This is a tribute to the extraordinary Gleb Derujinsky – a photographer who approached the world with an artist’s eye. This fascinating character built his first camera at six years old. Despite his father’s insistence that "Photography isn't an art.” Gleb Derujinsky Jnr decided early on that this was his medium for exploring his creativity.
After serving in World War II, Gleb opened his own photography studio in New York. He was handpicked by the legendary editor Carmel Snow and although he may not be as well known as Richard Avedon or Irving Penn for example his imagery is just as exciting and inspiring.
Working extensively with top models Ruth Neumann (who became his wife) and Carmen Dell’Orefice (who is still modelling today) Gleb’s art really flourished when he was shooting on location. Indeed, his celebrated ’28 Days Around The World’ series of photographs was shot in spectacular locations such as Japan, Sri Lanka, Jaipur, Athens and Bangkok.
There is a great quote from Carmen in a feature on Gleb in Spring 2013’s Glass Magazine, that sheds light on the man behind the lens: his sometimes interesting artistic temperament and his passion for embracing ‘the whole’ of the picture, not just the subject:
“He was best on location. When we went to Hawaii, he saw the life as a whole, he saw the environment, the beauty of it and he knew his equipment and he was at the moment that wonderful thing that happens between the muse and the artist. That synergy was worth all the.. attendance difficulties, lets say. He was wonderful to work with and he was kind of a ‘bad boy’ you know? Naughty but nice..” Carmen Dell’Orefice.
Gleb embraced adventure and sought inspiration from the world not just for his photographs but for his own entertainment. He was a musician, jazz devotee, ski instructor, race car driver for Ferrari America, and sail-plane pilot. And rather surprisingly he even designed and built carbon fiber bicycles for the U. S. Olympic team.
This exploration fed through to his photography and John A. Benigno’s Masters of Photography 2014 highlights this sense of adventure and ingenuity:
“He found gold after retiring from the glamorous world . . . His work took a personal turn as he began to explore and photograph to satisfy his inquisitiveness... This is a man in pursuit of art that made sense to him, and we are all the richer for this”
The work this refers to include a haunting portfolio of ghost towns from the Wild West and striking photos of the Navajo Indians.
Gleb died in a car accident in June 2011 and Ruth is also sadly no longer with us, however their daughter Andrea, a jewellery designer who has definitely inherited the artistic gene, manages their estate and curates the vast archive of photographs. I spoke with Andrea to find out more.
Was your father constantly behind the lens?
Dad was never ever without his camera. There were times when he set out to take pictures and other times when he had it just in case there was a photo waiting for him to arrive. This trait remained with him all of his life.
His images are sometimes painterly with reference back to the composition of the old masters. Was this deliberate?
Observing his photography is a visit through the masters themselves. His reverence and admiration show through. His knowledge of art was more than seeing it at a museum but through personal relationships. He was a trained pianist and understood rhythm. He valued history and architecture. He learned as he taught, by experiences and passion. He would describe himself as a photographer when he was in that role. He was also a race car driver, pilot, bicycle enthusiast / rider racer and builder. I honestly think he never ever thought he couldn't do anything he put his mind to. And no one could tell him otherwise!
Do you have a favourite artist? Did your father?
Picking a favorite artist as an artist is like picking a favorite colour. One day you feel the Maxfield Parish blue with streams of yellow sunshine, another day the water color of Andrew Wyeth. He admired all the masters and when I was 15 he bought the Time & Life collection of masters which arrived by mail monthly for a year. Every month I spent reading every volume I could translate each image of a painting to the view out of my window in Durango Co.
If there is one image that absolutely fills you with delight of your fathers what is it?
A collection from "Ghost towns of the Wild West" leave me speechless. I have to admit that my personal favorites are those images he took of me throughout my life. When I was a child I thought everyone had a Daddy that took pretty pictures. I treasure those moments.
He didn’t just photograph for fashion where was his true passion do you think?
His passion was landscape and location. His photos were always taking you somewhere and sharing its bounty. As Bruce Clerke (Assistant Fashion editor) expressed to me "Avedon shot the clothes, Gleb shot women living in them" Whether it was on a city skyscraper or a ruin in Rome or a field of flowers he took you somewhere and you can still feel the warmth of the sun, and hear the flitter of bird’s fly. The hum of traffic like the melody of Chopin or Rachmaninoff or the boogie woogie of his favorite Jazz Players.
Was Ruth’s family also artistic? Tell me about them?
It's so much easier to find the history of famous people. What I do know is that Ruth was born in 1929. Three years later her father passed away and her mother Augusta was left with two sons and little Ruthie. No doubt the loss of a husband and living in the middle of the depression meant a long, hard road. Augusta became one of the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ types working in a bullet manufacturing factory in WWII. By high school Ruth was a popular cheerleader/ baton girl and had a job at Howard Johnson's scooping ice cream and boasted inventing Rainbow ice cream when she combined all the bottom of the barrel flavors into one bucket! After graduation she decided to go to Manhattan and become a model. She did that and some.
On that note can you give me a short outline of your father’s family history?
Gleb the senior’s family background goes back to Peter the Great and through service to the Tzars was at one time considered nobility. In Russia there are books called Gentries One to Six. Numbers One to Five are for those who enter nobility via marriage or service. We were there so long we belonged to book six, set aside for those born into it. These were very special people and when Gleb W Derujinsky arrived in America, he set out to pursue his life calling as a sculptor. His father, Frederick, was a senator of sorts and believed life as an artist was a life sentence in poverty, so insisted he get a law degree before pursuing the arts. Only after the one and only Auguste Rodin came to speak with his father, did he agree.
Where did your father get his daredevil streak? And do you have that in you also?
My dad’s mother, Alexandra may have had that DNA. She arrived at Ellis Island by submarine! One can't exclude his father either. Dad just took it to a whole other level. He lived at a time when cars were being reinvented and driving was a sport. When airplanes were being manufactured and so learnt to fly and buy his own Cessna. Flying to local locations like Maine or Florida with models and assistants in tow! I myself might have been his best student. He taught me to ride a bike, how to ski, how to drive and how to fly, and how not to be afraid. I made and designed jewelry for 18 years and sold at art fairs all over the mid Atlantic, and without really knowing it travelled and sold in the same communities’ dad had shot many of his famous fashion photos. I am learning this now while compiling the photos for the book I am writing "Derujinsky Capturing Fashion".
Tell me about “Capturing Fashion” – how did it come about?
When I heard that dad had died, I travelled to Durango and discovered he had been working on a book of his fashion photography that also included other images from his life's work. I declared I would take up from where he left off. This has been the most extraordinary experience. Gleb, my dad, has taken me to places I had never heard of, and shown me artists and estates one would only dream of seeing. I am honored to be working with Flammarion Publishing in Paris. I hope that Gleb's images will inspire a new generation of artists and dreamers.
Derujinsky Capturing Fashion will be published in October 2016 by Flammarion Publishing, Paris: www.styleetdesign-flammarion.com