Jessica Miller speaks with Cambridge School of Art graduate Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi about her final year project, The Journey Within, which explores how mindfulness and collecting plants helped her during the dark times throughout Covid-19 lockdowns.

Having been to many of this year’s shows now I’ve seen alot of fantastic work, but one photographer that really caught my eye was Hungarian photographer and Cambridge School of Art graduate Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi. I spoke with Aliz at the first week of the Free Range shows at Truman Brewery, London. I was intrigued about her photo series, from the set-up, composition and lighting to the series narrative and how it resonated with me. She tells me more below…

How Aliz’s journey started

Aliz studied film and media at high school in Hungary, but from here took a different path. She recalls, ‘I always had photography on the side and the dream that one day I become professional photographer. I was interested in travel, lifestyle, and street photography, capturing things that inspired me or just sparked joy. I really felt alive and calm when out and about taking photos and exploring places.

aliz kovacs

1. Status Quo, 1/180sec at f/11, ISO 200

In 2016 I moved to Cambridge and not long after saved up for my first DSLR. I was learning about photography in my free time wanting to understand not just the technical but also the theoretical side. I wanted to learn to create images with an underlining message and story. It became apparent that I need to push myself studying more than just the odd hours in weekends, so I applied for a BA Photography course.

At the age of 27 I got accepted to Cambridge School of Art. I was thrilled to start studying but also quite scared as I haven’t been in education for some years.  And now three years on I can say it turned out to be one of my best decisions.’

The Journey Within

The pandemic has had a powerful impact on every one of us, and we would have experienced it in different ways but common emotions felt throughout included anxiety, sadness and anger. Aliz’s project The Journey Within was inspired by her personal experience during pandemic, and the mental health challenges faced.

aliz kovacs woman in glass creative portrait

2. Call to Adventure, ISO100, 1\15sec at f5.6

She told me, ‘as the lockdowns dragged on, time seemed surreal and stagnant and I was stuck with anxiety, and a lack of creative drive in my tiny room. I turned to mindfulness practices for help, also took up a new hobby collecting plants.

Mindfulness taught me to be more in the present moment and observe my thoughts and surroundings without judgement. This newfound approach made me pay attention to how a new leaf started growing on one of the plants. It prompted me to think, and I realized even though I felt stuck life was changing around me and like this leaf I must have been growing too.

I wanted to channel the experience of isolation, anxiety and how the care for plants helped me into my third-year project. Whilst researching I came across a theory called the hero’s journey. It explains that all hero myths and stories share the same stages regardless of their origins, and that these stages revolve perpetually. In movies and books, you can see this template, the hero embarks on an adventure, faces crisis that he overcomes then returns with a treasure only to realize he is not the same person who left for the journey.

aliz kovacs

3. Crossing the Threshold, 2 sec at f13, ISO100

Reading about this theory I found that the challenges I faced in isolation echoed the stages detailed in the book, so I decided to use it as a guide to help create a narrative for my series.

Silvia Rosi’s self-portrait project for Care/Contagion/Community/-Self & Other inspired me to simplify my sets and props also to really embrace talking about mental health in my project. Hendrik Kersten’s portraits of his daughter made me explore chiaroscuro techniques in classical paintings especially ones depicting heroes.

Creating the images

All of the photographs within the project were taken using a Hasselblad X1D II 50C and Hasselblad XCD 65mm lens. Many images were taken before coming to the final selection, all representing different stages in the process.

‘I am a very technical person so before I started shooting, I had a list for each stage, the shots needed for digital composites, equipment and props, also sketches for posing and lighting. I chose to shoot with the digital medium format Hasselblad, because of its high dynamic range and incredible image quality.

4. Ordeal, 1/180sec at f13, ISO 200

I worked in the studio so I could be in full control of the lighting, also to use tethering and quickly review the outcomes on a bigger screen. Given the personal nature of the project after photographing a model and determining some lighting and posing I decided to turn the camera on to me.

This project helped me to achieve closure to a period of uncertainty and anxiety that defined my life in the past two years, also opened my mind to growth and possibilities going forward. It made me see the pandemic not just as a personal challenge but also as a collective one in which we are heroes of our own stories having jointly embarked on the same journey.’

aliz kovacs

5. Reward, 1/180sec at f/11, ISO 200

For Aliz, creating a succinct narrative for the final display was an important aspect in how the project was presented and received. ‘It was important that I create a very distilled version almost like a storyboard, so I looked at how far I can narrow them down but still have a sense of narrative. Given that it was a group exhibition I had to consider the available wall space. The fact that the stage Ordeal had to be in the middle determined it to be an odd number. Finally I arrived to the mystical number, seven.’

Looking Ahead

Although Aliz has spent the last three years studying, she is determined to carry on learning, ‘I would love to work as part of a creative team in a photo studio or assisting a photographer. So I can see how bigger productions come to life and apply that knowledge to my personal projects. In my personal practice I would like to collaborate with other artists. Plus, continue exploring stories from mythology and mysticism whilst focusing on issues relating to mental health and identity.’

6. Return, 1/180sec at f/13 ISO100

Aliz’s top tips for starting your photography journey:

  • Try not to compare yourself to others and wish too hard to be somewhere else in your career than where you are. There is always someone who would like to be in your shoes just as much as you would like to be in someone else’s.
  • Be grateful for being on your photography journey whatever stage it might be.

See more photography by Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi here:

aliz kovacs seedling within white fabric

7. New Life, 4sec at f11, ISO100

BA (Hons) Photography at Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University

Find out more about studying the BA (Hons) Photography degree course at Cambridge School of Art, part of Anglia Ruskin University here.




Free Range shows

Free Range is a special project that started by the Truman Brewery in 2000. The Free Range project was developed to give students from outside London the opportunity for their work to be seen by the creative industry and to meet peers from across the UK.

Related reading:

University of Gloucestershire students share new perspectives at photojournalism show

Middleman: the degree show by University of Portsmouth

Falmouth students share diverse techniques in Gweles exhibition

Want to improve your photography skills? See our guides to get started with photography here.

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