Zev Starr-Tambor is a photographer & cinematographer, a master at several martial arts, a yogi, a marathon runner & so much more. His resolve is an inspiration. But what's behind such growth?
[00:00:00] Andri: My guest today is a dear friend of mine. A man who I am very honored to have on my little podcast here. I like to describe him as a great man of mystery, because although I've known him for years, every time I meet up with him, or every time I talk to people who know him, I keep hearing these crazy stories about him, what he's done his life and about his adventures.
And they're very impressive stories in fact, but I've never heard them from the man himself. He's very humble. He doesn't brag.
So, I guess this podcast today is mostly for me. So I could decipher this man of mystery and hear some of the stories directly from him or get confirmation whether some of these things actually happened or not.
And of course also to get to know my dear friend a bit better. And to introduce all of you as well to this . Dear friend of mine.
His name is Zev . Starr-Tambor. Zev, welcome to the show.
[00:01:02] Zev: Thank you so much. Nice to be here. Such a pleasure.
[00:01:05] Andri: It's a great pleasure to have you on and I'm happy we can have this conversation. Zev. You're a photographer. You're a filmmaker, a surfer, a marathon runner, a Yogi, and a master at several martial arts. We're going to address all these things later on, but you and I, we met in Estonia where I'm from.
And I was assisting you on a photography shoot. That's how we met. Can you for the listeners, tell the story, how you ended up in a small, tiny country, like Estonia in the first place.
[00:01:38] Zev: Yeah. So, many, many years ago, I believe it's actually 1999. I was at a at a party and the party was called body and soul. It's a Sunday afternoon party in New York city. And it was a very special party because people party all the weekends and this is before social media. So I feel like people partied more and they partied much more sincerely before you had Instagram and a phone with you all the time.
And when you met somebody, it was an extremely precious thing to meet somebody because you didn't have this device, with like a thousand connections and people, the message and so on. So if you were home, you were like in your cave, you know, and then if you were at a party, we all recognized that you have a unique time to meet some people and make some interesting connections. And Body and Soul attracted yoga people and really chill, fun people, but people who still love to party, because there was no alcohol served there. It was just house music, crazy house music.
So I met a tall blonde girl named Kadri Kõusaar there, and...
[00:02:54] Andri: Kadri Kõusaar, yeah to Estonians. Yeah.
[00:02:57] Zev: Yeah, Kadri Kou—, sorry, Kadri Kõusaar. You know, no matter how many times over the last 20 years, I try to say her name, I can never please an Estonian.
They always look at me
[00:03:06] Andri: You can practice it after the podcast.
[00:03:08] Zev: I keep practicing, yeah.
So I met Kadri there and we had an amazing time amazing connection and she- remember, this is back in the day, I don't even have a cell phone at this point. She writes her number on a little piece of paper and I put it on my wallet and that's sort of the last I think about it. And by the way, when she's like, I'm from Estonia, I'm like, what is, is Estonia?
You know, like I, I'm not even sure if I could Google it at that time. I think you could just start to search stuff anyway. I figured it out, but I didn't think about it again because I'm obviously never going to get to Estonia. That's obvious. So six months later I was in Stockholm, Sweden, and I had a shoot there.
Three-day shoot. And at the end of the shoot fairly exhausted. And like, I'm just like, I'm going to go for a little walk around Stockholm. So I'm going for a little walk by now. I've got, I think I've probably purchased my first cell phone. So I've got my cell phone in my pocket and I get down to like, by the water and I see a huge ferryboat with a sign that says to Tallinn, Estonia, And I'm just like, oh my God, I met that girl Kadri!
And so I reach into my wallet to see if I still have the number. I'm like, I probably threw it out by now, but I have her number. And it's like six o'clock at night or something like that. So I'm like, you know what times the boat leave. So I asked him, what time does the boat leave? They're like, it leaves at 6:30.
I'm like, oh God, I call Kadri. And she's like, oh, you're at the boat. I'm like, yeah. She's like ask them what time it arrives. So I'm like, what time is it arrive? I was like, it arrives at nine I'm, like Kadri says, get on the boat. So I'm like, okay, she'll, she'll meet me on the other side. I'm like, fabulous.
So I get on the boat, the ferry to Tallinn Estonia and it's six o'clock and I find a place to sit. And then it's seven o'clock eight o'clock, nine o'clock, 9 30, 10 o'clock. And I'm like the boat's late, right? They're like, no, no, no, nine o'clock tomorrow morning. It was like a forever boat I had no idea. I ended up in Tallinn and uh Kadri picks me up.
That's how I got there the first time.
[00:05:24] Andri: And after that you kept coming back.
[00:05:27] Zev: Yeah. I've been there many, many times because it turns out that, in my opinion Estonia is an extraordinary creative place with extremely intelligent people. And I somehow found, I could relate to Estonians like way better than Americans.
I'm very glad you feel that way. This just popped into my mind when I was visiting you. I think it was the last time when I was in New York. There was some sort of a situation with the key. Because I was supposed to crash in your apartment. But you were on a train already on your way to the Hamptons. So I ended up having to climb your fire escape and break in through your window. In order to actually get into your apartment.
[00:06:12] Zev: I remember.
