Photographed by Miguel Montalvo
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agline: Give yourself and your work a tagline.
In my heart, I’m a storyteller, a communicator, someone who wants to provoke thought and facilitate change.
est: How do you spend your time off?
I don’t know that the phrase ‘time off’ currently applies to my life. Back when I was a motion picture film editor, holed up in an editing room for months on end, time off meant hitting the road for a foreign exploration for as long as possible before the next job. Now that I’m fully in charge of my day, I slide in and out of time off seamlessly and invisibly, though travel is always on my mind and a goal, as well as eating good vegan food and daily runs with podcasts playing in my ears.
Influence: What effect do you hope to have on us?
I wish everyone who isn’t battling immediate survival would slow down, kindly ingest the world that surrounds them, and think of ways they can help build community. To tread with greater care on the planet. To mitigate anger with compassion, which is starting to sound cliché but is so vital at this time. And to go vegan for the sake of the animals and the world.
Back: If you could choose a past literary/art/music movement to be a part of, which would you choose?
Whenever I hear of times where it’s said that artists/writers/musicians hung out together – like Paris in the 1920s – for conversation and to share ideas, that’s what I want to be a part of. I long for that sense of exchange and community. But I will add that I embody a lot of the hippie era, at least the romanticized version. It’s no accident that I ended up on a month-long Soviet-American peace walk in the former Soviet Union back in my 20s.
Energy: What fires you up?
Fires me up? Good and bad? Politics, laughter, a great mind, entitlement, littering, energetic music, a beautifully timed photograph, lingering dinner parties with a flow of conversation. I think I will consider adding to this list daily as an act of self-reflection.
Los Angeles: Where is your favorite place in Los Angeles? Where would you take visitors? If you could defend the city in one sentence to someone who doubts it, what would you say?
I love that I see the ocean daily, and that looking out at that horizon both soothes and anchors me. When friends come to LA, I strive to show them the vast diversity of the city, from neighborhood to neighborhood, but I stay away from glitzy because that doesn’t interest me. We travel to public art and areas with personality, from Venice to downtown to Echo Park…I could go on and on. Since LA seems to be rebuilt constantly, it’s a great place to take risk, because if you fear failure the evidence will likely be erased before you blink.
Advice: What is the best advice you’ve received? What is the best advice you can give?
Be more vulnerable. That I must not quiet my own voice because it belongs uniquely to me, and it is my obligation to honor it. That along with ‘Bias towards action’ (thank you Bill Burnett and Dave Evans) because sitting on an idea will not make it happen, and it can grow and evolve once it’s in motion. Imagine and describe your ideal day – where you see yourself, what time it starts, what you are doing, do you work with others or alone, etc. – and then figure out what job looks like that (courtesy of Biz Stone).
Best advice I can give? Listen to the advice I received. And stop uttering the phrase “I’m so busy” as if it’s a badge of honor. If your life is driving you and you’re not driving your life, make some changes. If you don’t have time to gather with people who matter to you, something is terribly out of balance. I know this might sound as if it’s spoken from a place of privilege, but I often notice that those with the least are best about creating time to be with others.
Aura: How would you describe your energy, style, etc.?
I’m very casual and my favorite place to sit is cross-legged on the floor as if I’m in kindergarten. By nature I’m an observer. My eyes zero in on all around me, as do my ears. Images and words lure me in. I aim to capture the experience of being alive. How grandiose does that sound?
Room: Where in your home do you work? If not in your home, where do you feel most compelled to create?
My entire home is my workspace. Most often I can be found on my couch in my living room with a Lapdesk and laptop when I’m editing photos or writing. I move to the loft above for printing (and when I play with paint on a canvas). When I do shoots for clients in my home, I use odd surfaces and wall colors as well as the surrounding walkstreets for the unique backdrops they offer. But in my photo life in general, my creating takes place out in the world rather than in a studio.
Tools: What do you prefer to work with, physically and otherwise?
These days I mostly use digital cameras, though my film cameras still come out to play from time to time. I write on a laptop and with inexpensive fountain pens on unlined paper because I don’t like the restrictions of lines. And I play with paint and wire and found objects, anything that sparks me. My cell phone is always with me because I get inspired at the oddest moments, often in the midst of a run, and that means I can make a photo or write in the notes app. I shudder that I could lose the thought.
Indulgence: What is your favorite indulgence? Do you cook? What is your specialty meal? What is your favorite restaurant in LA where you indulge yourself?
Getting a massage and restaurant meals are my indulgence. That can be as simple as a slice of vegan pizza. I assemble more than cook, unless I’m having people over. Then I experiment and improvise a lot. I’ve been vegan for a long time now, and while I love so many vegan restaurants, at the top of my list at the moment for a consistently innovative and excellent meal is Satdha in Santa Monica.
Special: Who or what holds a special place in your heart? How does this factor into your creative process?
Vulnerability moves me, and the mystery of the human experience. And animals hold a special place in my heart, for you can’t explain to them their suffering, so I strive to aid them whenever I can. When I first sought to donate my time to animal rescue groups via photography, I never imagined how deeply I would get involved. I find it extraordinary how vegans are ridiculed in our society as if wanting to end suffering is a position deserving to be mocked. As I result, I aim to normalize it and offer to sit with people one on one and then take them food shopping to answer their questions and to assist them in exploring going vegan.
Time: What is your all-time favorite piece of writing/art/music you’ve created?
How does one answer this? I think back on a piece of writing I did years ago that completely captured an experience I had and that flowed out of me like a song. It’s called ‘Away’ and I’m not saying it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, but it remains personal and meaningful to me, and reminds me to hit the road if I’m ever feeling stagnant. The unfamiliar is my comfort zone.
Thank you Debbie!
Debbie Zeitman has photographed over 50 Venice Artists and still counting. Fifteen artist portraits and stories are hanging at Wabi Venice (1635 Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice). Her photographic life began as a freelance photographer for the Associated Press covering primarily sports. Now her eyes drift to life’s everyday rich details, whether tiny or grand. She also spends an extraordinary amount of time trying to capture the meaningful expressions of shelter dogs and cats in an attempt to get them to safety and into permanent homes. In addition, Debbie advocates for all animals and lives a vegan lifestyle.