DS: How did you become interested in photography, and how did your interest evolve?
GO: Photography was not an interest of mine early on, when the light was set for me, but then I would do a lot of touristic photography, and I brought a camera wherever I went. I did take a photography course at UCLA in my early days in LA, but it didn`t lead me in that direction.
Then, four years ago, I ran into a female photographer named Dana Tynan, whom I used to work for as a model, and she ecouraged me to pursue photography seriously and to invest time in it. I look at her as my mentor, even today. She lent me some fun analogue photo equipment indeterminately, (including a Rolleiflex and 2 Mamyia RB76 to have fun with and explore). The Achilles’ heel of being a model is that you are constantly stereotyped. I actually had a hard time convincing people that I could do anything else, that I could be an interior designer, or a photographer, because I was a model, which apparently is still stigmatized in popular culture. I have been told to my face, „Why would you want to do anything else?” So, it’s been a lifelong effort of overcoming my condition, of proving that I am more than just a body. Right now, I am making an income from photography. I don’t have an agent in this area, as I prefer to do it by myself at the moment, since I already have agents representing me as a model in so many places.
In this interdisciplinary life, in which I am a one-woman show and a mother, it’s definitely the case that one area of my work takes precedence over the others. I don’t have the time to work on all those areas at the same time, and I also don’t want to come across that way because if I have a period where I am very busy with photography, I get really consumed by it. There is a lot of overlapping between my modeling and photography work, but once you accept a job, you are committed to that client.
DS: Who are some of your all-time favorite photographers you are inspired by?
GO: I admire Mary Ellen Mark for her ability to generate exquisite work, not only as a photojournalist, but also as a fashion photographer. She was bouncing between editorials for Time magazine, as well as for Vogue. Also, Diane Arbus – the edgy, daring photographer in the man’s world of her era. I discovered her at a LACMA exhibit, maybe 15 years ago…Then Helmet Newton, Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts and Victor Skrebneski – I have also been very fortunate to have worked with the last two.
Man Ray and Dora Maar, two people who worked during Surrealism, one of my favorite periods in art. Alfred Stieglitz, for the work he created during his relationship with Georgia O’Keeffe.
Later on, Julius Shulmann, because he captured everything we know about mid-century modern architecture.
And, as I already mentioned to you, Cindy Sherman.
DS: And how do you usually get the interior design projects?
GO: It’s usually by word-of-mouth. I don’t advertise, I have a few people I work with, including real estate agents and developers who feed me jobs. I also do staging gigs, which have a quicker turnaround, a quicker pay, and that has been my bread and butter in that field. Now, many of those projects have stalled. I prefer to be a freelancer in the interior design world. I worked for a while for a famous LA interior designer, Martyn Lawrence Bullard, but that kind of work situation is not the right fit for me. I also worked for Chateau Marmont, under André Balazs. I had a contract there right before Max. I was a design associate, working with the main designer. He was very understanding that I was also doing auditions, so I would go to the showroom, squeeze in an audition, and then go back.
DS: What is your process when it comes to an interior design project?
GO: When I take up an interior design project, I like to interview the client, inspect the site and get into their shoes. I like to mutually decide on ideas which bring the client’s idea to life.
The phases of design I follow are the standard ones I was trained in: The Strategic planning phase, the Conceptual development phase, in which I convert ideas into sketches, presentation boards, the Design development phase, where you let your creative juices flow (selected finishes synced with the approved design theme, create floor plans, drawings, visual aids), and so on….
DS: You have a particular situation.
GO: Right. I have to be a right fit, and they have to be a right fit for me. I don’t know if I can call it luxury, because I definitely need to work and to make money, but I want to love what I do. The good thing about modeling when you are older is that you are not busy all the time, so yes, I have auditions, maybe 4-5 times a week, and jobs could be 4, 6 times, so it’s not like every day of my life is consumed by it. I would say life put things in balance as well. As I already mentioned, I was ready to leave this industry if at some point I was told that, for some reason, I wasn’t booking jobs anymore- that’s actually even why I went to school. I didn’t want to suddenly realize, when the phone stopped ringing, that I had no skills, and to start panicking. And I wasn’t going to look for a rich husband either.
