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THE TALKING EYE: Cynthia Gladis – Night Wandering and Discovering Urban Beauty – Interview by Bob Weil

Every other month, Bob profiles an exceptional mobile photographer currently producing notable work across a variety of subjects and employing a broad range of techniques. Some will be well-known within the mobile photography world (exhibiting and selling their work), and others will be gifted aficionados of the craft.

Photography for Cynthia Gladis is and always has been a passion and a vocation – but she has never intended it to be an occupation. She indicates that the moment it felt that it had become one, she would lose interest. She observes that her relationship with FRAMES Magazine has been a tremendous encouragement to her work, and she is honored by the recognition she has received – a stint as Artist-in-Residence on the website, a profile in volume 10 of the magazine, and in several other places in the Frames universe. While perhaps best known in the Frames Facebook group for her imagery captured using her Fuji camera, over the last year or so, Cynthia has developed a fascination with the ready availability of her iPhone 13 Pro Max and enjoys the immediacy with which she can capture a scene that suddenly presents itself. Her joy in producing her work comes through in the presentation of everyday scenes and materials captured “as found.” I’ve found many that induce a smile or a moment of thoughtful contemplation. This particular series by Cynthia induces us to see the “found beauty” readily available in the world that she has the rare ability to capture and share.

Tree Dance

BW: Please share your educational and professional background.

CG: I was born, raised, and still live in New Jersey, USA. NJ is small, but it’s the most densely populated state in the US and offers enough of everything to keep me happy here. It’s also a quick 45-minute train ride to New York City so, between NJ and NY, I have a lot to work with. My “home away from home” is Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where the beach is my muse. Professionally, I’m a self-employed graphic designer with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and a Master of Arts in Corporate Communication.

Escapee

What drew you to photography, and how did you decide when to use the iPhone as your primary camera for these images? What other camera(s) and accessories do you typically use?

I’ve always enjoyed photography but missed the whole darkroom experience because I only became serious about it with the introduction of digital cameras, including those built into smartphones. I did my first “serious” smartphone shooting with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and I was hooked. I’m not a gear snob but I do recognize that image quality varies with sensor size and different types of cameras, and I like to use different gear for different applications. I am a huge fan of the Fujifilm ecosystem and have four – a converted X-T20 for infrared, an XE-3 as a small “grab and go,” an X-T5 that’s more all-purpose, and a GFX50R that provides the best image quality of them all. However, I have my current smartphone, an iPhone 13 ProMax, with me at all times, and it is a pleasure to just pull it out and shoot something I see while on one of my daily walks. The reason I chose to use it for this series is that I did not want to walk around at night with a tripod, and I wanted to see how far I could push it for decent, handheld night photography. The results pleased me so much that I kept going with it.

Bush Shadows

What inspired you to pursue this particular series?

I was in the middle of working on another series, “Gutted,” which I shot during the day while contractors worked on my bathroom renovation because I was pretty much housebound. Once the workers left, it was evening, getting dark early, and I needed my daily walk. It was the perfect opportunity to give the iPhone night shooting a try, and I enjoyed my wanderings in the dark immensely. There is something about the way even the most benign scene looks at night – full of mystery and often a sense of foreboding. Night changes everything.

Ready for Her Close-up

Are there any specific design periods or artists who have an influence on your overall body of work?

I love art and photography and just enjoy soaking it all in, so I’m sure there is some subliminal influence going on that I don’t really think about. When I first became serious about photography, I avoided looking at the work of others because I was determined to forge my own path and develop my own style, and didn’t want to think I was even remotely copying anyone else. Now that I feel I’ve found my voice, I look at it all and watch videos and listen to podcasts for inspiration, it’s like I can’t get enough.

Path of Least Resitance

Urban cityscapes and suburban areas seem to represent much of your work over the last several years. What has been the attraction for you in these subjects?

I love irony, humor, and quirky scenes, and New Jersey is full of them. I also spend a lot of time in New York City, which is a visual feast. I love the challenge of making a good composition out of a scene that to others might look like nothing but a hot mess.

How would you describe your work in terms of style and/or approach?

I like a clean look and am very attracted to minimalism. Minimalism, and my graphic design background, inform most of my photography, even the busier, more complex scenes. Composition is extremely important to me and, while I compose in camera, I will recompose when processing, cropping when necessary, and eliminating superfluous details from the scene. I am not a documentarian, to me it’s all about the final image and whether or not it pleases me.

Garbage Night

How has your work evolved over time?

When I first started my photography journey I shot anything and everything, as I did not want to limit myself to shooting a single subject. While I still take a varied approach to my work, I’ve developed a style that sort of ties it all together. I’ve also learned to think in terms of series. My earlier work was very scattershot. I also used to shoot multiple copies of one scene, to make sure I had something to work with, which makes me chuckle now (20 versions of the same sunset, anyone?). Now it’s “one and done” unless it’s something I’m really excited about and want to make sure I have another shot “just in case.”

Yellow Grate

Generally speaking, what are you trying to communicate with your work?

