Can you tell us about your upbringing and childhood?
I grew up in Jersey City, just across the Hudson from lower Manhattan, fantasizing about New York City (where my parents worked) and convinced I experienced the best of both worlds, city and pseudo-suburbia: proximity to movies that only played at the Angelika or Sunshine Cinemas and the luxury of a backyard.
How do you think this location has shaped you?
Growing up so close to New York gave me a sense of possibility and expanded my imagination in terms of career prospects (hello modeling, college) and cultural engagement (new foods, fancy theater, intimidating museums, parks, music). At the same time, living in Jersey City, which itself is a really ethnically and socioeconomically diverse place, brought me into contact with so many different kinds of people.
What excited you as a child? What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was awkward (socially and physically), excited by school and sports, perennially reading. I wanted to be near books, inside of them if possible, at all times. It took me a while to figure out how my relationship with stories could be the central obsession of my life and not just a hobby.
What were you into as an adolescent? What were your ambitions?
I was obsessed with books and magazines and crossword puzzles—a full blown nerd. I took a lot of photographs and thought I might become a journalist. Mostly I wanted to continue learning: by senior year of high school it felt like I’d been waiting my whole life to get to college and express my true bookishness unabashedly.
Photo by Georgia Hilmer
You recently graduated from NYU? Can you tell us about what you studied and how you are going to use what you've learned?
I went to Gallatin, the school of individualized study within NYU, which means I designed my own degree and shaped by major to fit my interests and needs. My thesis was about the politics of narrative, how the specifics of place and power shape stories. I studied postcolonial literature (reading novels from the Middle East, West Africa, and Latin America) and used the theory I learned from that experience to reexamine the notion of the Great American Novel: What do we expect from our national myths? Who do they harm and help, whose voices do they amplify and whose do they silence? How does ideology shape our cultural narratives?
You are/were a model? What kinds of things have you learned from this experience?
I’m still modeling, though less now than ever before — I started modeling so that I could pay for college, worked throughout my university years to keep tuition covered, and now, post-graduation, I’m renegotiating my relationship to the fashion industry. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world since signing my first contract at 16 and am eternally grateful for the dumb luck of my looks affording me an expensive education.
"At 24 I’m trying to figure out how I want to participate in this universe that can be at once exhilarating and infuriating."
Who has been your favorite designer / stylist / photographers to work with? Can you share a story?
For a few years I worked a lot with the designers at Margiela (before John Galliano took over) on shows and as an occasional fit model. The experience was so wonderful: everyone was gentle, kind, and thoughtful. I felt like a part of the team, in conversation with some very wonderful and funny creatives. Those experiences in Paris were some of my most positive and mind-expanding as a model. I came to appreciate the high level of craft and care that can be applied to the art of clothes-making.
Photos by Georgia Hilmer
We read that you read a lot. What are you currently reading? What books have had a big impact on you?
I’m Zadie Smith’s biggest fan, a fact that is secret to no one who has spent more than an hour talking books with me. Lately I’ve been doing a deep dive into Rebecca Solnit’s books (strange, special, hybrid animals of ferocious dynamism) and hunting down all of her essays online (her work for LitHub is so full of grace and rage). I ardently follow Jia Tolentino and Alice Gregory’s magazine work, I love reading Ligaya Mishan and Tejal Rao on food. Ottessa Moshfegh is driving me nuts, I’m trying to break into her brain. Alexander Chee is a delight.
Film or Digital?
For now, film forever! I prefer the textural and tonal effects you get shooting analog: colors melt, focus softens, a moment glows with internal light and energy when captured on celluloid rather than in pixels. I find that when I shoot digital I have to work harder to get the aura I want in post-production anyway, so I might as well take the extra effort of using film at the outset to save time and energy later.
What are your favorite things to photograph?
It’s undeniable that I am most drawn to photographing flowers, scenes washed in that special summer sunlight that glows softest between five PM and sunset, and my close friends.
"I try to capture moments that lend themselves to poetic interpretation, that evoke a sense of wonder."
Can you share with us one of your favorite photographs that you have taken?
Photo by Georgia Hilmer
What part of the shooting process excites you the most?
To my own detriment, my favorite part of a shoot when I am the photographer is the conversation that happens between me and my subject. I often have to remind myself to start taking pictures because I’ve gotten us so far out into left field in whatever dialogue we are having and forgotten all about the assignment before me. I end up having more outtakes to wade through because I’ll start shooting while my subject is speaking but that’s a low price to pay for some of the really captivating discussions I’ve experience while making portraits.
How do you prepare for a shoot? What are you thinking when you walk on a set?
I clean up my home studio if we are shooting there, shuffling plants around and out of the spot near the front windows where I like the light best. If I’m meeting someone in their own space I try to psyche myself up with music on the walk over. My goal is always to make the person I am photographing feel as comfortable as possible.
“I am always more interested in creating a safe environment on set than in putting someone in a forced position to make a photo “work.” I care more about people than images, so the priority is to take care of the person before me as best I can. The photo comes second.”
Photo by Georgia Hilmer
Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with? Is there anyone you consider a current collaborator of sorts?
My best friend Lexie is one of my closest collaborators—in life and work and art—though I know she’d resist that label. We work well side by side, we are gentle with each other when we need to be and rough other times. We’ve grown both together and apart; our curiosity and mutual admiration keeps us coming back to each other, I think. I probably take the most photos of her of anyone I know.
Can you describe your personal style in three words?
Practical, unfussy, soft.
Is there a particular time period in fashion or sub culture that you feel a special kinship with stylistically?
More than any era or movement, I identify with that particular tomboy feeling of being a woman who inhabits the tension, in her clothes, between freedom and femininity. For me, I treat clothes as tool that either inhibit or enable. I’m so familiar with that sense of feeling too big for your body and my style, if you could call it that, addresses that nagging twinge of discomfort by being all about comfort and practicality and ease.
What piece of clothing makes you feel most like yourself and why?
Jeans or Dickies, worn down so they’re soft to the touch, and any t-shirt of my boyfriend’s, oversized.
What is something you've loved for a long time?
I’ve played soccer since I was five and it has always been such a sweet release for me, mentally and physically. I don’t get the chance to play often now but I am still thrilled by the speed and grace of the game.
What time of the day do you feel most energetic and what do you do in those moments?
An hour after I wake up, halfway through my first coffee and before I’ve opened my email, I feel most energetic and optimistic. I try to read in that window when the dread (of productivity, of expectation) hasn’t set in yet and the day seems full of potential.
What is the best gift you have ever given someone?
I gave a better-photographer friend of mine a camera I had inherited that was beyond my technical abilities and he gave it a better life than I ever could have.
What is the favorite gift you have received?
The first film camera I owned was a 20th birthday present; it might be the material gift that changed my life.
What is your favorite Instagram account?
What are you currently…
Coveting? Viviane Sassen’s new book Heliotrope
Wanderlusting? I want to go to Mexico City and Oaxaca this winter
Watching? Starting The Sopranos from Season 1, Episode 1
Listening? “The Mexican” by Babe Ruth and “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston
Reading? These Truths by Jill Lepore and Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit
Dreaming? Strange panicky nightmares about emails …
Follow Georgia ~ @georgiahilmer
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Discover more Lingerie On Film profiles.
How the series began ~ A conversation with Araks