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Imogen Wilson Girlhood
Photography by Imogen Wilson

Teenage dream: these photos capture the chaos of girlhood

Imogen Wilson’s debut photobook DREAMS is a meditation on identity, time and the enduring magic of girlhood

Girlhood has fascinated writers, painters, and image-makers for as long as their mediums’ histories. Coming-of-age is the subject of some of pop culture’s most beloved references, whether it’s in the pages of Little Women, on screen in The Virgin Suicides, or through the lens of Petra Collins. These narratives are often charged by self-discovery, and almost always characterised by youth. As a society, we romanticise these years of our lives, mourning our girlhood as though it’s a time long-gone – but what if it wasn’t? 

For Imogen Wilson, girlhood isn’t defined by age, but by a state of transformation. “Girlhood is a huge part of my work, whether I plan it or not,” says the photographer, stylist and founder of Mimi Casting. “I’ve always been attracted to those who are on the cusp of moving into a new version of themselves, whether it’s through their style, or their body, or their location; whether they’re 12, 20, or 30… Inside the innocence and unsureness about what’s happening next, there’s excitement and confidence.”

Wilson’s debut photobook DREAMS is a meditation on identity, self-fashioning and time. We meet girls with bleached hair and punky black roots, their bedrooms cluttered with toys, every inch of its walls plastered in posters. We also meet Madison, who is pregnant with her first child. In between these portraits are street snaps, capturing small but magical moments from Wilson’s everyday life and travels. 

Wilson’s subjects are a mixture of friends, models and people she approached on the street. “All the people I shoot attract me in some regard. It’s usually their sense of style, but also the way they present themselves, the way they think, and the way they navigate their day-to-day life,” she says. In one instance she travelled to Brisbane to photograph three friends who lived in a huge house at the end of a dead-end street in the suburbs. “Every room was completely decorated in posters, toys, and clothes. These guys were fully committed to this ‘thing’,” she says. 

In girlhood, we surrender ourselves to a tribe, from what we wear, to the music we listen to, to the idols we worship. Wardrobes are reinvented and bedrooms become a blank canvas to express all our niche interests. “I was constantly redecorating my bedroom, and It comes back to how you’re evolving as you’re growing up. Your space around you is like a visual cue of that,” says Wilson. “I love chaos – visual chaos – and anything that’s decorated in a very customised way. It’s like slipping into someone else’s brain.”

All of the images were made between 2019 and 2022 in Australia, where Wilson currently lives, and during a month’s trip to Japan. Wilson is originally from New Zealand, where she started out at 17, interning for various small fashion brands in the early 2010s. Photography arrived in her wheelhouse a little later in 2016. “There was no one really shooting photos in the way I wanted my styling work to look,” says Wilson, who shoots exclusively on film. Using a point-and-shoot, she started photographing friends, “trying to create images that were a bit more gritty, and a bit more raw”. 

DREAMS emerged organically out of all those years of shooting, mainly for fun. There were certain images that “felt really special,” she says. “I have really intense gut feelings about things, and I decided to hold onto [those photos] just to see if I wanted to do something with them.” Gradually, over many years, it grew into a body of work. “I’ve held onto them for so long, and they’ve all gotten better with time,” she says. “Everyone in the book is now in a completely different stage of themselves. It feels like I really captured all my subjects in a very specific time, before they’d switched to a new phase.”

These phases can arrive at any stage of our lives. Wilson turned 30 this year, and noticed certain shifts in her aesthetic preferences and style choices. Rather than mourning this as a loss of youth, we should consider it part of our evolution. “Some things I used to wholeheartedly love, I now only appreciate in smaller doses, and that's perfectly fine. It could be anything from the number of adorable keychains on my keys to the soft toys on my bed,” says Wilson. “If you find something visually and stylistically appealing, create a space for it in your world, always… Your attitude and preference towards them will naturally mature over time, and that, in itself, is a graceful way of ageing.” Between all the bleached hair, toys, tattoos and cityscapes, DREAMS is a reminder of the spirit that defines girlhood. And that never needs to end.

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