I love this question. I have been called an “observational” photographer rather than an “emotional” photographer. I don’t turn my personal challenges into art, I make art out of my surroundings. I love to share how I see this great world we live in, right down to finding a gorgeous splash of paint on the side of a building in New York and wanting others to see it, too. There is so much beauty and “unintentional art” all around us, all we have to do is keep our eyes and our minds open to see it. I love to challenge myself to create interesting compositions of what others might walk past without taking a second look. So, my work itself might not be emotional, but the emotion I’m experiencing when I make it is usually one of pure joy. And if even a little of how much fun I’m having – that joy – comes across in my work, then I am happy to have allowed people into my head to get a glimpse of it.

Goalpost

Tell us a typical day of photography. How do you plan, where do you go, what do you look for, etc.?

A typical day of photography for me is usually more like a half day. I often pick a destination, such as New York City, and then plan around the train schedule, when I want to return home, etc. But I find that even if I drive somewhere to shoot, like the Jersey Shore, it ends up being for just a few hours. That is enough time to satisfy me, and I’ve never returned home “empty-carded.” My favorite thing to do, no matter where I’m shooting, is to walk around and explore because even in a place I’ve visited before there is always, without fail, something new to see.

Cone Factory

What kinds of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have to increase your chances of success when you’re shooting?

I rub some crystals and chant a few “oms” as if I’m in a yoga class and then I’m ready to go. Just kidding. The better the mood I’m in, the better I “see” and the more I enjoy it. A good night’s sleep helps, my daily 16-ounce travel mug of black coffee definitely helps, and so does breakfast. Other than that, I don’t need much else to get me ready to shoot. I just have to remember the spare batteries and the memory card. And water.

Are any of your photographs posed, or are they all spontaneous captures?

99.9% of my photographs are things I see. I moved things around on only .1% that I can recall.

Bushes

Do you do multiple edited versions of the same image? How do you know when a work is finished?

I stick with one version of an image unless it is one that works well in both color and black and white. I pre-visualize, usually when I’m clicking the shutter, what the image will look like once I’m finished with it, and rarely do I do something different than what I saw in my mind’s eye. I just “know” when my work on an image is finished, at least at that moment. Because I may revisit an image a few years later and re-edit it.

Do any of your images represent a composite of shots taken at different locations or times?

I don’t do composites other than as occasional experiments, as I’m more interested in photographing what I see. I do multiple exposures or image layering occasionally, but I’m not all that interested in that type of image-making.

Bays

What motivates your decision to choose black & white over color for a given image?

I love color, and I love working with it. I also love black and white and enjoy doing some atypical infrared black-and-white photography. When shooting infrared I use my converted camera, so the decision of whether to go with color or black and white has already been made. When it comes to converting my color images to black and white, it depends on the composition and subject, as I love deep shadows and high contrast, and those often work better in black and white than in color. It all depends on the image, but I don’t check to see what they both look like as a default – color is my default.

El Camino

What post-processing apps do you use in your work? If you do use apps, describe your editing process in general terms. What is your objective in doing so?

I use Lightroom, Photoshop, and Topaz Sharpen AI almost exclusively. I don’t do mobile “apping” other than the occasional use of Snapseed because I prefer to finish my photos on my computer and then post them from there. I bring everything into Lightroom first, including the ProRaw images I take with my phone. I have a fairly well-organized Lightroom catalog and find it very helpful. I do as much as I can in Lightroom, but prefer Photoshop for cleanup. Depending on the type and amount of sharpening needed, I use the Topaz plugin. Then I create my borders in Photoshop, and I’m finished.

My objective for cropping, which I do all the time, is to achieve the best composition I possibly can. I allow enough space around my images when shooting so that I CAN crop, or correct perspective, in post. I shoot at my camera’s native aspect ratio for the most data, and on a few of my cameras, that’s 3:2. I usually crop to a square or 4:3. I am not, nor will I ever be, a “straight out of the camera” photographer. I’m creating art, not shooting crime scenes.

Two Blue

In what other ways besides photography do you express your creativity?

I’ve always leaned toward artistic pursuits, and I’ve enjoyed a variety of fiber arts since I was a child. I love to knit. I used to design and knit my own dresses and outfits when I worked my corporate job – I had a rather interesting wardrobe, to put it mildly. Now, I find it very meditative, like yoga for my hands, and it puts my head in a very nice place, particularly when I’m working on something with a repetitive pattern like a blanket, and most particularly if it’s for someone special. Guaranteed positive thoughts and those thoughts often drift to photography!

Working as a corporate graphic designer allowed me to be somewhat creative on a daily basis. I also love words and exercising my brain with them, so I enjoy the writing that goes along with my photography, whether it’s something for my website, creative, often cryptic titles for my photos and series, or silly “con(e)versations” for one of my favorite humor photography subjects, the ubiquitous traffic cone. And answering interesting interview questions!

It Beckons

Where has been your work been exhibited or published? What are the most notable photography awards you have won?