DS: How about directing?
GO: Directing is something that I ventured into last year. I attended a fashion film festival here in LA, with a short film titled „Madeleine”.
DS: Did you direct „Madeleine”?
GO: Yes, and Eric gave me the right visuals, filming it and bringing it to completion.
DS: Tell me more about the concept of the film. Personally, I thought it was based on a very sophisticated concept, and I mean that in a good way.
GO: It is a story that resided in me for many years, and it depicts various influences that have defined me in my growth so far. It was inspired by my personal trajectory of living, growing and reaching my current potential in places that are far away form my homeland- Romania. I am referring primarily to America.
Madeleine, the main character, is the product of her environment—an American, an immigrant, an achiever.
It is the story of a woman’s quest to discover her place in the world- a universal story about men and women who leave their native land to seek more opportunities somewhere else.
DS:Why did you choose the Proustian concept of involuntary memory, exemplified through the use of the cake Proust made famous, the madeleine?
GO: I chose that famous moment from his book, In Search of Lost Time, precisely to invoke notions like remembrance, nostalgia, memories of my past times…
The Proustian moment stayed with me as a very significant symbol from my readings- the madeleine dipped in coffee, with its meaning of the involuntary journey of the memory that we experience when triggered by our sense of taste. Our minds can evoke recollections of the past without much effort.
DS:What is the role/meaning of Ayn Rand’s voice that can be heard in the background? Why did you choose this particular backdrop?
GO: The reference to Ayn Rand here is a parallel between her and the female protagonist of the film. Both of them immigrated to America, during different eras, but the story is a universal, timeless one.
She has the luxury to live in a free society, in a culture where people recognize and praise achievement, while her internal struggle to find herself continues to be the main subject of her own quest. She finds herself living in a new land, looking to find a fertile ground to manifest her full potential in this New World.
DS: What is the meaning of Ayn Rand talking about her views on love for the concept and message of this film, and for you? Why did you choose to play in the background a recording in which Ayn Rand talks about her own particular views on love, which are not exactly optimistic when it comes to human virtue and to people’s inherent right to be loved?
GO: I know her views are extreme when it comes to altruism and virtues. I wanted to extract this passage from her 1959 interview with Mike Wallace, first of all because it is about love (in her own terms, of course), and then because it felt powerful to me to see a woman standing her ground, and upholding her beliefs in a space where she is challenged, with Mike representing the voice of many who questioned her objectivist philosophical view.
DS: What is the role of the other woman who appears in the film? Is there a particular meaning to the scenes in which you two are touching each other’s faces and hands?
GO: The other woman, played by Caroline Salvia, who in real life is a model, actress and shoe designer, represents my alter ego, my shadow. The film pays homage to the breathtaking and mysterious imagery of Ingmar Bergman’s film “Persona,” and the idea that the conscious and the subconscious are constantly battling each other. Our psyche exists beyond time and space, and we are constantly trying to uncover the dynamics that hide behind our deepest thoughts. We are incessantly questioning. She finds herself living in a new land, looking to find a novel, abundant ground where she can fully materialize her potential.
„Madeleine” invites you to explore a world that lives inside many of us- the dichotomy between our ego and alter ego, between the persona and the shadow, a topic studied, in depth, mostly by Carl Jung. It’s a subject I have been fascinated by for a while.
The best way we saw this topic portrayed was by referencing Ingmar Bergman’s „Persona”, and its stunning visuals.
DS: Does the paint you have on your face in the film signify anything in particular?
GO: It is a symbol of self-discovery. The paint is applied in a very primitive, tribal, ritual-like manner.
DS: What is the meaning of the tears your character sheds in the film?
GO: My tears may be the realization of finding myself, an act of acceptance and self-love.
