Aug 28, 2017

Q&A With Alum Zak Bennett

Spotlight Date:
August 29, 2017
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Class of 2005 Communications alumnus Zak Bennett is an editorial photographer and reporter who’s work can be viewed in The Wall Street Journal, NPR, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, TIME, Vice Magazine, and many others. He received his B.S. in Journalism and Latin American Studies from University of Florida and his M.S.M. in Business Management from New York University. Recently, he returned from a trip to Colombia with The New York Times’ first ever Student Journey guiding six students through reporting political conflict in the country.
Q: Favorite Dreyfoos (SOA) teachers?
A: Michael Anand, Viri Lieberman, and Theresa Beerman were my favorite professors at Dreyfoos, and they are still some of the coolest people I know and see!
Q: What is the most profound change you experienced at Dreyfoos (SOA)?
A: Dreyfoos promoted a strong sense of unity and acceptance among students, which rubbed off on me. I still hold these values very close.
Q: Is there something Dreyfoos could have provided that could have better prepared you for college?
A: Dreyfoos could have had a specific course, which took students through the college acceptance process. This was mostly left up to the students and their parents when I was a student.
Q: When did you realize you wanted to pursue editorial photography and journalism?
A: I realized at Dreyfoos that I enjoyed reporting, capturing images, and being a historian. When I was in my third year of university these ideas melded together and I began pursuing photojournalism in a very forward fashion.
Q: When did you decide to make the transition to freelancing full-time? What opportunities has that allowed you?
A: I have been freelancing since I graduated, but I was also working full-time for historic image agency Corbis Images and a news start-up, Demotix, where I was a founding editor. Once Corbis Images was sold to Visual China Group, I had the chance to go 100% freelance. It was really a blessing in disguise and one I had considered many times before.
Freelancing has provided me with a world of opportunity. I especially enjoy making my own schedule and pursuing projects based on their value to my career and my intentions within photojournalism. I’ve traveled to more than 25 countries, have been a part of numerous international breaking-news stories, and photographed ancient ruins that had never before been photographed.
Q: You recently returned from a trip to Colombia for a project with the New York Times, tell us a bit about that project and experience.
A: I was just in Colombia on a The New York Times first-ever Student Journey. The topic of our trip was 50 Years of Political Conflict and our goal was to investigate the history of the conflict and understand the current state-of affairs for people on the ground in Colombia. We interviewed, visited, and met with various individuals affected by the conflict, NGOs, experts and government officials. Myself, a political scientist from Colombia, and NYT staff writer took 6 students with us and we basically guided them through a start-to-finish reporting experience. Coincidentally, the FARC, one of Colombia’s oldest illegally armed military groups, agreed to lay down their weapons during the second day of the trip, and we were able to witness the momentous occasion. Earlier this year I was in Colombia reporting on climate change for Vice and the state of tourism in Cartagena.
Q: You have mentored high school students working on photojournalism projects as well as recently hired an intern from Dreyfoos, why do you feel it is important to stay involved and give back to the youth?
A: For the 2016/2017 school year PBS NewsHour offered me a grant to mentor high school students on storytelling in the Miami area. This was an incredible opportunity and put me right in the classroom critiquing 50+ students’ reporting proposals. I was able to help students narrow down their ideas, figure out what was attainable and how to execute their ideas. I hope to do this in future school years. After that experience, I reached out to the Foundation for an intern or scholarship student for summer 2017. Dreyfoos students have an enthusiasm for their art that’s hard to find out in the field. I realize how much I would have appreciated hands-on help teaching from someone, who is currently working in the industry, when I was studying and it wasn’t always available. It’s easy to help others and it actually helps me a lot. Also, I learned a lot from my intern and I’d like to continue surrounding myself with younger people in my industry.
Q: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
A: I was commissioned to trek to Choquequirao, which is Machu Picchu’s secret sister city, by The Wall Street Journal. Choquequirao is a distant city from all civilization and it’s a week-long hike. It’s actually larger than Machu Picchu and has some more interesting murals, which are perfectly intact, but people hardly visit it. This trip was extremely challenging, but I was able to capture the first published images of the ancient site, which was so rewarding. It published in print, in an online gallery, and was republished by The Guardian UK.
Q: Have you had the opportunity to work with any other Dreyfoos alums?
A: Not too many Dreyfoos alums are in journalism, while it is a starved field. But, I spend lots of time with Dreyfoos alums and try to remain involved in their art all the time.
I am actually on Long Island right now helping-out on set with my good friends at Flagpole with a photo shoot (Danielle Lamonte, Megan Balch, Jaime Barker, and Anders Wallace)
Brittany Brett - we had a joint exposition
Paul Casto and I have collaborated on a few fine art projects and plan to do more.
Conor Hersey and Natalie Bergeron (current student) help me with assignments/photo shoots locally.
Q: What recommendations do you have for our current DSOA students?
A: Get hands-on experience. Show up and deliver a product. Maintain your connections.
Q: In a brief statement can you explain “What Dreyfoos means to me”?
A: Dreyfoos is my foundation.