A Talk with Glynis Selina Arban.
Let's start with your childhood if I may. You're from Charleston SC, what type of environment did you grow up in, what or who inspired you as a child; and tell us a little about your grandmother, Millie Lewis, who was a top NY model back in the 40's. Did you know her and did she have an effect on you?
My mother is from one the oldest families in the South-- all the way back to the brother of Meriwether Lewis and including an officer who fought in the Revolution. An ancestor signed the cesession papers for South Carolina. My great, great grandfather fought in the Civil War, and my grandfather is a highly decorated WWII fighter pilot, one of the few left. My mother told me even as a very little girl, you come from a family of heroes, and it is your duty to honor them by championing the good in the world. I believe strongly in the concept of Honor.
I love being from the warm and vibrant South. It's rural landscapes and towns inspire me. My father is a doctor, so we moved around a good bit while he was finishing medical school, residency, then a few early jobs, so I've lived in Charleston, Savannah, Birmingham, rural North Carolina, and Atlanta. I love New York for what it offers me and for its energy, but I will also have a house somewhere in the South (within an easy drive of a major airport :) in the future.
My grandmother, Millie Lewis, is the most influential person in my life. She died when I was in college. She was a phenomenal Grace Kelly-esque beauty, a style icon, a business woman before it was okay (especially in the South) to be a woman in business, a civil rights leader, a wickedly funny sense of humor, a creative, an intellect, and my friend. Time I spent with her as a little girl makes up a lot of my favorite early memories. She thought when she was a little girl that she wanted to be an evangelist, then she married right out of high school a fighter pilot who died during the war, went to NY to visit a friend, got discovered by a photographer in a diner, and when she finished modeling she started the first modeling and finishing schools in the Southeast, when John Robert Powers was still just an agency in NY. It is hard to find someone who has lived for a while in Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, SC, and Savannah, GA, who has not heard her name still. She always talked about taking me and my cousin to NY to visit, and we never got to go with her as she developed Parkinson's. I know she would be very proud of me!
I was always interested in magazines, and models, and fashion, I'm sure because of my grandmother. I was the only young girl I personally knew who would shell out 20 bucks for Italian Vogue. I kept scrapbooks of images that I liked, the more magical the better. I cannot remember it ever crossing my mind to actually try to take the pictures though. I was more interested in painting, drawing, and writing.
You're now living and working in NYC. How long have you been here and how has the move been? Was NY a natural fit? How did photography come about? You're actually self taught if I'm not mistaken!
One interesting short story, when I was born, Eileen Ford, who was a friend of my grandmother's, sent me this lovely sterling silver baby spoon with a note that said, "I look forward to seeing Glynis in NY." I'm sure she meant as a model, but it is interesting that I ended up here and just on the other side of the camera. I shot the Ford Supermodel of the World contest last year, which I think was an interesting full circle.
I moved to New York a little under three years ago basically because of one model test. I was living in Atlanta after finishing college, and my friend was mother agenting this girl that I thought was beautiful, so I agreed to take her pictures just to see what would happen. Her NY agency basically said, "We like these pictures a lot. We might use you to test more of our girls." That was enough for me, so I gave it a shot. I moved with two suitcases, no bed, no furniture, just to try it. I have an adventurous soul, though looking back, I don't think I realized how extreme a move it was. I just had no doubt. I have a deep-rooted belief in my ability to understand and adapt to new situations and challenges. Thank you, Mom. :)
So, I delved all the way into photography. I have only been a photographer for three years, and full time for all of it. I tested a lot when I started, and I still do when I get sent a girl that is inspiring. I thought about assisting, and I still am not against it by any means if I could work with someone really spectacular, but I sort of like that to this point I've had to find my own way of doing things.
I’ve learned how to direct a shoot to make sure I get what I need from the model. It gave me an opportunity to teach myself all about lighting and cameras and the technical side of photography. I taught myself Photoshop. I was a one-woman show for a while, doing styling, hair, makeup, set-up, shooting, and editing. I still don't mind doing whatever is necessary, and I understand all aspects of a shoot pretty well. I also learned speed! I think pace of shoots is extremely important, and I like the energy to stay active.
And I am still learning on every shoot, and it inspires me. I LOVE this job, and I look forward to doing it for the rest of my life. It fits my personality and skill set to a tee.
Anyone else in your family working in the fashion or art fields?
My father was a regional fashion photographer in the Southeast on a brief hiatus from medical school in the early eighties. I was very young so I don't remember this time, but he took some pretty stellar shots. He worked a lot with the models at my grandmother's modeling schools.
My mother, sister, brother-in-law, aunt, uncle, and cousin! all work for the premier acting and talent development event in the country (www.amtcworld.com). It started as an opportunity for my grandmother's models to meet with agents in 1982, but it has become respected worldwide, and for the last 27 years has launched thousands of actors, singers, dancers and models into the industry. So, I sort of grew up not so much in the industry, but at least seeing people in the industry a couple of times a year.