A final thought: I hope the film invites you all to reflection, to the exploration of how we can become more self-aware individuals, and maybe practice more self-analysis.
Also, believe that whatever kind of myth you want to tell, welling up from deep inside you, even if you don`t consciously determine its details ahead of time, the larger story will eventually come together as you go.
DS: And Eric was the cinematographer of „Madeleine”?
GO: Yes. Two years ago, I attended a fashion film festival here in LA, and it was the first time that I realized that there were fashion film festivals, not short film festivals, but festivals specifically for fashion films. It’s a niche, and I was watching all these movies and something in me said „I can do this”. I thought that the people who were on stage there not only had less experience than me, or were younger than me, but I also had this whole life in the fashion world, from the highest to the lowest to the most talented people, and I thought I had something to say. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I wanted to try my hand with my own little movie, and a fashion movie seems like a good exercise for this, a nice beginning. I think the standards are pretty loose. We shot some footage with Eric a few months before in Joshua Tree, just for the sake of creating, and I thought, we could use it as a starting point for a film to be continued, and so a story started to take shape.
There was another special person who helped give our movie cadence and rhytm. Her name is Teodora Totoiu, she is herself a very accomplished cinematographer, and she edited „Madeleine” in an unexpected way, lacing it with my heartfelt songs by Maria Tanase and Silent Strike, which Eric and I chose for this film.
DS: At the same festival, you told me Eric showed a short film called „Ragret”, which he directed, and whose protagonist you are. You also explained to me that „Ragret” is a commentary, maybe one could even say a criticism, on and of commercialism, on and of the world of advertising, which sells dreams and objects that are often unattainable. According to you, the film explores the contrast between fantasy and escapism through consumerism, on one hand, and reality, on the other. You mentioned that even the title of the film, „Ragret”, is a word play on Target, which is the name of one of the most successful and omnipresent American retail corporations. What was that experience like?
GO: „Ragret” was another collaboration with Eric. I had a long-time fascination with the iconic Isabella Blow, and her ability to forsee talent, to stand out in fashion through her excentricity, and I have always wanted to dedicate some sort of artistic expression to her. I chose to personify myself in her idyllic self, creating a swan-like, hand-made outfit and hat that she might have worn if she was still with us today. My long experience in the fashion industry as a model/actress helped make the challenge of creating a fashion film feel like second nature to me.
DS: What other kind of movies would you like to direct?
GO: I think a short format would definitely be my favorite medium. I wouldn’t venture into a feature film, I don’t have the training for it. I have a lot of respect for people who study it and invest their whole life in it, but I didn’t have enough time to do that. Maybe, instead of going to interior design school, I could have probably done film school, and see where I went from there.
But I would definitely see myself doing a short format, commercial type. I also think that documentaries are interesting- anything that’s honest, that covers a unique subject. I always thought I should go back to Romania, because in Romania there are still uncharted territories, subjects. Directing is definitely something I would like to pursue, I have stories I want to tell. I was contemplating doing my next film in Paris, and somehow shoot inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
The undercurrent of things I do is more high-brow, high-concept, but then, visually, they turn out to be more simplistic, while knowing that something deeper runs through, at the core of a subject that I am seeing visually. I think that’s satisfying. There are a lot of subject matters I am interested in, and that I would like to explore.
DS: Now let’s switch gears…We said we were going to discuss the topic of aging from different perspectives. From the point of view of a model, of a woman, and, why not?, as a human being, because men are also confronted with the process of aging.
GO: From the model’s position, I got to witness a change in the attitude towards age and aging in the modeling industry, during the last 5 years or so. Until late 2000s, models had an expiration date, they had a shelf life. You used to hit the age of 30, 35 at the most, and you would have to look for something else to do, to learn a new skill- you definitely had to be aware of that reality. Now everything has changed.
DS: Why do you think all that has changed?
GO: I don’t know. I don’t even know where it happened, if it first happened in America or in Europe, but now I see this new attitude everywhere, both in America and in Europe.