[00:06:13] Andri: Great fun. I'm glad I didn't get arrested or anything. But, uh, I digress. In your story. You mentioned that you were at a party, but I know that you don't drink, and I know that you don't do any drugs. But you still like to party. So let's get into that a bit. Why and when did you take on the decision not to ever drink alcohol or ever touch any drugs?
[00:06:39] Zev: So when I was up until about the age of 14 years old, I would say I was like fairly quiet. Very nerdy, like not interested in sports. You would likely find me like alone with a book just kind of doing my thing. But when I was 14 years old, I developed a rare nervous system condition called Guillain-Barré.
You get it actually after you get a vaccination about one in 500,000 people will get Guillain-Barré after they've had a, for example, a flu shot.
And what happens is your body becomes confused and your white blood cells, they attack the lining of your nerves. It's called myelin, and the impulses from your brain can't get to any part of your body.
So I spent several months fully paralyzed and by fully paralyzed, I mean, I couldn't eat or do anything or move my hands. And up to about half of my face was paralyzed, so I could speak sort of, and then I started to recover. And in that process, I promised myself that if I would ever be able to walk again, then I would always take a perfect care of my body.
And so since that time, I have largely devoted myself to that. And that has found various expressions over time. You know, the very first expression was healthy food. The next expression was racing triathlons. The next expression was martial arts and my current expression is still martial arts, which I've come back to after a long time of switching over to doing mostly yoga and I've come back to brazilian jujitsu.
[00:08:29] Andri: And what you said about the syndrome is that it attacks the myelin sheats surrounding your nerve cells. And in that sense, it's very similar to multiple sclerosis, which is an autoimmune disease that I was also diagnosed with in late 2015. And I also started on my health journey after I got that diagnosis.
It's interesting that I see that people who come to make their health, a priority in their lives, come from a place where they were losing their health, but somehow managed to recover on their own. Maybe even as opposed or like contrary to professional advice. So it's very interesting to see the parallels in our journeys here.
[00:09:14] Zev: Yeah. And I discovered something interesting based on what you just said, which is I started with the martial art. Danzan Ryu Jujitsu, which comes from Hawaii. And that teacher Okazaki Sensei started jujitsu to heal himself from injuries and illness when he was a child. And the founder of judo was also described as like a weak and poor health young boy.
And he started jujitsu to I'm sorry. Well, yeah, it's accurate to say jujitsu. It's accurate to say Judo because he started with jujitsu and then develops judo. And then finally the founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Sensei also had poor health and illness and weakness. And as, as a child and also developed the martial art Aikido.
So it turned out incidentally. And not only that, by the way, Helio Gracie is often described as the weak, one of the family who developed BJJ. So all of the martial arts that I ended up studying just completely coincidentally comes from people overcoming things.
[00:10:18] Andri: And all of the martial arts are based also on leverage. How to take down bigger opponents, then yourself use their weight and size against them.
I also practice Brazilian jiujitsu. We've rolled together. I feel a bit, I feel a bit betrayed because you put on this white belt and later I found out you have a black belt in judo, second degree, black belt in a Japanese jujitsu and a third degree black belt in Aikido. And now you mentioned the Hawaiian jiujitsu. What other martial arts have you trained?
[00:10:50] Zev: I used to do , uh, Wing Tsun Kung Fu, as I told you with uh Tim Ferris, we used to do it when we were very young. When we were kids. My stepfather took me to my first class when I was very young, like eight or nine years old. And I kept up with it until I was about 24. And then I switched over to more doing fully Japanese arts.
[00:11:10] Andri: We have a mutual friend who I met through you in Estonia as well, Spencer.
[00:11:16] Zev: Oh,
[00:11:17] Andri: Spencer told me a story about the days when you were a bodyguard - not a bodyguard, sorry a lifeguard
[00:11:25] Zev: Yeah.
[00:11:25] Andri: And you had this senior level person there who was a wrestler, I think.
[00:11:31] Zev: I mean, I'm not sure what the story that's that Spencer told was, but I think anybody who does Brazilian jujitsu or jujitsu or judo will often have some experience wrestling with wrestlers because they appear and you have to remember this story Spencer's telling, like MMA was not a known subject.
Like you didn't practice MMA. So you were a wrestler or you did judo, or you did boxing, but you rarely found somebody who did something like I did, like, I did intense grappling judo, and I had like a striking background with Kung Fu that was already like, quite rare. It was very common for instructors to say like, no, you're doing this and you stay and you do this. And this only.
There wasn't an MMA philosophy. So the reason I'm saying this is the guy that I wrestled in this little challenge match, you know, he was a pure wrestler and he's a great athlete, like a division one college wrestler. But nonetheless, he doesn't know what a guillotine is and he doesn't know what an arm bar is.
That's basically the end of the story from my perspective, because if you're a wrestler and you're not defending your neck, I mean, it's...
[00:12:44] Andri: The way I heard about it, that he was a big guy, and it was constantly picking on all these lifeguard people and just like trying to wrestle them. But he never picked on you. He never touched you. He stayed clear from you and people started picking on him like, Hey, so why didn't wrestle Zev? Go against Zev.
And when you had a go at it, then suppose that the, you did a ninja jump a back, landed into him, somehow took him down in the most Hollywood way possible.
