Georgie Wileman, born in 1988, is a British photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her photographic projects document intimate experiences of pain and social injustice: with THIS IS ENDOMETRIOSIS, she demystifies a still misunderstood illness which she’s suffered from her entire life, while To Thy Own Self Be True denounces the dehumanization of transgender people in Trump’s America. Georgie’s raw and delicate photography both shocks and soothes, it relieves the loneliness that suffering induces by making visible what usually remains unseen. Georgie discussed her work with us, featuring photographs from her project on masculinity and mental health, Boys Do Cry – Suicide and Depression in Men.
How did you start your career as a photographer?
I knew I wanted to be a photographer since I got my first camera at 13. After the British equivalent of high school, I moved to London and began working in the fashion industry. I shot mostly male models for some of London’s top agency’s, and was Editor at the fashion/art publication Boys By Girls. When I moved to New York, I shifted away from fashion and followed my heart into portraiture and documentary photography, developing personal projects like my work THIS IS ENDOMETRIOSIS and Boys Do Cry – Suicide and Depression in Men. My projects have been widely published and exhibited in galleries such as the National Portrait Gallery.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Emotive, honest, stripped back and authentic. I shoot in natural light and use minimal photoshop, to keep the work as simple as possible. I learnt in film first, and apply many of these lessons when using digital.
How did you find it? How has it evolved since you began taking photographs?
I began by shooting my family, developing the project Pound For The Meter, an intimate look at life lived on the breadline in the U.K. My work has become deeper since I first began, learning how to get close to and capture strangers in their own environments, rather than just my family.
Have you ever wanted to experiment with other art forms?
I have always loved writing, and often write poetry. I like to use words in my work wherever I can, in my project Boys Do Cry – Suicide and Depression in Men, I asked my subjects to write handwritten notes to accompany their photographs.
What inspires you? Which artists have influenced your work the most?
People inspire me most, and their private behaviors that are usually hidden or go unnoticed by the world. I am most often drawn to photographers who document private moments, usually of their own families, photographers like Doug DuBois and Sally Mann.
What is your creative process?
I like to meet with my subjects before the shoot, I take notes and ask questions to figure out which shots I want from our sitting before we start. If I am documenting vulnerable moments, I make sure to make myself vulnerable first, by sharing my own personal habits when in private. The shoots are collaborative, we work together to make the image as authentic to the subject as possible.
How have the different projects you’ve worked on and the stories you’ve heard changed you?
Working on my project THIS IS ENDOMETRIOSIS has stuck with me, it was the first time I had really met anyone with the same disease as me, and to the same severity. Endometriosis is an incredibly lonely and isolating disease, this work was painful to make, but incredibly cathartic. One moment that has really stuck with me was a comment someone left on my Instagram. The post was a self portrait that showed the skin that I’d bitten off of my finger, a desperate act of trying to cope with severe chronic pain. Her post read “I do this too, I thought I was the only one.” The validation this gave me is hard to put into words.
How do you think photography can help us empathize with others in a way that other mediums cannot?
Photography can capture the soul, it can transport you into another person’s home and environment in a way other mediums can struggle to achieve. I have always loved photographing people, capturing a moment in their lives, and trying to portray authentic emotion.
What would you like people to feel through your work?
My main goal is for people to feel validation and comfort in my work, I focus on social injustice issues and am deeply passionate about connecting to my audience. I always try to create work that is beautiful, despite often being of challenging topics. I find that some work on topics that are hard to see, are just too difficult to look at.
What is your favorite photograph you’ve shot?
That’s a difficult one! My favorite photograph often changes when I shoot new work. At the moment my favorite image is a black and white portrait of Brighton for Boys Do Cry – Suicide and Depression in Men. I love his vulnerability and open honesty in this photograph. He looks down the lens with such fragility. I shot this portrait in my home studio, I usually like to shoot in subject’s homes but Brighton’s didn’t have any light, and I often don’t like the effect of recreated natural light. I asked Brighton if he minded removing his shirt, this added another layer of fragility that I wanted to capture. We went through a few poses based on his private behaviors, this was the shot that stood out to me.
What is next for you?
My next project is currently titled The Grief Of Childlessness, an exploration of people who cannot have biological children. As this is something I am struggling to come to terms with personally, I am deeply connected to the work and the message.
What have you been watching, listening to, and reading lately?
I have PTSD and have struggled with my attention span since diagnosis, I find books and films hard to focus on. Music has always been something I use a lot in my work, either when shooting or editing, to get myself and my subject in the right head space. I like to choose a song when I edit and listen to that on repeat, for my current project in progress, The Grief Of Childlessness, I have been listening to Gregory Alan Isakov’s “Amsterdam.” A beautiful and touching song that captures the mood of this project for me.
Is there a question you wish I had asked you?
Maybe what my process is when it comes to retouching? I learnt in the darkroom at school, and try to only apply those rules when using Photoshop. I don’t like to overwork my images. I will paint in light, and remove the odd small spot, but scars and bruises etc. I never touch. I always add a light layer of grain, to bring the photographs back to my roots of the darkroom.
This work was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
Georgie Wileman is a British photographer now based in Brooklyn, New York. Georgie’s work focuses on portraiture and photojournalism, with an emphasis on social injustice issues. Georgie began working in the fashion industry in London in her early twenties, shooting male models for top agencies and for the publication Boys By Girls where she was Editor for four years. After moving to New York, Georgie moved into portraiture and photojournalism, creating projects including THIS IS ENDOMETRIOSIS and Boys Do Cry – Suicide and Depression in Men. Georgie’s work has been published internationally, and exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery and the Annenberg Space for Photography. Born out of the project THIS IS ENDOMETRIOSIS, Georgie began a social media campaign that picked up international press, asking people around the world to date and connect their endometriosis scars.