image goes through my process. Every image begins with an idea. I usually draw it out in my notebook and make notes about how to do certain things. Then I acquire props if needed. I try to shoot plates first, and then go from there. I do have a fairly strict process, but more often than not, the image that comes out is a bit different than I had originally intended. I think it's really important to keep an open mind throughout the entire process because often the best parts of an image come to me after I have finalized the idea for shooting. So the process is calculated but always open and always changing.

What are some challenges you have faced while shooting?

My biggest challenges with shooting are always financial. A lot of my bigger ideas require expensive props and a lot of production. Living in the Midwest is also really limiting as well, regarding weather and interesting landscapes. The Midwest is very ordinary. Perhaps that's why I lean toward the surreal side of conceptual images. I love the idea of hallucinatory ordinariness as a vehicle for uncovering mystery.

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Can you tell us a bit about your post processing? How long does it take to edit an image?

Post processing is always the biggest variable, and as soon as I feel like I have got a good idea of how long an image is going to take to edit, it always ends up taking much longer. I think part of that is my incessant need to try new things. A lot of my post process is experimental. So an image can take anywhere between 3 and 20 hours.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future are to get into advertising photography and to continue to pursue my own ideas. I have a small family now so I need a consistent source of income, and I'm really trying to have a go at getting into the ad world. It's a tough racket to get into and it takes a real business mentality, which I have always had a bit of a distaste for; I like to dream. But, I am taking the proper steps to make it happen. Ultimately I would like to continue to sell my artwork and take ad work to supplement income, but that's a bit of a greedy thought. I am also really excited to share that I will be having my first gallery show in Los Angeles this summer. It will be at Voila! Gallery. Stay posted for the date. Since I quit my job, I have been filling my notebook with ideas that I am really excited about. I have at least a couple years worth of images that I need to shoot. I also have a big series that I want to shoot that will tie together a bunch of images that I have wanted to create for the last year or so, but haven't had time. So, regarding personal work, I have a lot in the pipeline.
surreal art manipulations surreal photography logan zillmer mystery fantasy surrealism
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

The best advice that I can give to an aspiring photographer is to first ask yourself if you are passionate about it. If the answer is yes, than any advice I give you won't really matter, because you're going to find your own way to do what you want. Passion creates motivation, and being self motivated is the most important attribute for an artist. That being said, the best thing you can do for your art is to make as much work as possible, even if you don't share it, identify your inspirations (steal from everyone you love), and pursue your ideas like a junkie pursues smack. Everyone today is a photographer, so its more import than ever to stand out. The best way to do that is to find yourself in the medium. And marry someone patient.

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surreal photography logan zillmer mystery fantasy surrealism
surreal photo manipulations surreal photography logan zillmer mystery fantasy surrealism
Logan Zillmer: Website | Facebook

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