Photog students gain focus from Yale grad
"One thing I love about teaching: I'm also learning every time I teach," photography instructor Mateo Zachai said.
Zachai, who grew up in Oregon, didn't always know he wanted to teach, but has always been interested in the arts. He started studying theatre at a local community college, and was introduced to oil pastel by a fellow actor.
The introduction to pastel work motivated Zachai to pursue art as a major and career so he moved to Portland, where he was involved with many art organizations such as Last Thursday. He also started showing his own oil pastel work, with a South American theme, to bars and café's all over Portland.
Zachai also started doing work around Portland with mannequins, either painting directly onto them or wrapping paintings around them and leaving them in life-like poses all over Portland. With his mannequin project, Zachai was able to get into the San Francisco Art Institute, where he planned to major in painting. After studying different types of art, such as sculpting and printmaking, he decided, after his third year, to try photography.
"I wasn't great at it," Zachai said, "but I found it interesting." Photography was a challenge he wanted to pursue and excel in and so he decided to go for his masters in it. After applying to eight different master's programs at schools such as NYU, UCLA , Columbia, and Yale, he ended up being accepted to all eight – and picked Yale.
"My years at Yale were challenging," Zachai said, "it was like being a little fish in a big pond. The support system was not the same, so my work changed," he said. But Zachai was not willing to give up, and as always he kept his mind and eyes open to inspiration. Then, while walking past a diner one day, he stumbled upon a family eating dinner. As they left he noticed their dirty table, and a new photography project was born. He would travel to many different restaurants and diners and instead of simply taking pictures of the people or locations, he would capture "the crime." He would take pictures of the evidence left after they ate which he called the crime of eating.
As told in an art review in The Stranger, "Zachai captures in graphic detail the uncapped ketchup, the bloody fries, the grains of salt scattered like gunpowder across tabletops." Each of his photos tell the viewer a story of who was eating the meal by the amount of leftovers, the type of food eaten, the amount of tip left on the table, etc.
Zachai found much success with his series, titled "Evidence." Photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank, who happened to be a hero of Zachai's, was at Yale and looked through portfolios of many different students but told Zachai he thought his "crime scene" photos, all in black and white, were the best.
During his time at Yale, Zachai was able to teach undergrad students, and since has gone on to teach at-risk and low-income youth, as well as at the San Francisco Art Institute, UW, Bellevue Community College and SCC.
Zachai, who continues to work on his photography pieces, hopes to put out more shows and have his work shown at more galleries while he teaches. He is also learning more about digital photography and Photoshop, which he incorporates into his Introduction to Photography class here at SCC.
"I love teaching – I feel like it is a part of my journey to teach, share and learn. And it's a great way to live." To view some of Zachai's artwork or read more about him, visit his website at www.zachai.com
Sarah Abraham - Staff Writer