[00:13:14] Zev: I did do that. Yeah. I actually, what I, what I did, I actually specifically remember is we would call it pulling guard now. But he was standing, I jumped, I wrapped my legs around him, which totally surprised him. Then I dropped back down and I grabbed his ankles and I swept him.
[00:13:30] Andri: Okay.
[00:13:32] Zev: I mean, nobody had ever really seen that before, you know. But not now people would say, oh, he pulled guard or whatever, or she jumped guard or, you know, but that wasn't common knowledge like it is now.
[00:13:43] Andri: So let's play around with these martial arts stories a bit? Cause I'm really interested in those. What was the first martial art you started? You said that was the Hawaiian jujitsu, correct?
[00:13:54] Zev: Well, the very first martial art, it was Wing Tsun Kung Fu. When I was a child. And then when I went to university, I started in Danzan Jiujitsu.
[00:14:04] Andri: And which martial art was it when you got really focused and dedicated on training? And I heard a story about you mopping the floors and living at the dojo as well.
[00:14:16] Zev: Yeah, I did do that. I lived in Japan to study Aikido. I know it sounds maybe sort of hilarious now, but you have to understand it was different times. I, I loved Steven Seagal in his movies.
And I still, if you look now I know whatever...
[00:14:32] Andri: He definitely had his glory days.
[00:14:34] Zev: He had his glory, this and so did I. So I moved to Japan.
I went and I lived in the dojo where the founder of Aikido created Aikido. And I lived with his senior student who had lived with Ueshiba sensei for 25 years and took over the dojo after he passed.
[00:14:55] Andri: And the martial arts community, Aikido, and also as well as is jiujitsu and all these old things are being made fun of somehow, you know, but you've learned, Aikido from high-end as top, as it could get. And what's your experience with this?
Since you do judo, since you do Brazilian jujitsu. What's your take an Aikido and would you say it is completely uneffective or how would you frame my Aikido in this sense?
[00:15:23] Zev: Yeah. So as an aside to this story you know In a very sports oriented school Brazilian jujitsu in New York, a beautiful school that I love called Masterskya. I also go to Hamptons jujitsu when I'm in Hamptons, but I need a place in the city cause I go back and forth for work. And the instructor from Masterskya asked me, can I be in one of his TikToks and do a technique with him?
So I said, can we do something from Aikido? And he's like you know, I would, but we're just going to get trolled. Like I can't put it on to the account. I'm like, okay, so we'll do something from jujitsu.
So that is sort of the current common feeling about Aikido, which I totally get. But Aikido is an incredible martial art. It's beautiful. It's powerful. It's philosophically sound. When people say it doesn't work. Doesn't work if you try to beat a sport trained athlete. That's just simply not using the information in the correct way.
And Aikido does work in controlling someone, really good footwork really good sense of maintaining my eye of your distance from your opponents. Really good at get someone, get them past you get out, maybe throw them, maybe trip them. But that being said, if you put two people in a ring, one has done Aikido, no one has done judo or BJJ or boxing or wrestling.
The Aikido person will lose every time. But if you put those same people into an aggressive situation. I'm not convinced the Aikido person loses. The Aikido person may never even get into a fight. The best way I can describe this is let's say you want to cross a swamp of alligators, right? This is a huge swamp 30 alligators.
Who's going to cross it better, the quietest person or the best alligator . Wrestler. Right? So the alligator wrestler maybe can out wrestle the first three . Alligator wrestlers that the quiet person will get killed. But on the other hand, when they go to cross the swamp, the alligator wrestler might decide to wrestle that alligator and the quiet person that can find another way out.
So that's where you're heading with Aikido..
[00:17:58] Andri: And also in the terms of sports jiujitsu, which is often, touted as the ultimate martial art because every fight is going to end up on the ground and you can control the way bigger opponents. But, jujitsu in a street fight. Let's say a real world scenario. Since you're studying sports jujitsu, you're still going to get your ass kicked.
It's better just to walk away because self-defense and sports jujitsu, they're completely two different things. And you have to like recognize that.
And if Aikido teaches these real world concepts and how to deescalate the situation cause, you mentioned the philosophy and just like finding the other way, I guess it's more effective.
[00:18:35] Zev: Yeah. And I love what you said about the sports versus the self-defense.
The problem with self-defense as a concept is you are training for something that you never know if it will happen and will probably never happen. As opposed to a sport athlete, who's training for a tournament that they know it's like in three months, this is going to happen and there will be a result, right?
If you're training for self-defense like, what is, you have no objective measure of if what you're doing works. And again, that's why, again and again, you find sport athletes to be more powerful than self-defense trained martial artists, because you know, there's a deadline you're trained for this thing it's happening at this time.
You know, if you want, you get feedback immediately, like, ah, I lost to an arm bar, right? Well, God damn it. I'm going to drill my defenses. And I know that when he hit me with the throw, I let my elbow away from my body and boom, he got the arm bar. You know what happens. The problem with self-defense training is that you are training your whole life, something theoretical.
Therefore of course, the first time it actually happens to you on the street somewhere. You might blow it. You're not going to probably blow it to an arm bar. You're probably going to blow it to the guy comes up to you like, Hey man, no problem. No problem. Boom. Ah, fuck. I didn't see. I didn't see that coming, right.
Like yeah. Your arm bars, so
[00:20:08] Andri: Yeah.
