Titillation or potent female portraiture?

We go behind the lens with Millicent Hailes' racy polaroids of friends and bodybuilders

Photography Lightbox
Polaroids
Polaroids Millicent Hailes

Millicent Hailes takes photographs of strong beautiful women. Her symbiotic relationship with a few model agencies often mean these women are young and skinny giving her images the appearance of fashion photography, but when you look at her Polaroids it is more a nostalgic form of portraiture which comes through. 

The clothes and styling fade out against potent female confidence and sexuality, because as she points out, we are all undeniably drawn to sexual imagery. But is it really about sex, or just what we find beautiful? And what is Hailes doing differently within the fashion industry?

The attitude of 'it's her shoot too' is definitely a determining factor, Hailes put a lot of emphasis on her models feeling good and they appear dressed or undressed in the form that suits them most. She is so successful in this area that a previous model asked her to photograph them nude because she was feeling so comfortable in her presence. After seven months of working for Nick Knight at SHOWstudio, Hailes is going off to do her own thing in Japan and LA. Dazed caught up with her to find out more.

Why do you describe yourself as a fashion photographer, are your images really about clothes?

Millicent Hailes: I guess people may describe me as a fashion photographer because that's the environment I was in during my years studying at the London College of Fashion, I was on a 'Fashion photography' course. But I'm not sure that I like describing myself as a fashion photographer. Photographer will do. I don't think there is a need to define those things anymore. What I see is that people just want to look at beautiful photographs, whether that's a beautiful object, a beautiful subject or beautiful clothes. So I guess in that way my images represent what is beautiful to me. And of course, what is beautiful is just a matter of taste.

Tell me about your models, why you choose them and what do they symbolise?

Millicent Hailes: I choose women I think are powerful or admire, not necessarily in the physical sense; just women I really notice. Whether it's their mannerisms, the way they talk, move etc.. if I notice something interesting about a woman that's what makes me want to photograph her. It's just about confidence. I find it really attractive when someone is confident within themselves and doesn't give a shit about what others think. That's the kind of person I want to photograph.

easterbun_0013ed
Polaroids Millicent Hailes

Sometimes female photographers misdirect their ideas of 'strong women' and actually contribute to their subjugation. How do your images avoid this?

Millicent Hailes: Some may argue that my work does the same as well but I know the women in my photographs are strong, most of them I know personally and they loved the photographs I've produced. So their feedback is enough for me! As long as what I'm doing makes me happy and those in the images too, then for now, that's enough. 

Do you reference any particular photographers?

Millicent Hailes: I love snapshot photography, people that inspire me: Larry Clark, Harmony Korine, Wes Anderson, Stephen Shore, Helmut Newton – those guys really set the bar for the kind of style I admire.

What's the plan for your upcoming trip to L.A?

Millicent Hailes: I'm going with a photographer friend of mine and old housemate Nadia and model friend Lily who's going to be at a yoga retreat beforehand. There is no set plan, just to shoot as much as possible and make good work. There are a couple of locations that I want to visit and shoot at so I'm currently building a team and getting that all in place! I'm really excited to meet more women who body build on the beach and create a new team over seas that I can shoot more with them in the future!

Polaroids
Polaroids Millicent Hailes

Tell me more about these body builders... how did you meet them?

Millicent Hailes: I was and still am so fascinated and in awe of these women. The lady that I shot originally - Sara, is just so dedicated and strong. I knew I had to shoot her. I contacted her through a friend who thought she may be interested in working with me when I was looking to take photographs of body builders. The magazine that it was for then had a little interview with her and wrote a piece on her too. I still follow her and her amazing progression, I think she's an incredible woman. 

Your polaroids are often taken from original shoots, are they a form of record keeping?

Millicent Hailes: They started off as a form of record keeping when I was on a shoot as I always work on film and a lot of the time it's hard to explain what shot I'm after to my team so I usually take polaroids of each look to guide them through my process. As the shoot is going on I find it really helpful to put these polaroids together as a kind of mood board so I can see what is missing and what I can add to each shot. I also make sure that at the very end of every shoot I have a polaroid of the team together doing a weird pose, we usually all look exhausted but it's a nice way of wrapping up!

More Photography