Who is Zeno Petersen?
I’ve spent the last 37 years of my life trying to figure that out, as we all do, but it seems like this is a never-ending journey of self-discovery.
Funny thing is that the name Zeno is from greek origins (from the Greek name Ζηνων (Zenon)), which was derived from the name of the Greek god ZEUS. Zeno was the name of two famous Greek philosophers: Zeno of Elea and Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic school in Athens.
I’ve come to realize that I follow closely in the footsteps of them, since I love to inspire and teach others.
But the Zeno that everyone came to know is a South-African cinematographer and photographer . I’ve been in the film and tv industry for the last 15 years . I’ve had the opportunity to shoot some of the biggest shows in the country like Zone 14, Isibaya, Jacob’s Cross, The Road, Ayeye and a couple of feature films like Bunny Chow, For Love and Broken Bones and the yet to be released, Back of the Moon.
I come from a loving family made out of my two parents and 3 boys . My family has been spread across the world and they all pretty damm talented. My brother Leigh is a tattoo artist and Dean is another talented photographer – thanks moms and pops.
I was born in a small town called Standerton and moved to Pretoria to finish my schooling. This was around the time when we all experienced the change in South-African history with the release of Nelson Mandela. It shifted me and my family in a completely different direction . I was then allowed to attend the art school in Pretoria and I was one of the first non-white kids ever in the school, which made for some interesting stories and lots of confusion. We switched from being Afrikaans to fully English . Its during my high school years that I fell in love with the arts. After I finished high school I left the country for a year to go and work on a kibbutz in Israel.
Its during that time when I truly became independent and finally realized that my dream was to become a story teller, a filmmaker and visual creative. After my return I got the opportunity to join a new film school called Afda and so my journey in the film industry began.
I found my passion behind the camera and left with a BA Honours degree in film and cinematography. Its only years later that I started to fall in love with photography. You see, my life was playing out like a strange movie full of twist and turns and life lessons. I found photography to be a way of self expression, yet I found that in the eyes of the people I photographed.
One particular photograph that I took of a homeless man changed the way I took and perceived photography, one that shook me and connected with me and left me in tears. The man in the picture was so emotional and left me with the question of why am I doing this and what do I give in return.
It really took hold me after I discovered Instagram, it changed everything. It gave me a purpose to go out and photograph and connect and share. I started shooting all my photographs using my iPhone and kept doing that for years until I found the Fujifilm X-T1. I focused on portraits and telling the human story, I wanted people to connect with my work the same way I connected with that man. Instagram gave me a platform to push my creativity and ability to inspire and it helped me to connect with friends and loved ones and for that I’m thankful . So my journey of self discovery still continues because everyday teaches me new lessons about who I am, who I was and who I want to be.
What is your best childhood memory?
Childhood memories are such a tricky thing for me to talk about. I hardly remember anything from my childhood… might be bad memory or some kind of block. I do remember moments, strange moments, like when I fell out of a tree and stopped breathing at school until my friend kicked me on my back and I started breathing again. Encountering a huge spider on the way home from school (hence my phobia). When my aunt accidentally knocked me over with their car. The time I almost drowned in the ocean with my brother . The time my friend pushed me off a pipe and I cut my wrist. And being in a car accident with my mom.
I’m not saying I never had any good memories, I’m sure I had plenty . But those moments stuck and I feel like they played a big roll in who I became eventually. Much later in life I do remember the first time my dad bought me a camera . That moment of pure joy and excitement I can never replace. And every single moment I made my parents proud.
If you had a chance for a “do-over” in life, what would you do differently?
Wow , a do-over in life. Where do I start? LOL. Going down this road and trying to figure out what I would do differently would probably not be such a good idea at all. I can talk about things in my life that I feel changed my path completely, choices I made that changed my character and how I see the world. I can explain to you how many good and bad things I would love to change but in the end so much of that, so many choices good or bad lead me here.
You see, I believe everything happens for a reason. Every single thing. The most painful of moments shaped my future. It directed me in a different course and back again. Without them I would not be here writing this right now. One small moment that felt like it really didn’t matter might have changed who I am and where I am right now.
For example, if I decided to do my course in graphic design after high school instead of going to Israel for a year. If I decided to take that left instead of right. If I decided not to go out every Sunday on my bike and take photos. Might have lead me onto a different path in life. Every single one connects. My state of mind, the way I see the world, the way I act and what I keep hidden and what I decide to share. The lessons I learned from being hurt and hurting others in my life. Those moments of pain and anger and frustration and happiness you can’t just do-over.
If I had to choose one thing and one thing only it might be to not get one tattoo that I regret, and yet that tattoo reminds of a time I didn’t really make the right choices in life.
So again… I wish I didn’t do a lot of things. I wish I didn’t hurt certain people or certain people didn’t hurt me. But without that I can’t see the world and photograph the world as I do now.
What do you feel most proud of?
I’m proud of many things in life. I’m proud that I can in some way inspire others with my work. I’m proud that I make my parents proud. I’m happy that I am where I am despite the past and life lessons. I’ve always been one not to pat myself on the back because I always believe that I can do better in life, better at work. I believe that if I think that I’m not good enough it will push me to better myself.
I’ve been told that I see the world differently that my personality type forces me to think differently and as strange as that sounds I’m proud that I can do that. I’m proud of being able to think about something and do it.
