If, like us, you’ve been scrolling through Instagram, reminiscing about concerts and festivals, you’ve more than likely looked at the work of Zek Snaps.
Zekaria Al-Bostani, also known as Zek.Snaps is one of the UK’s biggest photographers on the music scene. He’s shot billboards, magazine covers and concerts for the likes of J Hus, Dababy and M Huncho. We called up Zek to chat about his inspirations, his favourite artists and what’s coming up next in 2021.
How did your passion for photography come about and in light of that how did you make your way into the music scene?
In terms of both music and photography, I have always had a love for music from growing up in East London. Grime was a major influence that eclipsed within the site of East London.
Growing up to the likes of Wiley, Skepta, JME, Big H, Ruff Squad, Chip, all of these artists that have done such big things for the UK industry within grime. Just growing up in that time and really appreciating how they gave a lot of leeway to the music industry and how they broke Black artists into the UK charts, gave them a platform to really break into the industry. I always said to myself somehow someday I’m always gonna be somehow involved in the music industry.
How the photography aspect came in was interesting. My background in photography was actually inspired by film. So 2015 comes by, this is when I finished my media course in college, I just want to identify myself to be a DOP (Director of Photography) or a director. But then I start to take photos just randomly as a side hobby. Then I saw photography as something exciting, about capturing moments through the power of photography. In 2015, I remember my first ever event that I got into was Paigey Cakey’s birthday party. One of my good good friends called me up randomly one day and asked me how I was. He said to me basically Paigey Cakey goes to my gym, I train her and his sister, do you want me to try and get you in contact with her? I said let’s do it, but at the same time I don’t have a portfolio but let’s still go for it. But I’m a risk-taker, I like to take risks in life.
From there I just created my own circle, networked and gradually everything just happened. I was still balancing university throughout those times so it was like a battle between doing both.
What does London mean not only to you as a person but what does it mean to your work?
It means identity of culture, it means the moments that bring the diversity within London, and the unity of cultures in one. Especially when I first started all the shows and all the places I first started were in Shoreditch. Shoreditch was the get-go place to be at for events.
You’ve had great venues like Village Underground, Cameo, which has now shut down, Ace Hotel which has unfortunately shut down. There are a few other great monumental venues around there which have given the identity of what Shoreditch is as a place.
Even BoxPark for example held some of the most amazing acoustic sessions, there was one called Acoustic Sundays which was hosted by a company called Grey Wolf, which was organised by a good friend of mine Q, shout out to Q, amazing guy and his co-partner Alex who now works for Metropolis Music. I remember it was just so organic, but so different. Just being at those places and events to being in Shoreditch and even Camden as well was a good place for venues, you had Electric Ballroom, Coco which is now getting rebuilt.
I’ve shot some of the most iconic things in those places, and even Brixton for example you had Electric Brixton and O2 Brixton, those venues were absolutely monumental. It all interconnects, every place whether it’s South, North, East and West, they have an identity to give out about why London is such a diverse city.
How would you describe your own inspiration or the ethos of your photography?
It comes from taking a lot of inspiration from film directors, so it comes from a lot of Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock. Their style was very surreal but abstract and they brought this vivid style of colours into their images.
When a lot of people see my work one thing they notice about it is the colour grading. It comes from the fact that I love to take my work out of my comfort zone. When I relate to those phenomenal directors, their work and what they’ve brought to the table, I can heavily relate to it. For me, the aspect of where the surreal aspect came from was Salvador Dali. I used to go to the Museums and actually see a lot of his paintings and I used to see a lot of his stuff at the galleries. I can see how creatively crazy he was as a person, about how he brought this sense of imagination, the world of surrealism into our reality for humankind.
So when I used to watch and analyse a lot of his paintings and even his short films, a lot of people don’t know he used to make short films. When I used to watch his short films, I’d be inspired by how he just broke the limitations. For instance, Alfred Hitchcock was the greatest director known to break the rules of film, so he made no linear structured films. That’s why I love watching Alfred Hitchcock because he broke the rules in Hollywood and he didn’t give a damn what anyone said. I said to myself if he can do that I can break the rules of photography and what I can do. That’s where my ethos comes from.
Is there one shot/photoshoot that really stayed with you?
The one that really gave me a pivotal start to let people know I’m not just an events/music photographer was the first-ever J Hus Guap magazine cover. That cover really changed the whole dynamics of my career. It gave me a fresh opportunity to express my creative desires, but at the same time really make people know that this kid has a lot of potential to break into the photography industry.
This was a time when J Hus just came out of prison, out for the first time, seeing his development, to seeing where he is now, to later on me doing his press photos to then now doing his EP cover for Big Spang and then just ebbing part of the album for Big Conspiracy.
