A closer look at model and singer Zarina Nares.
I first found out about singer Zarina Nares on a recent trip to Los Angeles. After discovering she was the girlfriend of friend and fellow artist Canyon Castator, I decided I’d harass him about photographing her. “She’s really busy,” he said, “but here’s her number.” The following day we met at her place, and she pulled up in a vintage ’81 Mercedes named Diana. I was sure we’d get along just fine.
Zarina was born and raised in New York City, and moved to Los Angeles to pursue music after graduating high school. At the now sparkling young age of twenty, she looks back on growing up in one of the most exciting cities in the world. “I got to experience so much from such a young age. Maybe not all age appropriate…but you win some you lose some. Definitely shouldn’t have been clubbing at 14 in the meatpacking district, or frequently drinking 40s in random parks but I was also running around gallery openings before I could speak. It was a bit like growing up in a fantasy land.” Z has since separated herself from the familiarity of her hometown, and found that a change in coastlines has enriched her work and forced her to escape her comfort zone.
Her father, painter and musician James Nares, has been a huge creative influence throughout her life. “My father is my best friend and I admit (though it took years of denial) way cooler than I am. He understands me better than anyone. We talk on the phone for about an hour a day, telling each other what we’re working on, seeking each other’s advice, and just encouraging one another to ‘keep on keeping on,’ (as he says).”
Zarina was struck by the desire to perform at a young age. “I don’t remember there being a beginning to my playing music. I do however, have an extremely clear memory of when music affected me in a way I had never felt before. I was taking piano lessons at Church Street Music School in Tribeca when I was five. There was a girl, about 14-15 (at the time like an adult to me) who at our recital sang the most beautiful opera piece. I can’t remember her name, or the song, but I remember exactly what she looked like and I could never forget how her voice filled my five year old body with such pleasure. It felt so fucking good. I turned to my mom and said, ‘I want to do that.’ And I was signed up for singing lessons the next day.” Throughout high school she would look up videos on Youtube, set a mic up in front of a mirror, and practice performing in her room. “My mom began giving me time limits for when I could sing and when I had to stop.” Thankfully, those limits have been lifted.
As I photographed her, cigarette between her lips, she told me that the guy at her local record shop puts things aside for her when she comes in. She carefully placed a blues compilation on the turntable, starting off with Lil Green’s “Why Don’t You Do Right.” Though Zarina grew up in a millennial generation, I could sense she was an old soul with an impenetrable love, appreciation, and understanding for music. She’s instrumentally drawn to jazz, soul, and blues, but lyrically wants to stray from the way women have been depicted in the music she loved so much growing up. “As I’ve gotten older, I realize that women are portrayed as desperate, needy, helpless dolls, whose main goal in life is to fall in love with a man and tend to his needs–I want to create a response in which I portray the strong woman.”
With long limbs, pale eyes, and a beautifully downturned mouth that adds a sweet sadness to her innocent, refined look, Nares is undeniably stunning. “The lens of a camera is the one place I find comfort. I love being photographed. Which sounds horrible. But I do. I feel a sense of safety looking into a camera, safer than looking into the eyes of another person.” Whether it’s in front of a camera or on stage, her presence has a mesmerizing quality, as if inviting you into her own private world without restrictions. I suggest you experience it.
Zarina’s next show is on June 25th, 6:30pm at Molly Malone’s in Hollywood.
Words + Photography: Jenna Putnam