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Gillian Zinser’s New Photo Series Captures the Faces of America

Let’s Be Clear.
2016, 35 mm.

Actor, photographer, filmmaker, and curator Gillian Zinser previously took her camera to Iceland to explore its chill, vacuous landscapes in images dreamy and surreal. The work in her newest photo series, “Slow Down With Me,” tells a different story: one that can be found on the front stoops, truck stops, and churchyards closer to home.

Like many who work in any one of her trades, Zinser divides her time between New York and LA. “Slow Down With Me” is the result of a two-week road trip exploring the places in between. “Most of these photos were taken along my favorite part of the trip around the Mississippi Delta area,” says Zinser.

Shot on 35 mm film, the photos have a quality that is both immediate and artful. While far from nostalgic Americana, they don’t give us an overly bleak view of their subjects. Instead, as the title suggests, they invite us to slow down and see the people, places, and things that make our country what it is—maybe not great, but neighborly, hopeful, alive.

2016, 35 mm.
The Opposite Of Loneliness.
2016, 35 mm.
Left: Jimmy and Baby.
Right: Who Knows Where The Time Goes.
2016, 35 mm.

What was the genesis and process of shooting “Slow Down with Me”?

Gillian Zinser: Last summer, the impending election and all the chaos and conversation surrounding it inspired me to see and try to understand the rest of this country firsthand. So my boyfriend and I drove across the U.S. for the first time. We wanted to avoid highways so we only took backroads, weaving in and out of places we’d never heard of, towns so small you couldn’t even find them on a map.

How did you find or pick your subjects?

Gillian Zinser: I just approached people who interested me. A lot of people didn’t want to have their photos taken, but most were receptive and genuinely happy to connect, share a moment, tell me about themselves, their hometown, and other such big and small talk.

“I like when I get film back and find that certain images don’t evoke much on their own, but when paired with another can bring to life the mood or feeling within the world or moment I tried to capture.”

How do you assemble the photos that are paired, like the woman wheeling the trolley next to the photo of the crosses?

Gillian Zinser: Most of the diptychs were simply assembled by two pieces of a moment. The woman and the crosses were taken in the same town, minutes apart. Same with the man and his car and the old sign, and the little boy nicknamed Stank and that God graffiti. I like when I get film back and find that certain images don’t evoke much on their own, but when paired with another can bring to life the mood or feeling within the world or moment I tried to capture.

Left: Subtle Sabotage.
Right: Static Condition.
2016, 35 mm.
Blood Is Thicker Than.
2016, 35 mm.

What role does religion have in your portrait of America?

Gillian Zinser: While I consider myself very spiritual, organized religion has had no role in my life, so I’ve always found it fascinating trying to understand how more than 80% of our country identifies so fervently with religion. Leading up to the election, I was especially interested in seeing the size and scale of Christianity’s role across the whole of America outside the liberal bubble of the cosmopolitan coasts. So while I’m not necessarily interested in photographing religious symbology, per se, it would be completely inaccurate and dishonest of me to try and capture any kind of American portrait without including the overwhelming amount of religious representation I experienced along the way.

Follow Gillian Zinser on Instagram: @gz____35mm + @gillianzinser

Left: Tried To Warn You.
Right: We Call Him ‘Lil Stank’.
2016, 35 mm.
Slow Down With Me.
2016, 35 mm.