[00:20:09] Zev: yeah.
[00:20:09] Andri: Let's not linger too long for the sports. I'm going to segue, but I just had one more thing to mention that the sports section of the conversation, is I just had my first competition.
I think it was two weeks ago and I, at first, my idea when I'm signing up for the tournament was I'm just going to go and have some fun, but along the way, when trainings, at some point I got convinced that, like, okay, I'm going to go in it to win it. I'm going to win this thing. You know, it's like a lot of false confidence.
And what, I didn't know what nobody told me it's going to happen, is I expected some pre-fight anxiety feeling a bit nervous. I wasn't that nervous even when I was stepping on the mat, but as soon as I got the grips, I had this complete adrenaline dump.
My body, dumped all the adrenaline and I gassed myself out in a minute, completely. The adrenaline killed me. I had no idea that's going to happen. I didn't know I have to control for that.
I lost by points because my opponent obviously had more competing experience, but it was a great experience.
[00:21:15] Zev: I mean, that's a wonderful thing. That's great.
[00:21:18] Andri: And also, as you mentioned if you're a going to in a self-defense situation, having never fought somebody for real and putting all this strength in. If you released that adrenaline, you're going to get tunnel vision zone out completely. And you're just going to like fall back to some sort of training maybe, but since you haven't had this intense situation training who knows what's going to actually happen.
[00:21:40] Zev: Yeah, absolutely.
And I have what you described, a little theory about it.
You know, that adrenaline dump that we get it's to help us survive, right? It's a positive thing. But because we are so civilized that a man can get to be 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years old and never experience in his life, that adrenaline dump in a fight for real.
Whereas our ancestors, like every day would experience this. So they would be able to immediately channel it to the positive. And as you continue competing, you're going to get that adrenaline dump, but it's going to be a good thing. You're going to be like, boom. There it is. I got you, you know,
[00:22:23] Andri: I have my next upcoming competition on the 26th. So two Saturdays away. So I'm, I'm excited. Let's, let's see how that goes.
So you mentioned work earlier and at the intro, I described you also as a photographer and a filmmaker.
You're a pretty well known photographer in New York. So how did you get into photography in the first place?
[00:22:45] Zev: So I didn't want to be a photographer. What I actually wanted to be was a cinematographer. That's how I started.
And I started assisting a documentary filmmaker and he made a lot of films for HBO. A lot of them were based on prison conditions and one of my very first jobs ever working with him was a film about women in prison.
So we used to go to this prison six days a week. We'd leave at 5:00 AM from New York city, go to the women's prison film for 12 hours on film, by the way, like film reels and come back and I would set up the tripod, carry the lights, so on. Basically an extremely difficult job. Extremely stressful because when you're in prison, even if you're the filmmaker, you're like you're in prison, you know?
And American prisons are not places you want to spend 12 hours a day.
I was learning photography, cinematography. And in this time I started dating a girl who was a model. And amazing girl. She was studying acting. She had some good connections with some really interesting and important people in the industry.
And she was very social and beautiful girl, like my first, like, you know, really, really big love of my life. She asked me if I could photograph a portrait of her for her headshots, which I did. And you also have to remember in this time photographing somebody was something, a limited amount of people could do.
You couldn't like grab your phone and like photograph something and you didn't have a digital camera. It was, everything was film. So if I did it for free, it still costs two or $300 to buy the film, process the film, make prints, you know, you had to spend money. It was like a valuable thing.
So her friend asked if I could do some photos of her as well. When she saw the pictures I did of my girlfriend. And then their agent called me about a week later and said, would you like to do some more pictures like that?
And I was like, oh yeah I would. He was like, yeah, I saw the portraits you did of these two girls, and I liked them. I'm like, oh, amazing.
And then she goes so who would you like to photograph? And I'm like, well, I mean, I'm not sure. She's like, okay, I'll set up a go see for you. And I have no idea actually what that means. I'm like, okay, that's fine. Great. She's like, okay, tomorrow at 10, I'm like, okay.
She's like, what's your address? I give her my address. I'm like, okay. So next morning at 10, there's a ring on my doorbell and I go and, I open the door and there's 15 girls outside my door.
And I'm like, hi. And they're like hi. And I'm like, I'm like stuck. I'm like stuck. Like I've got the same adrenaline dump that you get in the competition.
And one of the goals is like, should we come in? I'm like, yeah, yeah, come in. So I'm like, okay, the next thing, there's 15 girls in my apartment now. My small apartment. This was tiny, like 40, 30 square meters or something like that.
So I'm like, I'm sitting there looking at them and they're looking at me and I'm looking at them because I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do.
And finally, one of the girls is like, would you like to see my book? And I'm like, oh yeah. So like, they come and I figured out now, there's a routine. Like you look at their book, they give you a comp card. You maybe ask them one or two questions. Where are you from? Who's your mother agency. And then you go on. But I didn't know that at the time.
And that's how it started. I photographed one or two of those girls. Eventually I started doing some photos for the first agency that ever paid me to do photographs was IMG. They paid, I think three 50 per test or something like that. And that's how it got going.
[00:26:37] Andri: And have you ever gotten back to cinematography from there as well?