In school you studied literature, what drew you to that instead of photography or art?
In college, I jumped around a good bit major-wise. I went in pre-med, then went to business, then art, then ended up in the English department. I still graduated in just four years, of which I am proud, as I was taking like five upper level lit classes all at once my last few semesters. I also nearly had a minor in Italian.
I had the opinion that college should be about finding and doing what you enjoy, and the career part of college courses only applies if you want to be, say, a doctor, or a physicist. So few people use their majors in their actual careers, and even those that do often feel pinned down. I decided definitely after my first year that I was happier in the creative side of my brain, which made me realize that it didn't really matter what I studied, as long as I enjoyed it. I didn't like the way the art department was run at my school, and I loved the professors that I had in the English department, especially my medieval lit professors, so that's how I ended up studying literature.
Besides photography, you also write and paint. Which do you see to be your first love? Or do they balance each other?
I think art, writing, and photography are completely complimentary for me. In my head, they all work together. I have a great knowledge of color, of lighting, of art and literature. I still oil paint when I can. I journal. I look forward to some day soon working on a book project combining the three, and I think it would be great fun to write for some of the magazines for which I would also like to shoot. I plan to write a book based on my grandmother's life whenever I get to the right point.
From looking at your website, your interest seems to deal with the younger-female-model. Why that subject matter? What point of view and what do you try to capture and tell with your work?
This first question interests me because I have never thought about it from this perspective. I definitely prefer shooting women to men, though I really enjoy shooting male musicians and actors also. People with spirit. I understand feminine beauty, and I am not at all intimidated by it. I think too that women feel comfortable shooting with me. I am quite feminine, and I look young, and I am just using what God gave me to maximum effect.
I try to catch every subject at her or his most unguarded, which is certainly an ability that all the best photographers share. I have no desire to bring out the ugliness or the roughness of a subject. I don't think revealing the negative in a human being in the context of fashion does the photographer, the model, or the viewers of the shoot any good, on a grand scale, especially at this point in the timeline of society. The world, and the industry, need positivity.
I want all of my images to have either an air of magic or a force of positivity about them, in a deeply understandable way, and I am working toward being able to portray this abstract more and more clearly.
What's your take on nudity in fashion photography?
I have no problem with nudity in fashion, though I think sometimes it is overdone-- that is, the picture is not made more interesting by the nudity but less compelling by it. It can distract from the overall theme or mood of the picture or from the clothes. On the other hand, some of the most beautiful works of art are of nudes, and good fashion photography is art. For me, I will do a shoot with nudity if there is a obvious point to it.
I noticed the three-motions in one single photo, throughout your work. Tell us a little about that.
This triptych format was actually a request of the client, but I really enjoyed creating them! It was about showing a freshness of movement to echo the spring season.
Speaking fashion, any magazine, or designer you would like to shoot for? Or a model you have not worked with before?
-Constance again. What an amazing presence she has. So smart.
Your most recent work on the site included some nature scene and animals, are we seeing a transition?
I take photos anytime I see something that inspires me. Nature inspires me, as do animals, as do people, so I guess I just want to express that side of myself too. I do not feel limited to fashion, though I love it very much.
What photographers do you admire most your self?
-Tim Walker for every reason! Also because he doesn't sexualize his subjects, which I think is overdone.
-Mert and Marcus for color and lushness.
-Willy Vanderperre for lighting.
-Louise Dahl-Wolfe for color, shapes, and because her work reminds me of my grandmother's portfolio.
-Lillian Bassman for amazing exposures and balance.
-Annie Leibowitz when she's in fairy tale mode and also early in her career.
-Paolo Roversi for mood.
-Guy Aroch for color, action and composition.
-Ryan McGinley's for exceptional exploits in fashion.
Who are a few painters and writers you love?
John Singer Sargeant
John William Waterhouse
What is next for you?
Upwards and inwards!
Favorite in the last 12 months:
At some point in the fall, I realized I had stopped reading for a couple of years. Disturbed, I decided to start at the beginning of my affair with reading, so I've reread most of the books I loved as a child, so they are all favorites! The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, The Wrinkle in Time books. I also added the Harry Potter books for the first time, which I really enjoyed especially since I resisted reading any of them until now. I think next on the list is to reread some of the medieval texts I studied in college. And I'm working my way through the Bible.
Ratatouille. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. No Country for Old Men. In no particular order.
L.A.! I just had the best week there. Went for work, and then I just stayed a few extra days. It was hard to leave as it was 80 degrees and sunny.
Music genre or band:
My sister's house in Atlanta, or my mom's cabin in the mountains of Georgia. And music.