DS: I feel like it’s partially connected to how influential social media has become, because suddenly you have all these people who are creating platforms for themselves, and who look different from the models we used to see in magazines or on runways.
GO: Yes, and those are people who don’t need an agent. But from my perspective, I think this shift happened more because there were a few stubborn, aging models who decided to stay and to also have something to say, because I feel that all these older models who kind of influenced this new movement obviously had different assets to their lives: they are either getting into jewelry design, nutrition, life coaching, acting, there are some designers as well, so I think they suddenly got stubborn and said, „We’re here, we’re still here, we’re not just going to move over.”
In my case, I was able to make a living modeling, and to study what I liked and was passionate about.
The agencies that represent me today, here or in Europe, have all pushed their boundaries and included women over 35 and up to the age of 80 in their roster. For example, I feel very honored to be represented by a NY agency called Iconic Focus (https://iconicfocus.com/portfolio/gabriela-johansson/ ) which, besides developing a new generation of models, represents legendary models like Rachel Hunter, Carré Otis, Veronica Webb, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Angie Everhart, basically the supermodels of the 70s, 80s and of the 90s, up until today’s faces. And my long-time commercial agency HRI Talent has been with me all along, generating beautiful and prestigious projects. I am thankful to now call them friends as well.
I don’t think I’m thrilled about aging and getting wrinkles. But I do my best, within my knowledge, to lead a lifestyle of self-care and self-awareness regarding what my body needs at every stage, and to gather the optimum energy where my mind feels most balanced within all the stressors of modern society.
As a parenthesis, right now I am reading a book by David Sinclair called „Lifespan: Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To”. I highly recommend it.
DS: Also, female photographers, some of whom have worked as models before, I think they deserve credit as well, because they decided to shoot women who looked different, and were older than 18.
GO: Yes, and in addition, the fact that designers and photographers recently brought back the supermodels, played a role in this diversification of beauty standards. The designers who had the supermodels of the 90s walk the runway. I think the supermodels always dictated the pace in the beauty and in the fashion industries. Whatever the supermodels were doing, everyone was into it, and I think that played a role in this extension of the acceptable modeling age. And these models with grey and white hair are a category of their own. Because I always thought that skincare products are geared towards preventing wrinkles, so they are for mature skin, not for 20-somethings.
As I said before, I think that beauty brands and photographers like Peter Lindbergh, portraying women and celebrities of different ages, skin colors and body shapes for the Pirrelli calendar were among the first who pushed the limits of beauty beyond it only being associated with youth.
DS: When you get booked, do you get booked for a certain age range?
GO: When I go for parts, the age range is always included in the breakdown. I don’t go for parts for 20-somethings, I don’t want to lie to myself. I usually go for parts where the age range is 35 to 45, which is my real-life age range. So all the work I am doing now falls in that age range. They still want someone who has good skin and hair, who is in shape, but healthy-looking, not skinny.
From the point of view of a woman, I don’t think anybody wants to age. We are living in a society where we are instilled that idea, especially as women, even with all the changes that are happening or not in today’s society. I don’t think anyone looks forward to aging, and to getting a few more wrinkles- when I hear women say that, I don’t believe them.
But then, I look back at my life, and I almost feel like I should be 100 years old, because of the experiences we’ve had during the era of living in Romania, with a completely different set of values and upbringing. That seems like 100 years ago to me, it’s unbelievable. And then it’s almost like you suddenly move your TV satellite, you say, ok, we’ve seen enough of those channels, and now we are in America. You have to learn about a completely different set of values, and, honestly, to me, immigration and moving to this new country are almost like a revival, like I got a second life when I moved to the Western world, starting with Paris. It’s a rebirth.
I can almost rewind my life back to my 20s, and Eric keeps asking me, „You have never seen that? You didn’t have that growing up?” when he refers to brand names of chocolate and to other basic things, and I answer, „No, I don’t even know what that is.” So, in that sense, I feel like I have 100 years of experience, but also that I have been revived, getting this second chance to a completely renewed life.
