World Traveler Ron Zak

Indonesia, Buenos Aires, Myanmar... Once these all sounded like exotic lands that I would probably never see in my lifetime. But I did. Thanks to my photography mentor Ron Zak who took students to places that amaze their eyes and open their hearts.

Over the past fifty years, Zak has traveled the globe to photograph moments of irony and interconnectedness in his images of diverse cultures and environments. He has amassed a body of work that widely reflects his deep curiosity in the human condition, interpreted through a lens of self-examination.

Now that he's retired, he continues to seek out new vistas with small groups of friends and often alone. He's currently in Mexico creating classic Zak images that capture the odd, unusual, and ironic moments of everyday life. Follow his journey on Instagram @ronzak69 and visit his artist page to purchase books made from his expanding catalog.

Read one to discover more about this intrepid artist:

Born in Pittsburgh in 1946, Ron Zak's Polish father worked in the steel industry and expected his sons to follow suit. Zak served in Vietnam 1965-67 and returned home to study psychology at The Community Colleges of Appalachia. Beckoned by the counter-culture in San Francisco, he moved to the West Coast where he documented the social movements of the seventies. He earned a Master’s in Art from San Francisco State University in 1976 and presented his first solo exhibition at SFAI’s Walter and McBean Gallery. 

Intrigued by the lives of underdogs and outcasts, Zak volunteered at service organizations such as Delancey Street Foundation and St. Anthony’s in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. His series “Arcane Nomads” investigates life on the move for many homeless or transient individuals and families during the 1980s. Pomegranate Press in Los Angeles published these and other images in a book titled “American Pairs, Portraits and Aliases, 1975-79”. 

Inspired by influential instructors in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, Zak began teaching photography in 1979 at Napa Valley College where he mentored many students who became professional and established photographers. From 2005-2017, he led the photography department at Solano Community College and for the past thirty years Zak has coordinated travel courses for photographers to such locations as China, India, Cuba, Indonesia, Burma, Argentina, Paris, New York, and Vietnam. 

He taught his students to connect with their subjects and to gaze intently into other people’s worlds. Instructing on the go, Zak conducted critiques in hotel lobbies and held lessons on canoes, in caves, through temples and subway tunnels. He continued to develop his own vision through intimate observations and clever juxtapositions. 

Zak’s new and old work began forming into self-published books with titles such as Theatre of Dreams; Multifarious Intelligence; Rigamarole; Joshua, Jesus and Jack, and Nowhere Man. He finds new inspiration in curating the images into narratives that reveal more about his interior world than the exterior one he has extensively explored.