Jessica Zollman (aka ‘Jayzombie’) was employee #5 at instagram and is now a successful L.A.-based photographer and influencer. With vibrant colors and geometric precision at the heart of her work, here Zollman takes us on a revealing journey through her life, art and career.
Coming out the gates with the most difficult question to answer! Like nature vs. nurture, it’s nuanced and entirely dependent on the person and their upbringing. I was surrounded by film cameras as a kid thanks to my Dad’s casual interest in photography, but didn’t find my passion for it as art until I was in college. I do believe that some people are just naturally talented when it comes to understanding visual aesthetics, but I also know through first-hand experience that those skills can be learned and improved upon with lots of practice and dedication.
It was absolutely my first paid commission. When I was asked to join Tinker Street*, my incredible photo agency, back in 2013, I was nervous and excited to start my new career path. At the time, joining an agency felt like a great opportunity to try my hand at being an artist full-time, but I didn’t feel like I was a professional photographer until the first time I worked for a client. I was given the opportunity to photograph The America’s Cup in San Francisco for Nespresso, and chasing after racing boats along the pier with an iPhone for a client was the game-changer.
That’s fair! I love geometric patterns, bright colors and interesting light / shadow. I enjoy taking photographs of my friends in natural situations incorporating those elements, but when I actively seek photographic situations, I’m almost always drawn to buildings, florals, and cityscapes. Most of my favorite images, however, have obscured or anonymous people in them. I’m drawn towards simplicity, timelessness and an anonymity that makes an image relatable.
I’m a natural light fanatic. I’ve been experimenting more with using a light stick for some dramatic colors as a fill, but I’m still coupling it with natural lighting. It’s likely because I’m self-taught, so working with artificial light still feels like this big scary thing. I’ve shot with studio lights, and am totally able to recreate the kind of natural, dramatic light I’m drawn to, but I still prefer the real deal.
My approach is typically off-the-cuff with minimal research and little to no overhead prior to shooting.
Am I in a therapy session, or is this a casual interview?! Yes. Absolutely. The geometric, symmetric, and angle precision in my work is 100 percent my way of creating order in not just a chaotic world, but in my personal life. I used to exhibit OCPD-like tendencies as a teenager and in my early 20’s. I applied my over-organization to things like my personal space (everything had a place!) or my excessively organized lecture notes and homework, or my over-planning and over-preparing for travel. It definitely helped me get on the honor roll and avoid missing flights, but it did not help me work through my deeply-rooted inner turmoil and trauma.
Losing my dad when I was five years old led me to distrust the world as I perceived it. Everything was disorganized, nothing could be planned, life was chaos. My way of feeling like I wasn’t spiraling was to control everything and anything I could and try my hardest to let go of the things I could not; though it is easier now, that loss of control manifested in constant anxiety and many anxiety attacks. Thanks to some recent work in therapy to get through a lot of my feelings / fears around death and the chaos that surrounds something as uncertain as death, I’ve let go of a lot of that over-control in my personal life. But it absolutely still exists and manifests itself in my work. I’d much rather work through those deep fears in healthy ways, like through my art, than in ways that negatively impacted my general enjoyment of life!
Any technicality that exists in my work is only there because of an emotionality. I’m such an emotions-based artist. I create art with my heart, first, and anything else that follows is pure instinct.
Losing my dad when I was five years old led me to distrust the world as I perceived it. Everything was disorganized, nothing could be planned, life was chaos.
They’ve absolutely changed! I went from taking photographs on Polaroid and film cameras as a kid, to disposable cameras as a tween and teenager, to a 35mm film camera for photography classes in school, to a crappy point-and-shoot camera in college, every generation of iPhone and eventually a Canon 5D Mark III. My editing process has followed a similar path. I didn’t think much about editing until I took film courses and got to work my images in a darkroom. When the App Store came to iPhones, I downloaded every fake-Polaroid and filtering app that existed, and after I got my DSLR, I downloaded Lightroom for the first time.
Now, my arsenal includes my 5D Mark IV, iPhone, Lightroom Classic and Lightroom Mobile, Loupedeck, and Priime photo filters on both desktop and mobile. Oh, and I still have an entire bookshelf filled with film cameras, old and new, that I’ll forever cherish for teaching me all about photography through much trial and error.
