We speak to the wonderfully talented Zoe Adlersberg who began her career in photography 16 years ago having previously worked in advertising, that is until the birth of her first child, Uma, in 2007. Motherhood changed Zoe’s artistic perspective and focus, and she decided to explore the world of children’s fashion photography.
They say never work with children or animals. Have you always ignored conventional wisdom?
Do they really say that? My goodness, I’d ONLY work with kids and animals if I could. Children are so fun to be around – so pure, so real. I love working with children because of their innocence and playfulness. A friend of my daughters turned to me one day and said “Zoe, you’re just like a kid, but bigger.” I think that sums it up. I love making images with kids – they usually give me great ideas and we end up playing most of the day. What could be a better job?
How did you move from advertising into children’s fashion photography?
I started shooting portraiture in Paris. Mostly celebs and music related. I had some amazing shoots – one I loved in London for Interview with Angela McCluskey who has become an amazing friend. I did fashion too – I love being able to use clothes to tell a story. Then…what happened? What was the click? I didn’t have a child yet…and I saw MILK magazine in Paris while I was living there. I just LOVED that magazine from the start. I pitched Karal Balas, the founder, on doing a story in Deyrolles about the large stuffed animals with kids. It just felt right. At that point I think I loved the innocence and purity in children too. That started it off and I began shooting for Cookie (the Conde Nast Magazine) and kept going. Once my daughter was born in 2006, I decided I really wanted to focus on children more and more. I think that I’ll get back to shooting adults, but I really love working with kids!
What’s your approach to shooting with children?
I’m not sure I have an “approach”. I feel my most honest when I’m around a child. Perhaps the silly in me comes out. I try to connect to every child I work with. Find out about them – work with their personality – are they shy, silly, outgoing? I studied psychology in college and I think if I had not been a photographer, I would have been a psychologist. I love trying to understand who these kids are that I work with and what makes them tick. I also try to honor who they are and allow them to be themselves. I think that is a key aspect of who I am, and how to make great photos. If the children feel comfortable with me and the others on my team, then we will all have a great time and make great photos.
Does your daughter give you much advise?
Oh my yes. My daughter has always loved directing. The few times I’ve put her in my images (most recently for a shoot I did in Majorca with Mindi as well that is in MILK) she “advises” me on how the image should be shot. Often, she’s got great ideas. Just this morning on the way to school, the sun was just rising and she said “Oh mama, I bet you’d love to shoot right now, the light is so lovely!”. She was right. She’s also wonderful with the kids I work with, especially the little ones, to make them feel at ease and have a good time.
Which artists / photographers do you always look back over when you need a bit of inspiration?
I’m inspired by many photographers for many different reasons. I have always loved Tina Barney’s portraiture. I love Helen Van Meene and Rineke Dijkstra. Avedeon for his simplicity and psychology. Gregory Crewson and Philip Lorca di Corcia for their cinematographic photography. Tierney Gearon for her freedom and honesty.
What are you favourite type of assignments?
I LOVE projects like Tuchinda when the client or designer has a clear and creative vision. If they start the ball rolling in a direction, I like pulling together the whole shoot – finding a location that inspires me, kids and casting that inspire too and working with my stylist partner to make the images in my head come to life!
Favorite thing to do when not working?
My all time favorite things to do when not working is spend a quiet day at home with my daughter reading books and baking and sitting on the couch together. We have a favorite coffee spot where we meet up with neighborhood friends. I love weekend days with nothing planned, a time to just reconnect. Otherwise I do yoga and meditate and love having dinner parties with friends! And of course travel…that’s number one! Going back and forth to Paris and traveling within Europe. I took my daughter to Bali last summer – we always do one big adventure each summer!
You have a personal project you are currently working on tell us a bit more?
I was working on a project for a few years that I had to pause as my commercial work got very very busy. The personal project was the exploration of the transition of woman to mother. For me I think we don’t focus enough on this time in a woman’s life. It’s such a huge shift physically and emotionally to “become a mother” and while we have 9 months of pregnancy to get used to the idea, suddenly we become parents overnight. I find this transition fascinating in so many ways. I’d love to have more time to pursue and finish that!
Do you create a lot of personal work?
I haven’t had a lot of time lately to concentrate on personal work. Most of the non commercial work I’ve done is editorial – so really allowing myself to be creative within the realm of that is fun. I’m actually a single mom – so between working and spending time with my daughter who is 9 and a wonderful companion, I haven’t had much time. I might need to work on a personal project with her!
What’s you favourite childhood memory?
A memory that pops into my mind is going to Greenwich house pottery with my mom. She was always taking me to art shows and doing art with me. I think we must have had a Saturday morning art class there where we did pottery. I remember learning to make coil bowls and my mom did a portrait of me in clay. I still love doing pottery.
Finally, Christmas is not far away now! last minute or it’s all sorted thanks?
Ha! Presents are not at all sorted! I need to get busy. I’m Jewish, but my daughters father celebrates Christmas – so I usually take care of the 8 smaller presents for Chanukah. It’s fun and I can organize lots of small gifts like books and jewellery and crafts that my daughter loves.
Tuchinda AW16 photography by Zoe Aldersberg
The location I used was a loft I found on the Bowery in NYC. The client had said that she wanted to do something different this season, edgy and fun. I used a lot of connections, did a lot of research and landed on this spectacular and totally New York apartment that we used for the day.
Tina Tuchinda, the designer, usually shares her inspiration for the collection with me. It’s up to me to then translate how we communicate that visually. Her inspiration this season was really retro and cool. I LOVED this collection.
Mindi Smith @ Sarah Laird! One of the best stylists to shoot kids with in NY. We work together as a team really creating a mood and a vibe together. It’s one of my favorite things about being a photographer – to come together with partners and create an artistic vision!
Alex, Chloe and Owen. Amazing kids. Alex and Chloe had done the previous season as well – amazingly sweet girls and fun to work with.
Ah – that’s Mindi’s dog Max! I must admit I’d put her in every shoot I did if I could. I’m a huge fan.
Follow Zoe @zoe_photos on Instagram