I felt honoured because I really got to see his journey. When you’re a photographer you really see the artist coming from the get-go, coming from nothing, you see the development. It’s memories, that’s why when I look at them, I galvanise on it, I really appreciate the times. Not just for the artist but for myself, my growth, how my growth has just elevated to be someone who was shooting shows with 100 people, to now doing front covers, billboards, single covers, magazine covers, even creative directing now for brands, it’s absolutely insane. Elevation is a big thing now and can really take you to the next level.
Do you see your work continuing to focus on positive change?
Before we get into that I would like to give a special shout out to Misan (Misan Harriman) and Kai (Sama Kai Sundifu) because alongside those two, we captured some of the most monumental photos in the UK that went worldwide. Misan was the one who captured all these monumental photos then he got the opportunity to do Lewis Hamilton’s cover for GQ. Just speaking to him on Clubhouse and getting to know him as a person was just so breathtaking. He said to me I’ve seen your BLM photos, you have one of the nicest collectives I’ve seen alongside mine. Kai as well, he is one of my good good friends.
Seeing my work for the likes of the BBC, for CNN and all of these major publications and platforms was absolutely insane. I feel like the reason why it’s so important to capture these positive changes is that for someone like myself who’s outside of the Black community, it’s important to really capture their history and their culture. Because let’s all be real and honest, the Black community has been portrayed by the media in many bad stereotypes of how they are this and that, with both Black men and Black women.
As an outsider who has been welcomed into their industry and their community, who has been heavily appreciated and has worked with some of the most amazingly talented people in that industry, I said to myself you know what, I have to go out and show the people the positive side of what the protests were about.
Even when some of the protests were happening, the media were still trying to portray bad signs, look at people looting. Yes that’s fine and it’s significant but it still doesn’t represent who they are, why did you not show the times where John Boyega and everyone came together and voiced their opinions.
I did not see it within a lot of major platforms, so the fact that my photos got to really signify that to these platforms and show the people this is what the true meaning and definition of what the protests were for, I was super honoured.
I said to myself I’m gonna continue to support what they do and what they have been fighting for and really showcase someone who is from an outside perspective to give them their appreciation factor for the Black community in general. It’s super important, especially with photography, you will relate back to those photos in 5 to 10 years time and really relate to the powers of what those photos detail and that’s a story.
What advice would you give to those wanting to break into photography?
There are 3 things I would say:
Number 1 is to be consistent with work. Branding is another key thing on top of that, you have to have a strong identity of your brand, let people know what your brand is about and what it truly identifies you as a creative, not just as a photographer but as a creative.
Number 2 is to always experiment with your work. Learn the mistakes early and let the mistakes teach you. There is a quote I go by, “mistakes will become your best teacher as you are the pupil to the mistakes”. You are human at the end of the day, we’re all bound to make mistakes. No human being is perfect, the word perfection is an ironic word, but however, with perfection, you can always reach near that level.
Thirdly, don’t be afraid to be someone who takes risks with networking. Always ask the questions, always go out there, email people, DM people, find out. Don’t be jumping on people DM’s like you are some fan. How will your DM make you stand out to others? Remember celebrities and influencers get hundreds of DM’s a day. What will your message signify to them to make you stand out ahead of the bigger audience?
You have some documentaries in the works, tell us more about them.
Yeah so first is a documentary based on the music scene in France. I’ve always been a fan of French music. I think the music industry there is huge, it’s the second biggest rap scene in the world, a lot of people don’t pay attention to it. I think crossing that barrier will give it a new sense of identity for the UK audience, to really dive into it more. Because a lot of UK people know about French music and love the music scene out there, but what really holds them back is the language barrier. They are really worried about the language and saying “oh I don’t understand French” but I always say music is universal, no matter what language, no matter what the person is speaking, you’re always gonna have music connect you.
I’ve got two more things in the pipeline, obviously my podcast which I rebranded and I’m about to bring it back now with Clubhouse. And the last project I’m not really gonna talk too much about because if it comes out well and this plan comes to an idea, it’s gonna change the whole UK industry. It’s nothing to do with photography.
So you’d like to get out of your comfort zone a bit more?
Yeah definitely, I think it’s more about bringing my set designing initiatives and more of a creative direction as well as doing more stuff for brands and more magazines. It really changes the dynamics of how we should shoot music artists as well so I feel like a lot of UK music artists are finally starting to get out of their comfort zone and really change their style. I’m really excited about that, I’ve just got to see how the tides will fully wade throughout 2021. I know it’s still a bit quiet but I know for a fact after March or April things will start booming again like crazy.
What artists are you excited to see grow in 2021?
Music artist wise, if you’re talking about who’s really blowing up, the artists that I think will take it to the highest level this year are Digga D, Pa Salieu, Meekz Manny, M1llionz, Unknown T and Abracadabra.
The ones to watch for this year are Central Cee, Wewantwraiths, Mahalia, BERWYN and Backroad Gee.
The ones I think that will do excellent as well is OFB’s Bando Kay and Double LZ and the rest of the boys, a collective from Homerton called 9inety8ights with Unknown T, V9, KO, Billy Billions, Hitman, DA and Jimmy.