I don’t participate much in photo contests or submitting work to calls for entry. I’ve always taken a bit of a laid-back approach to my photography and feel that people either like it or they don’t, which matters not to me as long as I’m happy with it. I never liked the idea of photography, or any type of art, as a “competitive sport,” and the idea of someone who doesn’t know what makes me tick or isn’t familiar with my body of work as a whole “judging” it makes me cringe. If I’m competing at all, it’s with myself, as I don’t ever want my work to be boring to anyone, including me.

Love Shack Baby

Any attention my work has received has been the result of my work being noticed by the right people through my very active participation in social media. I’ve been published in a ‘zine and newsletter, had several images accepted by a newspaper, and I’ve been interviewed in a podcast by a street photography magazine. But I’ve received a lot of attention and the honor of some great features from FRAMES Magazine, including an Artist in Residency, a podcast, videos, web and IG features, and a print feature in Volume 10, for which I’m very grateful and couldn’t be happier about.

I’ve been invited to do a solo show locally in the spring of 2024 that I’m very excited about, and it is going to feature this night work.

What advice would you have for someone aspiring to do the type of photography that you do?

I would say to keep your eyes and mind open – if something catches your eye, don’t think twice, photograph it. And don’t delete photos just because you don’t think you got something good. Keep everything but the ones where you shot your own pants by mistake (unless you look at it and see a very cool abstract!). You will look back on these photos and realize how much you’ve honed your ability to see more clearly. The more you let yourself “see,” the more you will see. And your ability to compose well will improve. A lot of what I like to do involves humor, so if someone doesn’t think the way I do – that humor can get one through a lot in life – then the only advice I could give is “take your photography seriously, but yourself a lot less so, and don’t be afraid to laugh.” Humor in photography is not for everyone, and it’s a lot harder to do well than people might think.

Donuts

Have you attempted to sell your work? If you have, how successful have you been, and what recommendations do you have for those who wish to do so as well?

I’m just starting to sell prints and have no idea how this is going to go! The one thing I’ve learned so far, and this is what I’d recommend to anyone, is “don’t sell yourself short.” I’d rather not sell at all than do that. I’ve never been interested in photography as a job, and I’ve always believed that if it ever started to feel too much like work, I’d lose interest in it quickly. It’s a passion for me and one that gives me a lot of satisfaction and joy. But when someone recently told me they tried to download one of my images to print and frame, and Facebook wouldn’t let them because they need “the photographer’s permission,” I knew it was time to try to sell.

Two Trees

What comes next in your creative journey? Any upcoming plans in choice of approach, subject, etc., that you care to share? Are there plans for a book-length or year-long project?

I have several book ideas, so that’s what I’d like to do next. As far as subjects go, I’m always on the lookout for the next series that will get me excited. Right now, I’m doing a lot of shooting in NYC and other stops along the Northeast Corridor rail line, but I’m already thinking about a possible change of scenery. I’ll know when I find it! And as much as I love summer and the longer days, I’m looking forward to the fall when it will get dark earlier, and I will have the urge to do some more night wandering.


CYNTHIA GLADIS

WEBSITE
FRAMES
INSTAGRAM
FACEBOOK

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Bob Weil is a former marketing exec and practicing mixed media digital pictorialist living in Omaha, Nebraska. He has won numerous awards for his work and has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Canada, Italy and Portugal. He is a published author and teacher on digital art subjects with 2,400 students in 52 countries. Bob co-authored The Art of iPhone Photography with Nicki Fitz-Gerald for Rocky Nook Photography Books.

Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation. Learn more >>>


Comments (3):

  1. Richard Hutson

    October 26, 2023 at 01:40

    Thank you for this interview with Cynthia. I am an amateur photography hobbyist, and several photographers inspire me, but I connect entirely with Cynthia’s work and philosophy. I have followed her work since her Artist in Residence and find comfort in knowing that my approach to photography is validated by someone I admire.

    Reply
    • Bob Weil

      December 5, 2023 at 00:39

      My apologies for the late reply, Richard. I’m delighted that you find Cynthia’s work inspiring and enjoyed the interview. It’s always great when we find a photographer who approaches his/her work from a similar perspective to our own – for the reasons you note. Best of luck in your own creative journey.

      Reply
  2. Richard Young

    January 8, 2024 at 11:07

    Just what a lovely interview, candid and honest. Love the comment “I am not, nor will I ever be, a “straight out of the camera” photographer. I’m creating art, not shooting crime scenes.” this being witness to the ability now of using a truly creative approach to manipulating & post producing an image, taking the ‘sketch’ to a point of fruition – almost impossible to easily manipulate color images prior to 1980. In this ‘sketch to completed work’ sense, Cynthia’s influences were not explored here; genealogy and discovery is a part, for me at least, of moving one’s creative focus in new directions and curious where these lay. I also fully endorse the comments around ‘competitions’ that invariably meander around ‘technical competence’ rather than artistic interpretation…. the latter images having more visual endurance than technically competent images of ‘a bird on a twig’. Thank you both!

    Reply

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