Gillian Zinser has been called actor, photographer, director, activist, and traveler. Although, a more accurate word to describe her is artist. She is motivated through feeling(s), of which she has plenty. When she’s not wandering around the world, documenting her adventures (using film, of course), she splits her time between the city of Angels and the one that never sleeps. Oh, and you can add self-published to the list of words to describe her. She recently published a photography book titled Psychogenic Fugue. All print sales are donated to My Friend’s Place, homeless youth shelter in Hollywood.
What was your first “professional” gig?
It was a guest star role working with Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulson on a show called “Cupid.” I don’t even think my character had a name, I was just called ‘Beatnik Sexpot’ on the callsheet.
I had to urban dictionary “sexpot,” what a charming replacement for a character name. Moving on — we’ve established that you wear many hats: actor, photographer, director, etc. How do you do it all? And how do they all relate?
I think they’re all just different forms of the same need to express and create in order to make sense of things. Different feelings, experiences and stories call for different mediums …. Sometimes I find it easier to take photos of moments I can’t share with words and sometimes a static image can’t possibly convey the same thing that a moving picture can. Other times, it takes stepping out of my skin for a moment and into a character’s in order to share another experience.
And how did you get to a place where you are able to do all of these things you love so much?
I don’t know, I think we’re taught to pick one career and become the best at it but, I’ve always been so attracted to so many kinds of expressions that it never felt right to me to just try and stick to one thing. So I haven’t. I feel like the artists’ work is simply to help share and reflect the human experience and there’s a million ways to do that so, why create boundaries?
You split your time between L.A. and New York, is the West Coast really the best coast? What do you love and hate about both cities?
I love that California makes me slow down. And that New York doesn’t let me. What I don’t dig about L.A. is that there’s no seasonal change, which can slowly drive you crazy. But then again New York winters often get me daydreaming about that ocean, the mountains, road trips. So. Happy not to have to choose between the two.
You’re a bit of a wanderer. Where does your love for travel stem from? What does it do for you and your creative process?
I travel to keep myself awake, to keep curious, to learn about people, cultures, to better understand the human condition, to take me out of my ego and into the bigger picture. All of which only makes me a better creative/human.
I think it’s so important to not be afraid of letting go of the comfort, safety and stability in routine jobs and income—choosing the 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 own little bubble can only make you better at whatever your work is.
We all need an outlet outside of our day to day to refuel, re-calibrate, inspire and keep us reaching. That’s what travel is for me.
You’re an advocate for film. For the non-photographers and filmmakers out there, what does film have that digital or smartphone cameras just don’t?
I love film for its fallibility and that it begs you to be thoughtful. With digital, you can just shoot a million frames and count on one being decent. But film is a much more meditative, precious form of creating. I also love that it doesn’t come with the instant gratification that we’re so used to.
What was the first camera you ever owned or shot with? What do you use now?
The Yashica T5 has always been my favorite but I also love the Canon AE and Olympus Stylus Epic for photos and my Canon Super 8 and Panasonic VHS camera for filming.
Was there an actor, director or photographer that has especially influenced you?
Oh, so many. Francesca Woodman, Éric Rohmer, Andrea Arnold, Agnès Varda, Chris Marker, Xavier Dolan, Mike Mills, Miranda July, Joe Swanberg, Robert Altman, Jacob Holdt, (William) Eggleston, Yasujirō Ozu, Sebastião Salgado, to name a few.
And as for your work, do you have any particular subjects you especially enjoy shooting and why?
I love trying to capture loose, fragmented portraits of places I travel.
You recently self-published Psychogenic Fugue. Tell us what the creative process was like. What does the title mean to you?
So a Psychogenic Fugue is defined as: a rare psychiatric disorder characterized by temporary amnesia for personal identity. The state can last days, months or longer and usually involves unplanned travel or wandering, and is sometimes accompanied by the establishment of a new identity — which, kinda sums up my 20’s (not in the literal sense of course). I feel like a lot of the photos I have taken up until now, were mostly I think, about escapism — running — not necessarily away from anything, just, the act of seeking, exploring, disappearing. The desperation and curiosity to let go of who you think you are and venturing into the unknown. So last year, I went through all the photos I had accumulated throughout the last decade and curated a little photo book of my favorites and that’s why I chose that title for the series.
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why? What would be on the menu?
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. because he’s the best human to ever live. And I’d make handmade butternut squash ravioli. Or actually, maybe we’d just order in Thai. Less pressure.
What’s the one thing about you few people know?
I … speak french?
What do you like most about yourself? What do you like most in others?
I’m insatiably curious and never bored … honest … write a killer love letter … throw a mean dinner party.
As for others, same shit probably: humor, honesty, passion, curiosity, loyalty, thoughtfulness.
What motivates you in work or in life?
Share a guilty pleasure.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve been writing a bunch of projects and am in preproduction for my next film I’m shooting end of this month.
Nice! Name three items in your closet most special to you.
I’m really not attached to much stuff anymore. I keep a stuffed animal named Binny in my closet that I’ve had since I was born though — does that count? He got moved there after a few too many people pointed out that it was like, pretty strange to sleep with a stuffed animal at my age…
Yes, Binny totally counts. And what advice would you give your younger self?
Start making things right now, don’t give a fuck and don’t stop and DON’T PLUCK YOUR EYEBROWS.
What’s something you do when no one is watching?
Have full-blown conversations with my dog.
What keeps you up at night?
The crazy state of the world. What I wanna make next. But mostly just my dog snoring which kinda sounds like a wheezing panda.