Behind the Lens with Venice’s Photographer-in-Residence, Zack Alexopulos

I’m not sure how we first came to know Zack. It might’ve been when we looked over someone’s shoulder in a Venice taco truck line and saw they were eyeballs-deep in his photograph of some “Goonies” graffiti on a nearby wall. Maybe it was at the pop-up party when we were preemptively pondering breakfast spots to combat the next morning’s head-duster, and he walked by and quickly whispered a quaint little brunch on Abbot Kenney. Hard to remember.

What isn’t hard to remember is when we first came across his Insta feed—an A+ photo report on the Venice, CA that you visit in your dreams. We were stoked to wake up the day after the pop-up with his cellular contact stored in our phone, and ended up reaching out + getting a pretty brilliant rundown of who Zack is and how his love for capturing the quiet corners of Venice came to be.

Name. Age. Origin of birth. Favorite childhood snack. Go.

Zack Alexopulos, 33, born in Baltimore, grew up in Jersey. I could live off of cheese balls and those WWF ice cream bars that the ice cream truck used to sling.

I think it’s fair to say that your Instagram does not suck. How’d you settle on your handle (@alpha_light) and was there a pivotal moment when you decided to start taking photography seriously?

I used to play in bands, and “alphalight” was a band name I came up with. We never used it, but I stuck with it when I started taking photos. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, so I liked the idea of the “first light” or “alphalight”. Sadly a kid in Germany has @alphalight, so I had to add the underscore. He only has 3 posts, and they are all screenshots of his Facebook page. Philipp, if you’re listening, help a brother out!

I started taking photography seriously when I was living in Chicago. I worked downtown and would take walks during my lunch breaks to take photos. I started noticing how the light interacted with the buildings, and how the weather constantly changed the colors of the city. It was super inspiring and motivated me to keep shooting because there was always something new to capture. I eventually honed in on the style of photos I liked taking, and have since applied that same style to my photos of Venice.

Editor’s Note: By means we are not legally allowed to disclose, Zack was able to acquire the @alphalight handle since this was posted early this week. Not saying we helped accomplish that, but not not saying it either.

Much of your photography takes place in what could be described as “the more calming areas” of Venice. I’d argue that scrolling through your feed feels is a visual therapy of sorts. What do you think it is that draws you to photographing these types of landscapes and views?

I like finding calm moments in between the hustle of Venice. When I’m stressed I head up to the beach to relax, so I try to convey that feeling on my feed. A lot of my photos are taken at popular spots like the pier, skatepark, and canals, but I’ll go up early in the morning, or hit sunset during the week when there are fewer people around. There’s something I love about capturing empty spaces that are normally packed with people.

Favorite photo you’ve taken in the past few years?

I frequent the Venice Pier to shoot surfers, and there’s an image I took of a surfer sitting on his board on a foggy morning just staring out at the horizon. He’s super small in the frame, and there’s not a wave in sight. Shows the dedication of those dudes.

You work for a moderately well known TV subscription service. I believe it’s called Netflix. Most of Earth’s population seems to enjoy it. How does one get hired by Netflix, what exactly is it that you do, and what has been the most exciting part about your job?

I’m still questioning how I got the job there haha. My one tip would be apply for a role that you are genuinely passionate about, as opposed to applying just because it’s Netflix. I’m on the Product Creative team that sources and creates all of the images that populate the User Interface, so basically everything you see when browsing the service.

My role is a mix of design, art direction, and account management. It’s always exciting working on our Netflix Original titles and launching the service in new countries, but the most exciting part of my job is testing images on the service. Studios spend so much money on developing creative that they subjectively think is the “best”, and we have the ability to a/b test those images on Netflix and prove them wrong.

Do you remember the days of Netflix sending DVD rentals by mail?

Oh I do, I think I’m still waiting for 3 Ninjas Kick Back to come in the mail, it was at the top of my cue for months.

Your office near the heart of what has been hailed as the new hub for tech startup. What’s been the greatest misconception about the area’s culture, and what stereotype about working in that region holds laughably true?

People generally still think of L.A. as an entertainment town, so there’s still this stigma that people come out here to “make it”, even in the tech world. When really it’s turning into a tech hub because there’s such a diverse workforce here with motivated people that are passionate about what they do. L.A. is quietly becoming an epicenter of innovation and it’s exciting to be a part of it.

To see a true stereotype just visit a coffee shop in Venice on a Tuesday morning at 11am, and you’ll find the Silicon Beach starter pack: empty cortado glass, Macbook Pro with a browser window open to Facebook, and a Linus bike locked out front (“But First, Coffee.” shirt optional).

You seem to be a well traveled fellow. Any travel plans on the docket for 2017? Places you’re excited to visit and photograph?

I’m going to try to get to some of the places close to LA that I haven’t been to yet… Joshua Tree, Mammoth, Salton Sea. I’ll also be back in Europe at some point, but not sure where, thinking France or England. My photo bucket list is Meteora in northern Greece, which is a group of monasteries built on the top of these mountains. Would be amazing to get there this year as well.

Last one. You find $608,042 in a lightly used duffel bag laying up against a palm tree on the beach in Venice. You quickly scoop it up and rollerblade home, only to find out through a little birdie that the money belongs to the infamous Muscle Beach Mafia. Upon discovering that you have the money, you receive a text from the mafia’s commander-in-beef—who has promised to let you keep half if you meet with him in 24 hours and hand over the other half. You could also skip town and move to a place where that money goes a long way. What’s your move?

First, I’m stoked that I’m using blades as my source of transportation. The younger me would throw on a pair of JNCOs and find a rail to soul grind. 2nd, I heard whispers that the commander-in-beef is none other than two-time Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu—a personal hero of mine. I’d definitely meet with him to split the cash and then invite him to Hinano for a burger and beer. Venice is my home now, and I’m not planning on leaving anytime soon.