Georgia Hilmer is a photographer, a student at New York University, she has been modelling for years and she also looks after a vegetable garden. She lives in Brooklyn and has a beautifully curated Instagram where she posts her honest and truthful photography featuring nature, friends, interiors and still life. How does one get the time to do so many things at once? In this interview, she talks with us about her daily routine and how modelling has influenced her photography.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? You’re a model, a photographer and a student. What and where are you studying?
I’m a twenty-three-year-old model, photographer, student and woman living in Brooklyn (New York City). I’m in my final year of studying the politics of narrative at New York University, flailing my way through writing a thesis. I’ve been modelling for years, doing the full high fashion runway circuit until just recently. Now I am transitioning into a lighter workload, focusing on projects closer to home, both emotionally and geographically, so that I can devote myself to school. My boyfriend and I spend a lot of time in upstate New York at a cabin he owns. We have been building and working the land together; I am in charge of a sprawling vegetable garden. Being up there, a little wild, just beyond the reaches of a steady wi-fi connection, has been so special. I am learning so much: how to be brave, how to get dirty, how to slow down and go hard all at the same time.
Do you have a daily routine? How do you organise your day?
Four days a week I’m in class – somehow I signed myself up for mostly night classes this semester, so I have the days free and then head into the city for school around five o’clock. I try to go to yoga every other day if I can, it helps me be less panicked about all the work I’ve made for myself, real and imagined. I’m an anxious, overthinking person and the opportunity to get out of my own head and into the nooks and crannies of my body is a welcome relief. I practice at a really special studio called Sky Ting in Chinatown. If I’m lucky enough to get that out of the way in the morning, after reading the newspaper/blogs/doing an Instagram dive, I spend the afternoon catching up on school assignments and answering emails.
If I really need to concentrate I go to the library where it’s quiet and calm. Otherwise, if I’m really lucky, I go to the lab and scan negatives (I’m working my way through my film archive, very slowly) or I get lunch with my boyfriend. I work best alone, I’ll meet up with friends between classes in the park or for dinner in the evenings, we cook for each other and play music. Because I am an over-compensator and say yes to too many things, I tend to do most of the production on my own photography shoots. That can be frustrating and empowering at the same time. That kind of coordination is the bulk of my shoot-prep. Once I’m on set, everything is pretty simple: natural light, the least amount of hair and makeup I can get away with, a film camera so we don’t stop to check the monitor between each shot, and the minimum number of rolls to do what we need.
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How did you get in interested in exploring photography? Did modelling inspire you?
I’ve always had a camera on me: in high school, I had one of those Fuji Instax Polaroid knock-offs. An ex-boyfriend gave me my first 35mm point-and-shoot when I was nineteen, and my instincts and interests in photography and art really exploded that year. Modelling, which I pursued because of its promise of travelling and as a means of funding college, put me in front of a lot of creative types who responded to the film and phone photos I put on the internet. Job offers came in naturally after I became visible as a modern hyphenate — a ‘model-photographer’ — and I’ve been nurturing a fledgeling career ever since.
I’m trying to navigate my own desires: I am much more excited about my portrait photography with a photojournalistic bent than about fashion photography. Every shoot of any type terrifies and teaches me. I love the thrill and agony of the process, from production to editing. I have binders full of the Polaroids I started taking in high school. I remember going on some of my first modelling assignments back then and documenting the trips with those snapshots. I was initially drawn to still lives – fruit on the balcony in a splash of sun – and to straightforward, artless portraits – a boyfriend in my bedroom, or a friend on a roof.
I wouldn’t say modelling inspired me to start taking photographs since I didn’t and still don’t want to be a fashion photographer. Those are the assignments that fell into my lap, and I’m hoping to do more portraiture. My photo diary is my baseline, favourite project. Modelling did drive me toward modes of self-expression that felt truer, more personal, more autonomous and honest: photography and writing particularly. After years in the industry, I wanted to take control of my own process, my narrative, my self-representation. It felt – and still feels – radical and freeing to present a version of myself separate from my fashion persona.
Where do you find inspiration?