[00:26:42] Zev: So I still do do cinematography. I have a couple little projects coming up I'm going to Miami this weekend to do a little documentary. I'm doing a short film project with my sister. Who's now starting to produce films in a couple of weeks. So yeah, I still do cinematography.
[00:27:02] Andri: Our backgrounds in that sense are similar. One more overlap here that I used to be a cinematographer, I used to do photography professionally as well. Not on your level. But I feel that for me, knowing cinematography, when doing photography and vice versa, gave an edge in both of these fields, and I've noticed your photography as well, it, it is more cinematic.
[00:27:26] Zev: Yeah, yeah. I am for that. Yeah. I'm glad you can feel it, experience it.
[00:27:31] Andri: But then you started doing fashion photography professionally, and you still keep it going.
[00:27:38] Zev: Still going. It's been 23 or 24 years, I guess.
[00:27:44] Andri: And over your career you've photographed, a lot of interesting, and also let's say famous people. And would I be mistaken in saying that the same way you had 15 girls in your apartment, you also had uh Kanye West and Oprah Winfrey in your apartment, in your home studio?
[00:28:01] Zev: Some in the home studio, some in other locations Kanye West in particular was I worked for a long time for a Ralph Lauren and I used to portraits, like we had like a little studio portrait set up of all the amazing people who would come and arrive at his shows and events and stuff like that.
So that's where I photographed the Kanye West. Yeah. So some of the apartments, some in locations, some in studios.
[00:28:25] Andri: Do you have any notable or favorite shoots that you did with all these people that you've worked with?
[00:28:32] Zev: I feel like for me, this was actually already a while ago. Let's say this was about seven or eight years ago. The moments where I felt like, oh my God this is an amazing . Experience was when I went to the white house to photograph Michelle Obama. And that was like, it's still like a semi surreal moment, you know, like going to like get interviewed by the secret service and going through security into the white house.
And then you're walking through the white house with your equipment and you're like, I'm in the white house. Like, this is insane. So now I'll put that as like a, like a up there exciting experience.
[00:29:11] Andri: How did you end up photographing Michelle Obama?
[00:29:14] Zev: So I get a variation of that question all the time, and it's always, the question goes something like, oh, well, why did they pick you to do this one? Or why did, why did this client choose you and so on. I'm going to give an overall answer first. Is that as you do work over time, You know, there's 30,000 photographers in New York.
Did you know that? Now you do. There's a lot of photographers, but as you do work over time, what you can do becomes more and more specific. And the way people think of you becomes more and more specific until at a certain point, when somebody's thinking of something, there's only a few photographers that they can think of, that would be good for certain jobs.
And like the perfect example for someone like me is probably, if you want to do like a celebrity personality and you want to do it in their home and you want to shoot in the Hamptons and you want a nice natural light feel, it's like, you have to call me. There's maybe one or two other people you could call, but you develop a thing where people know what your skills are and what you're going to do.
So regarding getting the shoot with michelle Obama, I had done a documentary on another photographer and filmmaker, and he had worked with the publisher. Michelle had just done a book, I think it's called American Grown and she needed really beautiful light photos and a film. We did both. To promote her new book.
And so the publisher called me. That's how it works. So from work I had done in the past that had a certain style through a certain kind of client and through a certain kind of connection, someone will think of it in the future and be like, oh, you want this person?
[00:31:03] Andri: I guess it as in any business, you have to find your own niche. You have to double down in your niche and become good and known in that niche.
But nowadays, the barrier of entry for both filmmaking and photography is so low and everyone can grab a phone and everyone can find a tutorial on YouTube, how to edit a certain photo in a certain kind of way. And the market is just saturated. So it's very difficult to find your clients and find your niche and get hired.
What tips would you give to new people who want to get into photography and want to make a living out of it? What's the trick? How can you get going now in 2022?
[00:31:45] Zev: So I actually believe that in the future, there will not be photographers like me anymore. You might say that my prediction there was not good. Right. I think that in the present time, it is about content and less about art and it's more relates to volume.
It's still niche based. Like you have to have maybe your own thing that you do, but more and more, the person is their own channel and creator and so on.
And I think that would be what I would advise anyone to focus on. And the other thing in essence is you should be shooting things that you're passionate about and that you want to do. And therefore you will ultimately get there because you have to do it.
[00:32:31] Andri: Hmm.
[00:32:32] Zev: And that's in my opinion, the way.
[00:32:34] Andri: When I was interested in fashion photography, I'm a very competitive person by nature. And I was always comparing myself to other photographers and their work and that was causing me a lot of internal stress. But I also have this, I guess, not to come off as bragging in some sense, but I have this internal ability to sense if things are made and done in good taste.
And if they are pushed to the maximum quality they can be pushed to. And when doing fashion photography, I saw good photography. And I see these amazing photographers doing amazing work technically, and also from a storytelling perspective and whatever I did, whatever I put out, it would never match.
It was constantly missing something. And I know what's good. I know how to do all these technical things, but I just cannot get the result I'm after. And I remember this clearly I was stressed about it.
I was doing shoots. I wanted to get better, but it couldn't get better. And at that moment, I really didn't go to anyone for help either is like, hey, Zev, so can you teach me how you can make a great photo? I don't know, I didn't do that.
But I just remember one morning I woke up, opened my eyes and thought to myself, I'm going to quit photography. I'm . Not going to be a fashion photographer anymore.
