A conversation with... Zoe Adlersberg and friends

Today we are nice to welcome Zoe and two of her favorite collaborators - stylist and art director Mariah Walker - and casting director Julia Samersova - to discuss about diversity in the kids fashion industry and casting.

Zoe Adlersberg is a photographer and director based between Paris and New York. Her personal work explores facets of being a woman - girlhood, motherhood, and aging. She is passionate about supporting causes that empower girls and young adults. This season, for our "Wild" trend space we asked Zoe Adlersberg to conceptualize a photo project.

How did this project start? What was your intention? What was your inspiration?

ZOE: When Playtime asked me to create a project for the “Wild” trend space, there were many elements of the theme and the project that inspired me. I wanted to do something that captured the essence of childhood, portraits from a bit of a sociological point of view. The work of August Sander and Rineke Dijkstra’s beach portraits came to mind. I knew casting would be important and wanted to represent all different ages and ethnicities, so I asked Julia to help. She has an amazing eye for really soulful kids. And Mariah and I have collaborated for years, so having her as part of the project was fundamental.
Another interesting aspect about this particular installation is that there were no walls - it was interesting to find a way to work with that as a two dimensional artist. The idea of fabric and transparency came to mind, inspired by Christian Boltaski’s work. I love the idea of a myriad of faces, and seeing bits and pieces of one face through another. A reflection of our shared humanity.

What attracted you both to collaborate with Zoe?

MARIAH: I was attracted by different aspects - the team, and our shared approach to do this. We work very well together. It’s also a visual tribute to Boltanski, a French photographer and artist, who recently passed. Most of all what attracted me was our common goal (Julia, Zoe and I) to show "our personal view" on kids and on tomorrow’s kids fashion.

JULIA: I love working with strong, talented, amazing women, so I always jump at the chance to work with Zoe and Mariah! We are the Trifecta! I love that Zoe and Mariah always give me the most freedom to cast kids who otherwise might be overlooked or considered too “this or that”.

Mariah, what role did you play in the project? How did you work together?

MARIAH: Zoe and I often to collaborate together. This projects is Zoe's artistic photography vision. I enjoy following someones vision and being a “ supportive” partner and collaborator. I try to do that, by listening to Zoe, asking her questions, giving my input, but most of all by believing in her and in her projects. I feel that we have mutual respect and support. Also, as a fashion editor I collaborated in this project by selecting the samples that will be hanging with the portraits.

Zoe, what do you like about working with kids as a photographer?

ZOE: I’ve always been attracted to the lack of pretension that kids have. In adults, you need to break through some sort of barrier, ego or insecurities at times. Which can be interesting in it’s own way. With kids, they are just who they are. Which is freeing for me as a person and photographer, it allows me to be more authentically when I work with them. People often see me one way, but I see myself as a gangly puppy just wanting to play. Kids bring out the puppy in me.

Whats inspires you in your work as a photographer?

ZOE: I find a lot of motivation in connection. Connecting with my subject and relating to them on a human level. Authenticity is a big theme for me these days. A real honesty in my work. Whether it’s playful or dark, if it’s coming from a genuine and authentic place of self expression and connection, that’s what I find inspirational. Also pushing my boundaries and growth, if an idea seems too big or makes me uncomfortable, I know I’ve found something I need to work with in a project.

Julia, What inspires you in your work as a casting director?

JULIA: What motivates me most as a casting director is finding raw talent - whether on the streets or through social media and beyond. Nothing excites me more than finding a kid who has no idea that they are cool or beautiful and watching them blossom! What I find interesting about kids is their raw, honest, unfiltered, and unapologetically sincere outlook on life. I love any kid whose personality I can see through a still image.

Mariah and Zoe, how do you select the children to work with?

ZOE: It sounds strange but I think it’s all in the eyes. The soul. I enjoy working with kids that are present and can connect. I’ve been known to walk down the street and ask a parent if I can use their child in a shoot, simply because of a feeling, some sort of connection. It’s hard to describe. I trust my gut and I just go with that feeling when it comes up.

MARIAH: I think that the only way to know if someone is photogenic is by taking their picture. So you need to have time. To Quote Garry Winogrand, ”I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” What makes a kid "interesting" to me?Being in front of a camera for a child should be playful or even self discovery, if they have that interest, curiosity, generosity and time then it’s worth taking their picture and spending a moment together.

Lets talk about diversity. Mariah, you’ve been such an advocate since I’ve known you to incorporate different ethnicities into casting - making sure everyone was represented long before it was cool - can you talk about that?

MARIAH: One of the reasons why I really like my job is that I consider that working with kids is working with the future. My vision of the future is diversity, So, all children need to be included. I have always been aware that even if fashion is considered “frivolous or superficial”, it is also a reflection of our society . I would like as many kids as possible to see a reflection of themselves on the magazine covers and in fashion stories. All children need to grow up knowing that they are beautiful, and when you work in fashion you participate in creating that message. So yes, it’s important for me,and it has been for a long time, so I work with that in mind.

And Julia, how are brands handling diversity in casting?

JULIA: Brands that I work with the most have really been at the forefront of diversity all along. I am proud to say that I work with a lot of brands that were doing major diversity WAY before it became “cool”. I refuse to work with ANY brand that isn’t into ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE! Period.

Zoe what other projects/subjects that are inspiring you these days?

ZOE: Oh, so many things! I’m really interested in my child’s generation (they are 14) and the sense of commitment to activism they have. With race, gender, the environment. It’s so inspirational. I’d love to do more with teen activists.
I’ve also been going back to film and shooting situational portraits, something I used to do often when I started my photography career in Paris. I love going to people’s homes, meeting them and then conceptualizing a portrait that is a narrative of who they are.
Oh, and I’m launching a new magazine this fall. I’ll be Editor-In-Chief as well as contributing my photography and video work. It’s a cross of fashion and social issues. We’ll have more news soon, but people can follow @brownstonecowboys on Instagram to learn more.

Thanks so much to you three for the project and all the wonderful information about the process and your work!

More about Zoe Adlersberg's work zoeadlersberg.com

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