Friends of the House
Finding Authenticity in the World of Fashion Photography
When I look at Gillian Stevens’ portfolio, a few words immediately come to mind: cozy, warmth, home. I see butter yellow light filtering through a window, illuminating children giggling on sheepskin rugs. There are soft, cream coloured countertops reflecting the afternoon sun in a kitchen. I spot a shot of an empty street in Paris that looks like it could’ve been taken 100 years ago. “I’m inspired by a nostalgic way of life,” Gillian says. She and I speak on the phone from her home in Vancouver, B.C.
When Gillian finished high school, she lived in England for a year. It was here, surrounded by rich history and old buildings, that first interested her to begin photographing what she saw every day. When she moved back home, she saved the paychecks from her first job and purchased a DSLR camera, a Nikon D3100, that she taught herself to shoot with.
As Gillian began her career in photography, she looked at her portfolio and felt like it didn’t reflect the work she wanted to do moving forward. So she shot something that felt more representative of her style. She rented a mid-century modern home and worked with a collection of clothes by designers she loved. She hired the models and hair and makeup artists and shot a series of photographs that depict the slow-living authentic lifestyle that Gillian is drawn to. “It was a launching point for me in my career and gave me a clear vision for what I wanted my work to look like,” she says.
Now, in her eighth year as a professional photographer, Gillian has worked with clients like Four Seasons, LOJEL, Coclico shoes, June Home Supply, and Cereal Magazine. “When I first started, I thought I would never want to shoot fashion,” Gillian says before she realized, “Oh, wait. You can make fashion editorial whatever you want it to be.”
Gillian’s work feels different from your typical fashion photographs–they feel sincere and relatable. “I often tell models I’m working with to imagine that I’m filming them instead of doing stills,” she says. It “often results in the most authentic movement or facial expression.”
“It’s not about perfection or photoshopping people or creating this unattainable lifestyle or image.”
I hear a child’s voice in the background, and Gillian steps outside onto her porch. She has two boys, one two-year-old and one four-month-old. When she worked on a recent campaign for Four Seasons, she was the first female photographer to ever shoot for the brand. She came to set six months pregnant with her husband and toddler, and she shot for ten days straight. “I don’t have to compromise on having a family,” Gillian says. I’m curious if becoming a mom changed how she views the photography world. “My son might have a meltdown in the grocery store,” she says. “I have to be in the moment. It doesn’t matter if people are looking at you.” The feeling that comes with it, of vulnerability, is so important, she says.
That vulnerability has made Gillian gravitate towards brands and artists who have more authentic, approachable work. “It’s not about perfection or photoshopping people or creating this unattainable lifestyle or image,” she says. Instead, she looks for “more of that authenticity. When I see brands that are posting a lot more real people, more relatable moments, I’m a lot more drawn to that even more than I was before.”