But my proudest moments consist purely on making others feel inspired. It inspires me so much that what we do can help others and give them a reason to go out, a reason to believe. It gives them a platform to dream and believe that they too can reach their goals and take awesome pictures and share it with the world.
If you could only keep three possessions, what would they be and why?
My fiancé Peggy. Because she inspires me a lot and stepped into my life when I needed her. She opened up my eyes again and fuels my creative spirit. We love to work together and create together and inspire each other. And it just would not be a nice thing to do, leaving her behind. LOL.
My X-T2. It’s my tool. My third eye. The thing I use to create, the magic wand. I love it . It’s always such an experience to shoot with it. The tactile feel of it. The way it sounds . The magic it creates. I love my cameras and they too inspire me to go out every weekend and shoot.
My iPhone. Because I only edit on my phone. I’ve loved the iPhone since it came out. I owe it a lot. I started my Instagram journey using my iPhone only, and still do. It allowed me to share and connect with the world. It opened up so many doors for me. You see it’s the one thing that I carry with me everyday. It allows me to share my XT2 pictures with you when I’m out and about. Not just a social media tool a tool that lets me enhance my work and social interactions.
The combination of all three is probably more important as each connects and ends up fueling my creativity even more.
What do you want your tombstone to say?
What is pegandzeno.com?
pegandzeno.com is our little passion project. A company Peggy and myself decided to start after our journeys. It was built on the love for each other and the passion we have for photography and travel. We wanted to share our crazy story with the world and the way we capture it.
You see our story started on Instagram. I met Peggy on Instagram and started to follow her. Keeping my distance and letting faith takes its course. After a couple of months of back and forth commenting on each other’s feed she finally decided to make contact. We started chatting and sharing our stories. It’s not long after that that I fell in love and wanted to meet this girl that lived in Switzerland. I decided that I didn’t want to waist any time to meet her. I jumped on the earliest flight I could get and flew over to Switzerland to meet her.
It just felt right from the moment we met . I spent a wonderful and adventurous week with her, traveling through the country and enjoying the amazing views of the snow covered Swiss Alps. We hit it off and I asked her a certain question which she kindly agreed upon, LOL. Thank goodness.
After my return she spent a few weeks in Switzerland before she came down to South Africa to experience my life and country. We travelled and adventured and captured amazing things and people so far and that gave us the idea to start pegandzeno.com.
We just love to inspire and wanted to share that with all of you beyond Instagram. We want to work with different brands and shoot small and unique weddings. We also do personal shoots and do free talks about photography. We recently expanded our brand to YouTube and started our one page where we review products, do vlogs and informative videos about photography.
What’s your favorite kind of coffee?
I love coffee, love it. I’ve started a small collection of local and international brands of coffees at home. My favorite is still home brewed coffee when I have time to actually get up and make it. I love myself a cappuccino with some vanilla syrup in it. Nothing beats that.
Local is always lekker. I’ve made it my mission to always stop and pick up a Seattle coffee in the morning or every time we go out on a shoot. It’s the fuel that keeps us ticking.
In which coffee shops are we likely to bump into you?
I’ve always loved the idea of chilling in coffee shops and working on my photos. I think it’s the movies that sold me on that idea. I hung out at Wolves and Father Coffee but I fell in love with Starbucks when I travelled to the states. Especially in New York, where you can find one on every corner. Not that it’s better then local coffees. But I loved the nature of the space. Creatives flocked to it. And the idea of coming together in a space and share ideas attracted me to it, bonus points for the free wifi. Starbucks allowed me to chill out and enjoy my coffee and free wifi. But I prefer Seattle Coffee.
It all changed when I finally, yes finally, got myself some wifi at home. Now I just love working from home and drinking my coffee.
What does a perfect day look like?
Wake up early, check out the weather forecast and head out on a shoot. Make sure my batteries are charged and Peggy is awake. We then make our coffee stop and fill up. Find a town or location we have never been and travel. We just love to travel even if it’s only an hour out of town. I’ve taken my Audi places it should never go. Spend the day shooting some awesome pics and grab some lunch at a good restaurant. Meet up with friends or just go home to review and edit our pictures. During that time we will be watching some inspiring videos on YouTube and share our work online. I’m constantly seeking inspiration and looking at others work. A day doesn’t go by that we don’t look for new ideas and concepts for shoots. Our weekends are always comprised of going out, creating and sharing . Building on what we know and want to learn. Always coming up with new ideas to expand our brand and ability to inspire and teach. That’s pretty much a perfect day. Oh and ending it with a cold coke and some local biltong.
Any final thoughts?
I want to end this interview with this.
A lot of people feel the need to have their work and themselves justified by the amount of followers and likes they get. They think that it’s a sign of how good you are. Its something I always try and avoid and teach. That it really doesn’t matter. Do it for yourself. The likes and followers don’t make you a better photographer. Your photographs will speak for themselves. You are sharing a piece of you, your eye and your vision.
I’ve deleted my account before, and I’m planning to do it again. The 85k followers is not a true reflection of who I am or my work. I have a handful of people that really engage and interact with my work on a daily basis and those are the people I want to keep around. Is it a silly idea to start over and lose 85k followers? Yes and no . Yes, because I might not attract brands or get the reach they are looking for. No, because I want to start fresh. I want to create something different and do it for myself.
Keep shooting, keep inspiring.