Five Questions With Gillian Laub
By Chloe Cornell
Gillian Laub is an extraordinary talent who has received dozens of awards for her insightful and powerful photographs, photo books and films. In addition to photographing portraits of celebrities and people of interest for top publications, Laub is known to bring thoughtful attention to sensitive subjects including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, racism in the American South, the LGBTQ community, PTSD and more. She also filmed Cara Delevingne’s #DoYouStories campaign with Puma which you can read more about in this issue, and watch on Laub’s website. Having personally modeled for Laub, I can attest to her amazing eye and natural way of making her subjects comfortable. I highly suggest that you visit her her website http://www.gillianlaub.com to see her work and watch her films, specifically A Perfect Daughter which is referenced below. Also check out her eye opening documentary Southern Rites which aired on HBO, about the continued racism that exists in the South today, including high school proms that remained segregated until Laub’s work exposed the injustice.
1.) Chloe: When and how did you discover your passion for photography?
Gillian: My grandfather gave me a camera at a very young age of 6. I have those earliest photos I made from when I was 6 and 7 years old. I used to pose my friends, family, and babysitters and make their portraits. I do feel lucky that I found my passion at a very young age. I don’t know if I was aware of the passion part until I was in high school, but now I see I have been documenting my life since that first camera as I look through all those photos.
2.) Chloe: What qualities do you think make a great photographer – from personality, skills and style?
Gillian: There are all different kinds of photographers. Conceptual artists, still life, sports, journalists, portraitists, landscape, nature photographers etc. I consider myself a documentary artist. I tell stories through images. I am interested and engaged in social commentary and social justice and photography and filmmaking are the medium in which I do this. For me, there are a few essential elements that have to be strong in order for the photograph to transcend just a snapshot – because nowadays everyone is considered a photographer. Content and aesthetics are of paramount importance. Your intention and what you are communicating through your work is just as important and perhaps even more than your technical skills. Your point of view as an image maker is critical. There are many artists and photographers who are technicians and have great conceptual thinking and original ideas without having a very palatable personality. For me, personal connection is essential to the work I am making. Empathy and sensitivity is vital for me.
3.) Chloe: In this day of social media, there is an increased emphasis on imaging and visual arts. What would you recommend to young women who want to become photographers (programs, skills, experiences, editing programs, favorite editing apps, etc.)
Gillian: At the end of the day passion, your voice, and hard work are what makes the difference. Tools are great. They can help you, but I don’t believe they are most important. I remember Nan Goldin one of the most important photographers saying she didn’t even know how to really use her camera. If you are determined to do something or say something and will stop at nothing, then you will succeed. Part of succeeding is also dealing with rejection, failing, and picking yourself up again. Resilience has a lot to do with success.
4.) Chloe: You’ve photographed so many different types of people from celebrities such as President and Michelle Obama, Beyonce and Gal Gadot to regular people on the street. How do you build a rapport with your subjects? Who was your favorite subject/best experience? Who was the most difficult?
Gillian: I am a curious person and believe everyone has a story to tell whether you’re the President, actress, or a stay at home mom. I’ve had so many extraordinary experiences and encounters it’s so hard to choose what my favorite has been. Yet, I can say the Obama shoot was pretty magical. The most difficult shoot I had was when i was in in the south photographing segregated proms because many people did not want this story to be told. I was threatened by many people and attacked by a county sheriff.
5.) Chloe: June is LGBTQ pride month. I see that you have a project “Transgender in America.” Can you tell us about that experience?
Gillian: I am interested in marginalized people and communities. The transgender community is one of them. One of the first video pieces I made was of a transgender young girl named Nikki whose family really helped me understand the pain and hardship that parents endure having a transgender child. They couldn’t have been more loving and supportive of their child, and I was grateful they were so open with me. This short film is used in schools all over to help educate students which I am very proud of. Here is a link to “A Perfect Daughter”