But then you look at your real age and yes, 40s is definitely a new thing. When our parents were in their 40s, we thought they were old. Now, I meet people in their 20s, and I think, „well, I don’t look that bad.” But probably they look at us like we’re old.
In terms of self-care, there is obviously no secret that eating well, having a healthy lifestyle and exercising help keep one young.
DS: Yes, definitely. What are some of your favorite anti-aging skincare products, treatments? Do you exercise every day?
GO: I come from a sports background. I played volleyball and tried pretty much every sport as a teenager in Romania, where I was doing ballet, gymnastics, volleyball, and now I play beach volleyball. I love working out, I love how my body feels when the muscles are sore and my mind is high. I used to go to the gym all the time. Before Covid, I used to be on Class Pass. Now I have a mat at home and there are workouts I follow, so I don’t even know if I will go back to a gym.
In terms of nutrition, I eat pretty much anything, as long as it’s good quality food. I definitely favor vegetables and proteins, not so much carbs, and ocassionally I indulge in eating Tiramisu or Krispy Kremes.
Then I went through all kinds of stages as well. In my 20s, I battled anorexia. It was a reaction to many things in my life: my mom’s death, being unsupported by my father in my decisions, and other things I have worked on in my therapy sessions. Anorexia is a form of control over your body, in a world where nothing is under your control anymore. And, of course, it was also related to my job. Modeling can be an undercover job. You can hide under the umbrella of being a beautiful, healthy model, yet be completely sick.
DS: What about skincare?
GO: I believe in less is more in terms of that. I don’t really get more than two facials a year, I don’t believe in too many extractions. I learnt this from my Romanian facialist in LA. My own philosophy is: cleanse, scrub and exfoliate. I get microdermabrasions a few times a year, I hydrate my skin with hyaluronic acid, heal it with essential oils, and protect it with SPF. I also use glycolic acid.
In terms of favorite products that I use, definitely the vitamin C serum you recommended me from Neora, called Illumaboost (https://beautywithdoris.neora.com/us/en/shop/IllumaBoost-Brightening-Shield/1162_US), which brightens and evens out the skin tone, shields the skin against environmental stressors and fights the appearance of discoloration and skin damage caused by exposure to sun and pollution, which is something I am trying to fix.
I also love Clientele, Dr. Murad Water Gel, the C E Ferulic from Skinceuticals, NeoStrata’s skin-renewing products, as well as the essential oils from Steam.
Emryolisse is a staple cream I have had in my cabinet for years. All the makeup artists in Paris used to have it in their kits, and now it’s available in the US as well.
For SPF, I like Neova Silc Sheer 2.0 Photo Finish Tint, and ISDIN Fusion Fluid 50 from Spain, and I recently discovered the Age IQ® Invisi-Bloc® Sunscreen Gel SPF 40 from Neora (https://beautywithdoris.neora.com/us/en/shop/Invisi-Bloc-Sunscreen-SPF40/1173_US), which is multifunctional and innovative because, in addition to protecting the face and neck against the sun’s ultraviolet rays, it also creates a transparent barrier against the blue light from smartphones, computers and TVs, and against environmental pollutants and smoke. The Invisi-Bloc has this weightless, clear texture that doesn’t clog the skin’s pores like most SPF creams. Instead, it nourishes the skin with an antioxidant complex, and even acts as a make-up primer.
DS: What about non-invasive treatments?
GO: I love microdermabrasion. Also, ever since I had my son Max, I have developed melasma and tried laser treatments (IPL), only to realize, and to be told, that lasers are in fact counterproductive when it comes to treating melasma. Laser treatments can help with dark spots, but they can enhance melasma. I have done some laser treatments and I think that, overall, they can be efficient, but when I do them, I avoid the area of my face affected by melasma.
