Take a walk down any busy street and the untrained eye will struggle to see past the swarms of people. Belinda Van Zanen is someone who sees past the faces and admires the angles, light and colour of what’s in front of her. As is the case for many photographers, Belinda sees the world in “shots”.
“I’ll be looking around constantly and I’ll see a shadow and lines. I see things so differently,” Belinda says. “One of the first things I learnt as a photography student was just to walk around and visualise everything and see it as a photo.”
As we talk Belinda’s gaze shifts over my right shoulder, out through her plant-laden cafe window and onto Pakington Street: “I look out there and the blue car and the orange building are the first thing I see.”
She’s not wrong in its striking imagery, and one that’s found on a street Belinda sees on a daily basis – due to her co-ownership of Newtown cafe, Southside. Equally there’s beauty inside the cafe, as surrounding us on the walls are the many light and tranquil photos captured by Belinda on her travels through America.
With each photograph a scene of the typical Miami, Californian and generally American life is documented – unbeknownst to those in it. A cluster of surfers sit on their boards in the ocean waiting for the next wave, skaters pull their tricks in a worn out bowl and above all is the looming blue skies, dusted with soft clouds. An element Belinda finds herself drawn to.
“I’m always in awe of clouds,” she says. “[They] were always my thing as a kid and I always love being the passenger driving along.”
Her admiration for the activity and beauty around her is something that is a constant in Belinda’s life, and while it may have resulted in her missing Jared Leto beside her at an Los Angeles cafe, her awareness of the street allowed her to meet her photographic hero, Bill Cunningham.
“I think I had just watched his doco about how he had lived and he still got out in his blue jacket and riding his bike,” she says of the New York Times photographer. “Straight away I knew and I asked if I could take his photo, and he was like, ‘You want my photo? Why do you want my photo?’ He was just so humbled and beautiful.”
While Bill has sadly passed on, he lives on in the memory of Belinda and her Instagram feed. The encounter could also be said to have inspired Belinda’s hopes to visit Nepal to help tell the story of what the people have experienced there of late, and encourage others to travel to their beautiful country. “I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for getting peoples stories out there,” she smiles.
With experience as a paid photographer (working for companies like VOSS Water) and taking pictures for pleasure, the photo-journalist experience is one that could help Belinda see out her goal of getting published in National Geographic magazine, which she often flicked through as a child.
Though at the foundations will always be taking photos for the joy of it and maintaining her natural approach to photography. “Everything is random; I carry my camera with me everywhere,” she says. “I find it’s better if it’s spontaneous.”
Written by Amanda Sherring
You can see more of Belinda’s work on the Southside Instagram or by visiting the café itself at 343 Pakington Street, Newtown.
All images courtesy of Belinda Van Zanen