Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi

Students & Alumni. Photography.

Aliz standing next to plant

Aliz graduated from our BA (Hons) Photography degree in 2022, and has been working freelance as a portrait photographer since then. She received the Student Photographer of the Year Award from Amateur Photographer magazine after their coverage of her major project work.

How did it feel to be awarded Amateur Photographer’s Student Photographer of the Year, and has it helped bring you more attention from clients?

The whole award was such a surprise because it wasn't something like an open call that I applied for. Because I exhibited with my course in London during the Free Range Shows last summer, I had the chance to talk to the online editor of Amateur Photographer magazine. At the time, I didn't know that she was actually an editor of the magazine. She was just there, like: ‘Hey. How is everything going? What is your project about?’ I had a lovely talk with her, and later on in the summer she asked me whether I would be open to an interview they wanted to publish about my major project. And I said ‘Of course’. So that's how it all started.

Then, later on, they decided to create this new award -  they haven't given this out previously - she nominated me, and they agreed that my work was worthy to receive this award for the first time. When she got in touch, I was like ‘Are you sure that you got the right person? Is this real?’ I was very surprised and really, really happy. It's really good that someone is appreciating your work, and sees the value in it, and yes, it also got my name out there again. I got some exposure and I'm hoping to keep that up and ride the waves, it will hopefully open some doors in future employment for me.

Where did you study before going to ARU?

I'm originally from Hungary, and I studied in the south of the country, where I'm from, in a city called Szeged. In high school I studied film and media, and it gave me a really good base. We learned about things like the fundamentals of filmmaking, and visual aesthetics. We watched a great deal of art movies, and that was really something that stuck with me until today. So that's where it all started.

We had one part where we focussed on still imagery, and I just got so fascinated with how you can tell a story with just one image or how you can evoke a certain emotion with just a still. I have a lot of respect for people who are involved in making a movie. It's amazing what you can achieve and really what kind of emotional response it can get from people, but doing the same or similar thing with just one image, that for me was like: ‘OK, I’ve found my calling here’.

Aliz on Ruskin Gallery Balcony

Did you always know that you would go to university and if not, what changed your mind?

After studying film and media in high school, I didn't actually go on a creative line. I started working and I had photography there always like a dream, a side hustle, a hobby. Then later I moved to the UK for work and, for the first time in my life, I could afford a DSLR. So I invested in a camera and I picked it up again, doing what I love.

At work I met someone who was at the time studying photography at ARU, and I started asking them a lot of questions like ‘How is the course? Do you like it? How did you get into it?’ Completely interrogating him! And I thought, ‘Okay, I can either carry on here and there, reading about it and trying to photograph more, learning about it as well as working, or I can really commit to it.’

I was thinking that in three years I could learn so much in a course. I would be surrounded by people who are similarly interested in photography. I would have specialised tutors. I would have facilities. I would have all the other courses that are super interesting too, and just this whole inspiring environment instead of trying to find the time for working full time and juggling my life with photography. So yes, I decided to give it a go and study photography and give this passion a real boost.

Is there one thing that inspired you to take up photography in the first place?

Around the time I was in high school, we visited this tiny arts cinema, and I saw Frida, the biography movie of Frida Kahlo. And I came out of the movie and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ It really struck me, and really inspired me. What I felt like was, this artist, she's been through so much and she's still managed to channel that into her art and be so unapologetically herself.

I came out of the movie and was just walking around town thinking ‘This is something. Oh wow!’. And I didn't know at the time, like, ‘OK, I'm going to become a photographer’. I was interested in photography. I felt this calling towards creativity and art, and that really, really stayed with me - to be true to yourself. And if you have a calling, if you have something that you're passionate about, then go and explore it.

Aliz standing next to large plant

What’s the most valuable thing you took away from your education?

I think it was how university taught me to use critical thinking, because that's something that you use not only in your practice and in work, but in everyday life. They apply it in every single assessment and everything that you have to do, and in three years you just grow this mindset, and I think that's something really valuable.

So in my practice I would use it to better identify ideas that I would want to use or conceptualize things. If I have a project on and I want to do something, I can question how to research it. If something is not working, why is it not working? How can I solve it? How to question your own decisions as well, to ask ‘Is that the best thing to do? What if I still do the other thing? Would that lead to a different result?’

Which aspects of the course most helped your career development, and why?

One of them definitely is the exhibitions. Not just for the reason that, for me, it led to an interview and then this award, but for the fact of presenting yourself professionally. I think it was so important. To anyone who studies and may be unsure whether they want to partake in the exhibition in London, I would just say to them ‘Do it’ because it has a lot bigger audience. You really feel like you're part of something bigger. You also see all the beautiful work from other university courses. I think professionally that was a really good decision to partake in, and to develop that process as well. How to exhibit your work, how to regard yourself as an artist, and how to talk about yourself and your work. I was afraid, but everyone is. But don't be afraid to talk to people at these exhibitions and talk about your work, because that's what you are there for, and what they are there for.

The other thing is the facilities and the equipment. When I'm approaching any project I'm always somewhat technical. So for me it was like I was getting lost in the studio. I was in the studio all the time, taking out all kinds of different photography equipment because I really wanted to see how they work. What difference would it make? How do I actually use it? And also thinking for the future, that the more of them I try, the more experience I get. So for me that was really good. We have actually a really, really good selection of photography equipment in ARU. If you asked Media Services that they would say ‘Yeah, she tried almost all of them!’

Aliz on Ruskin Gallery Balcony

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I think to just go for it. To not be afraid. And if you have a calling, if you have something that you're really passionate about, then don't be afraid to explore it.

What was your favourite thing about studying in Cambridge?

I moved to Cambridge in 2016, so three years prior to my degree, I already lived and worked here. My favourite thing about it is how multicultural it is, because I'm from a very tiny village. I was brought up in this place with 2000 people, where everyone knows everyone and it's really close community. Then I went to study in a bigger town, like a university city like Cambridge but still not as international. And when I came here, to see so many different nationalities and cultures and people, it was for me so, so inspiring and beautiful that all of these people from all over the world just live together here.

I started with a lot more street photography, when I was exploring Cambridge and the UK. I still enjoy it today.  I think Cambridge is beautiful and I really like this duality about it, that you have the Old Town and the colleges, which is like really going to a different world. In the middle of Parkers’ Piece there's this lamp post they call Reality Checkpoint. When you pass that, you enter the realm of the Cambridge University colleges, and it’s like you go back in time. It's really, really cool to live in a city like this.

What projects are you currently working on, both at work and outside it?

I would like to continue working on the kind of mental health topic in my personal projects. Particularly how we look at our own weaknesses and imperfections, and regarding the challenges that we face in mental health. We can be extremely hard on ourselves, to the point that you feel like you are broken, that you are in pieces. How you construct yourself after that, how you put yourself together again, what kind of language and mind frame you use is extremely important.

So this is something that I would like to invite into this new project that I'm working on. Visually, there's a technique in Japan called kintsugi that they use to mend broken pottery. I'm pretty sure you have seen it, or people have seen it before, when there's a beautiful little bowl and there's a chipped or cracked edge to it, and they mend it together with a special lacquer and a mixture of gold or silver powder. It symbolises that this object has not lived its life out yet, but it still has so much more to give. They highlight that “imperfection” and say this is something that is part of the history of this object, and it's not making it ugly or useless. On the contrary, this is something we should celebrate because it gives more meaning to it.

I would like to explore these two ideas in the new project that I'm working on. We are very delicate beings, like porcelain, and susceptible to breakage. And this philosophy, I think, beautifully embraces and celebrates these imperfections instead of trying to hide them.

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