It’s absolutely been a blessing. Building the Instagram Community, especially working with professional photographers on the platform, has helped me make incredible connections and friends who have given me invaluable guidance, job opportunities, and a community of commercial photographers I’m so blessed to call my friends here in Los Angeles.
Working in a corporate (but youthful) environment like Facebook, even if it was only for nine months, helped me develop communication skills that I use all the time when working with ad agencies and clients. Being responsive and clear with my communication, as well as generally professional, but still fun, keeps clients coming back to me. At least that’s what I like to tell myself. The pretty photos might actually just be enough!
I touched on this a little bit already, but I’m mostly just following my gut on those decisions! It’s absolutely intentional, but I’m not exactly sure why. Mostly, I just find it pleasing. It’s what I’m most drawn to, so I keep going back to it.
Oh, that’s a great follow up question. Sometimes black-and-white makes me feel like my personal expression is being stifled or stuck. I learned my technical skills shooting black-and-white film, and I loved it at the time, but I also know that while I was shooting black-and-white, I was very much out of control of my emotions. I was manic, reckless, and young. The technicality, structure and limitations of black-and-white film photography and development helped provide me with some much needed structure, but I wasn’t putting any of my feelings into that art. I was following the motions but not seeing myself reflected. I see myself, my personality, my fears, my optimism, and my joy in my colorful work.
My Loupedeck was a gift from my husband after a dry spell in work. He wanted to get me a gift that would reignite my passion and help me WANT to sit at my computer and edit my photos. It worked! I opened the box and thought, “Oh, this is going to be so helpful and fun!” We set it up in less than five minutes and I spent the rest of the day editing photos from a trip I had completely ignored for months.
Loupedeck has changed things totally! It has sped up my editing process significantly and has transformed this part of photography from a chore to a joy.
It depends on a few factors. If I’m taking photos on vacation, I’ll really only look at them once, send my selects to my phone for quick editing and posting, then proceed to neglect them for years. If it’s for a photo shoot for a client, or for myself, I’ll pick some favorites and rate them in-camera during the shoot, but will always review all of my RAW images in Lightroom for rating and editing later. Loupedeck has encouraged me to stop neglecting those vacation photos! It’s so easy and quick to edit images that I can’t really use time or convenience as an excuse anymore. I’m far more excited to dive into an image set on my computer now.
I love using preset filters to enhance my photo, then I tweak to get my finalized “signature style” from there. Clicking endlessly through my most commonly used filters got so tiring and I’d often end up giving up on an image if I couldn’t find a style I liked quickly. I programmed all of the P1 – P8 buttons to 16 of my favorite presets, and now diving into a photograph has been much more enjoyable. Tapping a button quickly between two styles, without taking my eyes off of the image, is so much more enjoyable than the endless clicking around – moving my eyes from sidebar to photo to sidebar – that I was used to before!
Loupedeck has changed things totally! It has sped up my editing process significantly and has transformed this part of photography from a chore to a joy. I’m also a very tactile learner – I took sign language in high school because verbal language just did not click in my mind. While Lightroom is a very visual platform, clicking and pulling sliders with my mouse just wasn’t as intuitive as I would have liked. Turning that exposure knob without having to shift my eyes off of the image – and now that I’m so used to editing with my Loupedeck and not having to look down at the keyboard – has easily cut my editing process time in half.
I’ll always prefer to edit my RAW photographs in Lightroom, on my desktop, as opposed to editing JPEG on my iPhone, because there’s so much more data to work with, especially with the way I overexpose my images and drag down the highlights to maintain details. I used my iPhone for editing out of convenience and speed, but now I find myself waiting to get back to my computer with my CF cards after a shoot so I can jump into my RAW files. I also more strategically rate my photographs in-camera during a shoot now, knowing they’ll be the first ones I edit, thanks to Loupedeck.
The ‘Export for Web’ button! I just can’t memorize even the easiest keyboard commands in Lightroom. I don’t know why. I still have every single word from the Spice Girls’ 1996 album ‘Spice’ in my brain, but Lightroom keyboard commands for me are non-retainable. Having a simple button to press for export is a game-changer.
Thank you for letting me share my story, my art, and get vulnerable with you.
You can learn more about Jessica Zollman (Jayzombie) and her colorful, geometric photography by visiting her personal website where she showcases her portfolio and past projects. Follow Jayzombie on Twitter or Instagram to get the latest updates on her life, new projects, and to view more vibrant photos from her travels and daily life.
You can follow Jessica on Instagram @jayzombie