And it was like a stone lifted off my chest. It just felt good to stop.
I recognize talent. But I had no innate talent to push for it. And just like trying to stay on that path, I would have put in so much work to just get back mediocre results and that wouldn't just be good. So I decided to double down on what I was good at which was filmmaking and directing and producing and cinematography and just one man banding it.
So I'm not saying that people should just give up their dreams and go into something else other than photography.
But in my case, what I just realized is that my true talent didn't lie there. And making it an obsession, that I have to be a photographer that I have to be a fashion photographer that I have to make it in New York, for example... It just wasn't feasible for me and I recognized that then I moved to things that I was actually good at. So I guess that was my way of finding my niche.
But to everyone else, if I could drop a bit of advice as well from an ex photographer is, as Zev said, just keep doing it. Just keep asking for help.
Find the people whose work you like, go be an assistant to them, if you can be an assistant, and take it from there. Getting experience real world experience on the field and doing your own things is the only way you're going to get better. You're not going to get better by just watching YouTube videos and not doing shoots.
[00:35:23] Zev: Yeah, absolutely. And I think especially in the genre of fashion photography. Fashion photography is very much, it's a social endeavor and it's a team endeavor.
And the main thing that you need is the ability to organize the team and inspire confidence in the people and put all the elements together.
And you need to have the confidence in the control to make sure that all the elements fit. Because you have a model who has certain abilities and talents and ways to move, and you maybe have a stylist who has certain clothes, they want a feature, and you have maybe a makeup artist who maybe has a thought about what the makeup should be like. And then you have a client who wants something.
And the photographer's job is to bring all these human artists elements together into a final product that is beautiful and it's all consistent.
And one of the great challenges in this type of photography is that you have to control other talented people and they have to trust you.
I found again and again, you get a makeup artist with a cool idea. Oh, I got this new lipstick and I want to try this color.
But does that fit with everything else? Or the stylist has something or the model thinks something should be this way.
And so my main advice over time to anyone wanting to do specifically fashion photography is to love people, understand that you're going to be working with talented people, that they're going to have ideas and input and your job.
Your technical job, like exposure, lighting, and so on. That's the absolute base minimum. You must be able to do that. But the real job is to bring the right elements into the frame of other talented individuals and make sure that the whole frame works together in a beautiful way.
[00:37:31] Andri: And for men, definitely a prerequisite is not to be creepy and respect women.
[00:37:36] Zev: That's definitely.
[00:37:38] Andri: Especially in the light of everything that's going on.
[00:37:40] Zev: Yeah, that and it has been going on for a long time.
[00:37:43] Andri: So we touched on health and Guillain-Barré earlier, and I know that medical errors are a dear subject to you. So let's take it from there.
[00:37:56] Zev: So, so, so, so, so, so, so three times in my life I've almost died and all three times are directly caused by doctors. The first time was from Guillain-Barré. The second time was from an injection in my lower back to release like a muscle spasm, which paralyzed my left foot and which induced a small heart attack in me that damaged one of the valves in my heart.
And then the third time I was misdiagnosed by a doctor and rushed into an unnecessary surgery.
All of these things that I have learnt is basically doctors have opinions. They don't actually know anything. And I understand why they make mistakes so easily now, but I didn't understand it before. And one of the main reasons is they have an overriding philosophy, which they consider to make sense and which I dispute. Which is that, if something has four hooves and gallops, treat it like a horse. It could be a zebra, but treat it like a horse.
So what that means is you have certain symptoms and you go and you try to describe what's happening. And they just gather the few details that they can. And maybe, they take some action or they don't.
They don't work in a field where they have fully repeatable results. So for example if I pick up my phone and I'm holding it in front of you, right? I guess this is a podcast. So people aren't going to see it. But if I let go of this phone a hundred times, how many times will it fall? That's that's I'm asking you a question, a hundred?
[00:39:41] Andri: It's going to fall every time.
[00:39:42] Zev: It's going to fall every time.
If you go and have some kind of injection a hundred times, is it going to be good for you a hundred times? No, maybe 99 times, maybe 97, maybe 94, maybe, you know. So they're not working in a world of repeatable results. They work in a statistical world. So that's the nature of what they do.
[00:40:11] Andri: I'm also a big advocate of taking charge over your own health and wellbeing.
And I definitely recognize the hubris and the shortcomings of Western biomedicine. And now I'm very interested and a big proponent of what's called integrative medicine and the creator of integrateive medicine, Andrew Weil described it in a way where...
If you get hit by a car, you're not going to go see a shaman to get patched up. You're going to go to the ER, they're going to stitch you back together and they're going to send you on your way.
Then with an integrative framework, you can go and find more alternative, help from a chiropractor. Who's going to help you deal with the pain and put things into place that needs to be. And after that, you can go see a shaman, a priest, a village elder, who you believe in, who's going to help you heal the trauma, so you're not afraid to cross the street again for the rest of your life.
So the integrative medicine is integrating these other frameworks on top of the Western biomedicine that are low risk and potentially very helpful. And that's the problem with the hubris of the Western biomedicine is that it disregards everything outside of its framework.
If it's not 100% proven or like studies that match to their qualities or their teachings in their universities, you know. Then they disregard these things out of hand. And the word alternative as in alternative medicine has just become synonymous with "not working".
