Christine Zona was obsessed with her ’82 Holga far before Instagram and easy–to–use plastic point and shoot’s became retro-cool to the mainstream. Over five years ago, she won first place in an Urban Outfitter’s photo contest and the company stretched and printed the photo on canvas to sell to the indie masses. They titled the piece “Swing Big” and gifted Zona with $2000 worth of toy cameras. It was then that she went from a girl with a hobby to an artist worth watching.

“When I won all those cameras, I started noodling around and bought more. I had a bit of a mini obsession with the alternative,” Zona said.

She was intrigued by toy cameras because they were simple to use, while the final result produced imperfections and complexities she found beautiful. While she still uses toy cameras on her own time, she now shoots with a digital camera for all her professional work.

It was after she met Raul Touzon, notable National Geographic photographer, and attended his digital workshop in 2008, that she began seeing photography as more than a personal hobby. Touzon encouraged Zona to photograph people, something she had previously feared. “He pushed me to photograph the guys at the tattoo parlor down the street. I was so scared of violating their space, I ended up getting a tattoo and then, only after, did I feel comfortable enough to take their photo,” said Zona.

Her newfound interest in capturing people in their element continued to grow. Since the first portraits she took at the tattoo parlor, she has kept on the path of discovering alternative people and their non-traditional habits. “I like photographing people who are passionate about something. I like the story. I love people who love what they do, no matter how bizarre it may seem to the mainstream,” said Zona.

Fascination with lesser known subcultures and seemingly bizarre concepts has since acted as a motif in Zona’s work. From punk roller derby babes (as featured in Brink Magazine) to die-hard air guitar devotees (Quest Magazine, Netherlands), Zona searches for the hidden gems, the “I don’t give a shit how weird I am” nerd hobbyists, and celebrates them.

“San Francisco has exposed me to so much weirdness. I grew up in New Jersey and went to school in DC, a fairly conservative town. When I first came here, I remember going to Love Parade, Folsom Street Fair, and Hunky Jesus and it really opened my eyes. People don’t give a shit here! They walk around naked and in costume on a Wednesday and no one thinks it’s weird. I was becoming more exposed and it made me look at life in a different way.”

Now, Zona keeps her quirky fascinations as personal projects and leaves the highly curated editorial work as strictly professional. Although, I’m sure we can expect to see both modes featured in publications near and far. Look out for her newest quirk project, focusing in on the Bronies of Northern California – My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanatics, adding up to about 3,000 members currently, gathering together at BABSCon (Bay Area Brony Spectacular) in San Francisco next month.

Check out more of Christine Zona’s work at www.zonafoto.net