I am a voracious reader: The New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Paris Review, the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, novels, non-fiction, long-form journalism, poetry, essays, op-eds and on and on and on. School provides a lot of inspiration too, I’ve had some incredible teachers who pointed me in new directions, towards thinkers and writers I would have never encountered on my own. I’ve learned a lot of critical theory in the last few years, about how we tell stories and the intersection of knowledge and power in society. Those heady ideas have really come alive in my photography process, in that I am thinking about dynamics of power, gender, and race as I shoot. What about my own perspective is limiting and limited? What is this photographic exchange about? Who is really in control? My unconscious or my consciousness, my subject or me, the media, society, convoluted notions of beauty? Those questions keep me engaged with the practice and allow me to believe that there is more to an image than an accumulation of pixels. Viviane Sassen intrigues me, I feel like she is asking similar questions, right at the intersection of fashion and art. I appreciate her commitment to women.
You shoot everything analogue, right? How come you use film for your photographs? Do like the process more than from the digital cameras? Or do you prefer the style of the final photograph?
I’ve started to shoot more digital lately since it’s cheaper (read: free) and less agonizing in terms of risking film processing errors. I’m romantic about film, maybe because it was my first medium, or because shooting analogue means holding your breath, being returned to a sense of anticipation and wonder, and ceding control to a process you don’t quite understand. People talk a lot about the mystery and magic of grain, the texture that you get when you shoot film, and there is definitely an appeal in that chaotic, soft quality. You can’t predict quite which film will alchemize the light and movement of a frame. I love that surprise and unpredictability. I also love the choices film forces me to make: the cost and cumbersome nature of the format mean I’m shooting half or a quarter as many pictures with my Leica than I would with my iPhone or digital camera. I am more decisive and at the same time spontaneous with film, my eye has been honed by its particularity. It feels like a muscle I have trained, whereas my iPhone-shooting-thumb is a spasm.
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You take photographs of nature, still life, interiors, friends, models and yourself. Although they’re very different subjects and themes, they all have a similar feel to them. What is it that brings them together?
I rarely take photos of people I don’t know intimately. My photos come from the gut, although they feel more gauzy than visceral. They’re pictures of emotions and memories I want to keep forever, in that predictable and basic way we all take photos. I think, aesthetically at least, they’re all tied together by an obsession with light. I don’t do any light design and I rarely use flash, I’m a hunter of slanted rays and chaser of the golden hour. I try to not to get in the way of my own photos: I don’t set things up, do my best not to manipulate a moment, prefer not to shout out ‘look over here’ or ask anyone to pose. I want to observe lightly, bearing witness to your own life is a huge privilege and an active practice. I am so hungry for it all: I want my eyes as wide open as they can be. 
I have noticed that most of your photographs play with shadows, coloured lights and mirrors. And as you stated, you’re a “golden hour chaser” and like to play with natural light. How do use it? What does it add to your images?
I wish I could say! I don’t have an articulate answer: I’m drawn to the most rudimentary elements (shadows, golden light, reflections, mirrors) in an entirely unsophisticated way. I talk a lot about honesty when I’m shooting, trying to stay away from artifice and performance (possibly as a reaction to my modelling experience), and yet I constantly introduce these fantastical, deceptive elements. It’s something I’m still working out.
You have most of your work on your beautifully curated Instagram account. In what way do you use social media? Is this account important for you to get jobs and make contacts?
My Instagram success is a total fluke: I don’t have a strategy. If I were smarter, I’d post more selfies and vamp it up to get attention. Instead, I’m pretty preoccupied with abstract images of flowers and food. I have found that I often get booked on modelling jobs by people who are fans of/interested in the work I post on Instagram (if you can call it work, it feels more like sketching ideas, grasping at straws, play), and anyone I’ve worked with as a photographer myself has found me on the Internet, since that’s where my pictures live. I hope I am still using it as a place to play with ideas and experiment. Even with thousands of people watching, it feels very intimate and free. I’m lucky not to have any direction from agents; I can do whatever I want. My relationship with it has become complicated as the world uses it more for networking and plotting and surveillance, but maybe I’m naive enough to ignore some of the more insidious implications for now.
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Are you planning to publish a book or organise an exhibition with your photographs?
I would love to make a book in the next year, but I’ve got to do school first. Once that’s over with, maybe I’ll think about putting something small together. It would be really nice to have a physical object to hold in my hands. That said, I’m not a big collector of things. I don’t mind the ghostly presence I have, totally intangible. If someone asked I’d probably move a lot quicker.
What are you working on next? Do you have new projects and something you would like to concentrate on?
Most of my energy is directed towards school right now. I will be so proud to have my degree done, hopefully in May next year. Until then, my goals are simple: carry the camera with me everywhere, be alive to emotion and impulse, and go, go, go.
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