Though, the medicines, the other frameworks are not necessarily alternative in the let's say, eastern countries or Eastern regions. China has Chinese medicine. India has the Ayurvedic medicine and we have the Western biomedicine. Now it's mostly mixed, but the thing is, if some things have existed for thousands of years... We've had the Western biomedicine maybe for a hundred years.
If these other modalities have existed for thousands of years with trial and error, why are we now so eager to just disprove all of these other treatments, all of these other healing modalities, and just go for this one thing, "Hey, you have to swallow your pill, you're going to get fine, if you do anything else, you're going to stay bedridden and die".
That was the choice what I was given when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Is I was told I have to do this treatment, the treatment was immunosuppressants and immunosuppressants basically just suppress your immune system.
So your immune system stops attacking the myelin and sheats, your own nerve cells, but it's not going to fix the issue.
You're just going to mask up the symptoms like this for as long as it can. And in the background, your body's still slowly dying. So you never take care of the root cause issue. So it's symptom management basically.
Okay. Symptom management is important to certain kinds of situations and it's good. But the problem there was, I was presented this as an only option. Nobody ever told me that I can get better. They told me there's no other way. That's the only thing I can do. And if I don't do it, I'm going to lose ability to walk and I'm going to be bedridden and everything else is just going to go downhill.
And that's what I find what's very wrong with this Western biomedicine, and the way we address these illnesses and people in general. And now we're in a place where you don't even have bodily autonomy too much anymore because the government is making decisions for you.
[00:43:57] Zev: Yeah.
[00:43:58] Andri: And telling you to take this treatment or these other treatments.
And I just, from my background, from where I'm coming from, I cannot just agree with this. I do not agree with the politics at all.
And you mentioned the medical errors, no treatment from the Western biomedicine is without risks. There's always a trade off. There's always some kind of risk.
[00:44:21] Zev: Oh yeah, question.
[00:44:23] Andri: Some people are allergic to peanuts. A thousand people are going to eat peanuts. One person might die, but there's always this risk, this one person. And when we do these big experiments on such a large scale, the whole population, you are going to find a lot of these exceptions. And if it's not a free choice anymore, then it's, then it's just wrong, I feel.
[00:44:46] Zev: Yeah, I mean, I agree.
[00:44:49] Andri: And you introduced me to this term as well, that I've kind of forgotten now, which was paltering.
[00:44:55] Zev: Yeah.
So paltering is a fascinating subject.
I discovered it because of trying to understand how these doctors misdiagnosed me. And when you palter you use a true statement, but you use it in a deceptive way.
So I'm going to give you an example from my personal experience.
My mom left town and she has a big house and I had three friends over one of the friends drank one of her bottles of wine. My mom calls me the next day and says, one of my bottles of wine is missing. And I say, mom, you know, I don't drink alcohol.
Did I lie? Did I? I did lie actually.
Now I deceived her. I, I deceived her.
[00:45:47] Andri: Yeah
[00:45:47] Zev: So a palter is how you deceive someone and how you misguide someone by using a true statement. And what I discovered when I, when I went back to these doctors to explain to them how they misdiagnosed me and what had happened and what my symptoms were, and I needed their help, they began pulsing like crazy.
What does that mean? Well, they, they were not bad intentioned people at first, right? I went there with an issue. They thought that they were doing the right thing. I believe that they believed that, but they did the wrong thing. So when you go back and you go, go back them and say, look, this happened and I need your help.
They go, but you had this. I'm like, yes, I had the symptom, but the thing is, is that blah, blah, I don't want to get over into it because it's just such a nightmare. But they go, yes, but you had the symptom and they continue to say yes, true statements, but they know they fucked up.
[00:46:47] Andri: And in those cases, there's also a lot of incentive to protect yourself because you could lose your medical license, your job, or in some senses, there's just protected by the medical system.
So if you just follow this medical guide step by step, that they have. You're protected from all liability. And that's also the problem where the Western biomedicine, we cannot treat people as individuals. You have to treat it as a horse. As you mentioned before, even though it might be a zebra, but as soon as you start treating it like a zebra, you're making yourself liable, to be sued or liable for these medical errors that you might make.
But if you stick to the script, you're going to be protected and all this good. Your incentive is on a personal level to actually stick to the script because you spent seven years going through medical school, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you want to keep your job and you have to support your family. So this is like a system we built that we're all kind of trapped in.
[00:47:41] Zev: Yeah, we are trapped in the system. And what you said about the script is 100% accurate. It's a script. There are certain codes with literal check boxes, you check and that's it. And the other thing to be aware of is that doctors who take action, for example a surgeon is like the perfect example, right?
A surgeon is binary either. He's going to cut you or he's not going to cut you. That's all that this person has to offer to you when they look at whatever they're looking at in you and decide that, okay, this person meets this criteria. I can cut this person and do this thing. I'm not even going to get into the difference between, like, if you go there and he says, oh, I can't cut this person.
Right. I'm not going to perform surgery. He can collect $200. If he does do it, he can collect $48,000, right? That's a human bias. I'm not going to get into it. But you have to understand that, there's just this, this type of doctor, surgeon, very binary. Yes or no. Your overall health is not really in this person's mind.
