Georgia Hilmer: smart, direct and kind. At 25, she is a successful model and photographer, balancing her two careers with a third - studying sociology and literature at NYU. She has walked for Chanel, shot for i-D, Another magazine and The Line.
After admiring Georgia’s work via her blog and instagram, we organised to meet Georgia face-to-face at her Brooklyn home. Her place, which also houses her light-filled studio actually turned out to be one of those sprawling converted warehouses you only believe exist in 90s films; a circuit of light filled rooms brimful floor-to-ceiling with books, oddities and perfectly overgrown plants. Her studio beams on a warm day with a spectrum of colour - her boyfriend (also a photographer) has always hung old chandelier pendants in the windows of wherever he lives - spilling out prisms of light on even a gloomy day.
You're a born and bred New Yorker - what do you most love about living in NYC?
24 hour bodegas encapsulate a lot of what I love about New York: accessibility, convenience, diversity, cheap thrills. The city is always on, you can always get late-night pizza, you can always jump on the subway, you can get to the highest brow museums in half an hour, or roam the parks and libraries and waterfronts for free. When you’re young and not sure of what you want to do New York seems like the place to be. The chances of bumping into someone new who will set your day/week/life off on another course are so high. There’s real power in the sense of possibility (however fanciful) New York creates.
How did you start taking photographs and shooting with film?
I used a Polaroid-wannabe Fuji Instax all through high school. My shelves are full of binders of old snapshots, meticulously labeled and organised so that I can get a quick hit of nostalgia whenever I need it. An ex-boyfriend gave me a Yashica T4 35mm point-and-shoot for my 20th birthday. I quickly became obsessed, never leaving the house without it. I’m so grateful for that initial gift and the particular time I received it at: I had no preconceived notions about photography as an art form, I was raw and naive and loose, which made taking pictures of friends and flowers and trips far away feel organic, like an outgrowth of my diary-keeping instead of a full-fledged art practice. I try to maintain some of that wonder and freedom now but it’s tricky. The more you see the easier it is to tense up and think yourself out of shooting.
Do you have a subject or person you most love photographing?
I’m stuck on flowers at the moment. They allow me to explore: carrying me into colour studies and explorations of form and abstraction. I am constantly delighted at the thought that a $10 bouquet from the corner store can turn into a week’s worth of still lives. Following the decay of lilies or the collapse of tulips in on themselves is a small wonder.
Your work is often deeply personal, always intimate and loose - as a photographer, how do you create that link with a subject? Is it conscious?
Mostly I try to get out of the way. I think the less I impose my ideas and expectations on a “subject,” the freer they are to be themselves. Photography is about performance, in a lot of ways. You’re framing and therefore excluding, you’re observing and therefore affecting, you’re hovering and therefore directing, however unconsciously or not. I try to get a sense of how the woman in front of me sees herself and would like to be seen. That’s really vital to me, especially as someone who modelled commercially for so long. Asking questions is really important. I get myself in trouble for starting too many conversations during shoots. Most of my outtakes are women mid-sentence, for which I have only myself to blame. I like to think of a shoot as the byproduct of an encounter. For me, making the person I’m photographing feel comfortable and empowered and not preyed upon is really important.
In addition to your model/photographer title, you're studying - can you tell me about your degree and what you plan on moving into professionally?
My degree is titled “The Politics of Narrative,” it’s a mix of sociology and literature. I’m in a really special program called Gallatin at NYU where you design your own degree and after lots of exploring and wandering, I focused my last two years of study of postcolonial literature. In my thesis paper I examined the novel as a literary form that enables self-actualisation and identity-formation in cultures whose narratives have been disrupted by colonialism. I’m interested in the way story-telling operates in society, from the mini autobiographies we are all now writing on the internet, to the epic scale of archetypal narratives that span cultures. How we construct our histories (at the national and the personal level) tells us so much about who we are and where we might go.
Tell me about a woman in your life that inspires you.
My mom! She’s at a point of transition in her life, leaving one career for the other, finally returning to something she really loves, and she’s had to be so brave to do it. I am endlessly impressed and inspired by her gung-ho attitude. She’s daring in a way that I am not and so appreciate. Her two kids are leaving college soon and I think she’s reclaiming her house and her time and her priorities after twenty-odd years of making sure we stayed alive. It’s wondrous to watch. I talk myself out of things by trying to predict possible outcomes and then negotiating potential plans of attack and ultimately succumbing to imagined failures… She doesn’t bother with that! She moves through the world sure that whatever happens will happen and won’t be entirely disastrous, that she can handle whatever bullshit comes her way, and she’s always been right. I hope to adopt some of her posture as I make bolder moves in the world...
What are you most passionate about lately?
I’m swept up in school, which is lucky, because I don’t have time for much else. I’m really in love with my new professors for the semesters. By a stroke of luck I have all female or gender-binary-flouting teachers for the first time in my university career. It’s really exciting. I am trying to let myself be absolutely open before them.
What does happiness embodied in one day look like for you?
My boyfriend has a cabin upstate that we spend summers at. Any day there is my happiest day: waking up early, coffee on the porch with no sound but the birds, breakfast, lunch, and dinner all made over the fire, just warm enough that we can swim, a trip through the garden to see what’s growing and what’s gone wild, beers on the deck to end the night, stars and songs and silliness before bed.
Can you share something really great you've read recently - an article, news or book?
I haven’t read much that wasn’t assigned to me for a class in the last… four years or so. I loved reading and reading about Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey. Translation in all forms interests me; she speaks so eloquently and gently about the epic project of communicating across cultures and centuries.
What camera did you use to shoot our story with Charlotte and Solveig?
I used a Contax G2 and a Yashica T4 and a Fujifilm X100T
Georgia Hilmer wears the Hayley Crinkle Silk Georgette Dress in Navy. Photographed by Jen Steele in Brooklyn.