In certain circles, Gillian Zinser is best known for her role as Ivy Sullivan in the recent spin-off of Darren Star’s “90210.” But to us, Zinser is a photographic storyteller whose dream-like images move us out of the ordinary and into the surreal. Shooting primarily with a 35 mm Yashica T5, and mostly on the road, Zinser divides her time between LA and Brooklyn—and beyond. The photos featured in this issue are from a series called PSYCHOGENIC FUGUE, from a road-trip Zinser took around Iceland in the summer of 2015. The artist spoke to AWT about her process, the importance of escapism and the 30-year-path into female friendship.
AWT: You’re a contemporary storyteller. You share your process with the viewer, and it seems as if you’re not trying to be perfect with your work. Tell us about your artistic style.
Gillian Zinser: I’m not sure what my style is, or if I even have one yet. It feels like it’s a lot about seeking. A sort of romantic…placelessness? Escapism. “The blessed unrest” that Martha Graham talks about. A reminder to press pause. I don’t know—I’m just waxing poetic here. Really I just take photographs to try and capture feelings and moments I wouldn’t know how to recall or share through words. To try and transform simple, mundane pieces of my life into something memorable and tender.
AWT: Legs are a recurring theme in your photos. You’ve dedicated an entire series called “Escape Routes”—what’s the story behind it?
Gillian Zinser: A lot of my photos are about escapism—running—not necessarily away from anything, just…the act of seeking, exploring, disappearing. The “Escape Routes” series is a visual play on the idea of falling into portals, finding secret ways out. It’s just a silly little series about disappearing acts…the desperation and curiosity to venture out of our realities and into the unknown.
You’re a traveler, a photographer and an actress. From afar, it looks like you’re doing everything you want to do. Which decisions allowed you to live your life in a way that many people are too afraid of trying?
Gillian Zinser: For me, it was about not being afraid to let go of the comfort, safety and stability of routine jobs and income. Choosing the wild, uncomfortable and unknown over the easy and expected. Not being afraid of being broke for a second. Or lost. Or having to start over again. To make it a priority to invest in experience, knowing that adventuring outside of your little bubble can only make you a richer creative, or better at whatever your day-to-day work is. I’m lucky enough to be able to travel for work now. But even before I was acting, when I was working boring, shitty jobs in college, I would work to save up enough money to buy a plane ticket somewhere new, or spend my time off on a roadtrip with a friend, or take the train somewhere for a day by myself and just wander. It doesn’t work for me to sit still and do ONE thing. There’s too much to see. Feel. Learn. I travel to keep myself awake. To keep curious. To learn about people and cultures to better understand the human experience, to take me out of my ego and into the bigger picture. All of which only makes me a better creative, performer and human. We all need an outlet outside of our day-to-day to refuel, calibrate, inspire and keep us reaching. That’s what travel is for me. Without it, my other work would suffer.
AWT: You’re supporting a non-profit with your print sales. Tell us about myfriendsplace.org.
Gillian Zinser: My Friend’s Place is an amazing homeless youth shelter in Hollywood that serves over half of the kids living on the streets of LA, helping them build self-sufficient lives. I started a street photography program there with a bunch of kids and have been so inspired by their work so far.
AWT: Women are often the subject of your photography. Can you describe your relationship with the women in your life or the women you meet?
Gillian Zinser: It’s taken me a long time to find steady, inspiring, supportive, healthy female friendships. Girls weren’t always nice to me growing up, especially in high school; there was so much shit-talking, backstabbing, manipulation, competition. It always just felt easier to hang out with the guys. Less drama. Now, however, the tables have turned, and I have the most amazing tribe of women in my life and far fewer male friendships. I think the female friendships I’ve found in my later 20s are stronger because we’re all so much more comfortable in our skins and can therefore honestly support and uplift one another instead of feeling pitted against each other. I love using my girlfriends as studies and finding ways to celebrate and capture their beauty.