Like not one bit. So once they make the decision: I can cut this person, everything that they say thereafter, we'll be guiding you to be cut or to have this action done. And that was my first very strong incident of experiencing paltering, which I knew at the time when I'm sitting in the surgeon's office and I'm like asking him questions, and this is going to be almost physically painful for me to say, but I'm going to say what I experienced here.
I asked the doctor directly. I was like, okay, you're suggesting this. How long is the recovery time? He goes two weeks. I'm like two weeks. You know, I thought, you know, I heard it takes like six months or like a year to recover and he's like, no, no, no, no, no. It's two weeks. You'll be back to your normal activities in two weeks.
Wow, two weeks. And I'm sitting there thinking he's like, I'll get you right in. Right. You got to run here and do this and do that and do that. And I'm like, woah, right. He's a doctor, my friend, who I used to lifeguard with became a doctor. And he said, this guy is the absolute best. And I'm thinking, you know, I'm supposed to get three opinions or something, but my friends told me this guy was the best and blah, blah, blah.
So his palter, which I learned later was I asked him a question. I said, how long his recovery? He says two weeks, you'll be back to normal activities in two weeks. What does normal activities mean?
Does normal activities mean to you? I'm going to go surf for three hours, go to jiu-jitsu class, go to yoga class.
I'm going to do two shoots today. Then I'm going to have dinner at like midnight and go to sleep and do it again tomorrow. Is that normal? Or just normal mean to you, you can walk from the bed to the refrigerator and like, that's a palter and man, did I fall for it. And man, do I regret it. Because it took three years for me to recover.
[00:50:50] Andri: Oh, Jesus.
[00:50:52] Zev: Yeah.
[00:50:53] Andri: Whew.
[00:50:54] Zev: Yeah. Phfoof is right. You don't realize how badly these people can hurt you and they can.
[00:51:01] Andri: And on that note, I think the best message or takeaway from here is, especially nowadays, you have to learn how to take charge of your own health and wellbeing.
And it's also not just for you, but it's also fair to the system because as we now see how fragile the medical systems are all over the world, every system is failing and by taking charge of your own health and well-being by being preventative by not having to go to the doctor with every minute thing, but knowing how to solve your own problems and preventing these problems from ever happening, you are going to help all those other people with more serious issues, who need the medical help. And who might not survive if the help is not there.
So it's basically not only fair to yourself, but it's also fair to everyone. And you're gonna thank yourself for it. If you just decide that, okay, I'm in charge of my own health and wellbeing, I'm going to eat healthy. I'm going to move and I'm going to clean up my environment.
[00:52:02] Zev: Yeah, exactly the same conclusion that I have come to as well. And my frame for this is that. Yeah, you can go to the doctors. I mean, it's, it can sometimes be important. I went two weeks ago, I did my first tele-health ever appointment, which is actually an experience exactly like this. And the reason I did it was I got a really bad mat burn on my ankle and it-
[00:52:29] Andri: I'm going to include the video now.
[00:52:31] Zev: rise and it started to swell up and get inflamed.
And a few weeks before someone on the mats had had MRSA, do you know what MRSA is?
[00:52:41] Andri: I've heard about it, but I don't know the actual
[00:52:46] Zev: Yeah, it's a very serious skin infection. You need antibiotics if you get MRSA. So I'm like, you know, let me check this out. So the doctor checked it out, actually just like this, like with my foot in front of the camera, you know, like, and he's like, it's not MRSA. And I'm like, oh yeah, I felt better. And you know, yeah.
The infection went down and he's like, put this on it that it's like, it's totally reasonable.
I mean, doctors are useful, but they have a great general knowledge of medicine, but you always know you, so you will always have more specific knowledge of your body and what's important to you, than what any doctor can tell you.
[00:53:30] Andri: Definitely, and the Western medicine is very important for these very difficult situations where you have to take things out, put new things in and stitch people back up together.
[00:53:42] Zev: Yeah. I mean, when it comes to that, it's truly miraculous.
[00:53:46] Andri: But dealing with everyday chronical issues and allergies and auto-immune issues, we're failing at those. But that's because that's not in the capabilities of the Western biomedicine. That's what happens in your own home and what life choices you make.
[00:54:03] Zev: Yeah, 100%.
[00:54:06] Andri: I think we've reached a full circle we've touched and all the subjects we were supposed to touch on. I opened up a bit of the mystery from Zev. I loved hearing about your martial arts training in the beginning of the conversation. Zev, now's a good time to include a shameless self plug here.
[00:54:24] Zev: Okay. If you'd like to see some of my photography work, you can check my Instagram at @zevst. And if you want to see some sort of martial arts, yoga music, you can check out @zevyoga.
[00:54:35] Andri: Awesome. Zev, thank you so much for a time. I'm so glad the got to have this conversation. I miss you and, I hope you can visit me in Portugal soon, or I don't know if I can get into the states right now, but hope to see you soon and hope to hang soon.
[00:54:52] Zev: Yeah, I as well, I'm going to be heading to Milan next week. So I'm going to be one month in Europe. So maybe we're going to find a way.
[00:55:00] Andri: Let's let's make it happen.
[00:55:01] Zev: Yeah, let's do it.
[00:55:02] Andri: Awesome. Thank you so much then till next time.
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