I also tried Pixel laser treatment once, and microneedling with PRP, and I liked the effects.
DS: What about your hair? I feel like that’s your trademark. Do you have a certain hairdresser that you always go to?
GO: There are two people. A friend of mine who is an established hairdresser in the fashion industry, Giovanni Giuliano, who keeps up with my many haircuts I schedule, and there’s also a salon I have loved for years, Spoke & Weal (https://www.spokeandweal.com/) , which is also in NY, where Lindsay (hair stylist) and Dell (colorist) are magicians.
DS:Is there one area of your work that is your favorite, that you like more than the others, that is more fulfilling to you than the others? If not, what are the aspects you enjoy most about the work in each of the creative areas you are active in, and what do you get most from one of them versus what you get from another?
GO: No matter what activity I am engaging in, I try to be fully present, and to immerse myself in the process. Once I make that decision, I float. I consider myself a multipotentialite, a term I heard on a TED Talk once. It made me be less judgmental of myself, it helped me deflect others’ expectations and put aside that annoying inner voice saying: „You don`t have a true calling.” I think that doing what I do is my destiny.
DS:What are your aspirations and ambitions as a photographer? Who would be some of your dream subjects to shoot, in what locations, and what type of projects do you aspire to be involved in?
GO: I would like to see myself having a life span of being a photographer. I expect to learn and to continue to educate myself during each stage of my life, whatever that stage will be marked by. I would see myself traveling a lot, capturing individuals across class, race and age, all of them partaking in everyday activities, in a photojournalistic way- we, photographers, dream of that.
The place I can`t wait to flock to as soon as the world opens up (as it was my goal destination this year), is Paris. Paris was my first love, I experienced it as a model, the map of Paris is ingrained in my brain. Now, I would want to experience it as a photographer. Also, my next fashion film will be set in Paris.
Advertising, beauty, fashion and directing are all avenues I would like to be actively working in.
I do have many paths and I am pursuing all of them, either sequentially, or simultaneously (or both). Realistically, I can juggle 2 of them at the same time, without forgetting to add that, first and foremost, I am now a mother.
DS: Femininity and Feminism: what is your take on #MeToo, especially as a model? Have you witnessed abusive behavior during your modeling career?
GO: Feminine traits are human traits. My essence is to be feminine. I am interested in visual forms of beauty, I think femininity is often oppressed. Feminine traits are misconstrued as being performed for the benefit of males only. I am one of the women who celebrates femininity, and I feel that it empowers me, I am not threatened by the idea of patriarchy defining who I am, what I can be or how I can exist in this world. It is a decision I make. Women who express feminine traits empower femininity. I celebrate femininity, and that does not put me in the position to be a feminist. Feminists see femininity as a tool of servitude to men. I feel heels and girdles are suddenly underplayed and blamed for their power of attracting sexual attention. Feminine gender expression should be free and not condemned. I feel that demeaning or dismissing someone only because she is female and feminine is socially unacceptable.
DS:You mentioned to me that you are attracted to men with whom you can collaborate on creative projects.True?
GO: I do have that tendency, yes. I think creativity is a form of intelligence, and it signals that the potential mate will be capable of solving tricky problems that require more plasticity in their thinking. There is an intriguing interestingness that I find in such a personality. I like the man I love because of his dominant personality, curiosity, adventurous spirit. I think there is the middle ground that makes me feel at ease with such an individual, and the testosterone dominating side of them draws us to each other. The behavioral opposites. You just negotiate well the amount of time you want spend creating together vs. being lovers.
DS:What else do you appreciate in a man, besides the ability to collaborate with him? Have the qualities/traits you appreciate in a guy changed over the course of your life, and in what way?
GO: I am a love advocate. My most dominating core value is loving, finding love. When it comes to relating to the one I love, I respond to his values, his character, his goals, his attention to details, and to the small gestures. If I feel that he is one-of-a-kind and has a strong self-esteem, he can walk along with me. I am interested in the oneness and welfare of the unit.