Fashion

Millicent Hailes Is Empowering Women One NSFW, Provocative Picture at a Time

The photographer explains her mission behind shooting herself and other women, for women.

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One scroll through Millicent Hailes’ Instagram, and you’ll see, her carefree aesthetic makes her the quintessential cool girl — but not the brand of cool that alienates others. In fact, her modus operandi is the complete opposite of that as the theme of most of her projects often explores the female form — typically with other women as her subject when she’s not in front of the lens herself — and she’s a member of GRL PWR GNG, a collective of fellow kickass women who seek to inspire and support each other however they can.

While Millicent is serious about wanting to uplift her fellow ladies, the London-based photographer-slash-director approaches everything with tongue-in-cheek, presented through seductive dreamscapes that toe the lines between hyper sexuality and surrealism. To call it provocative would be a massive understatement. Among the many NSFW photos of herself and friends in her portfolio, you’ll see familiar faces like Chris Brown, Kali Uchis and Amber Rose — shown with a middle finger up and cake that reads “Fuck You” to match. Find more of Millicent’s photographs, along with what she has to say about her work below.

How did you get your start in photography and film?
I got into photography pretty young. It was initially a way for me to dress up and become different characters and bring them to life, it was a great way for me to escape. I used to photograph myself and friends in strange outfits and weird places so it progressed from there to what it is now, still in strange outfits and weird places, just a few years on.

At what point did you begin exploring the female body and sexuality as a subject?
I always have, it’s beautiful and fascinating to me. I’ve never really cared for men in that way, women are much more sexually powerful to me.

If men like the images that’s cool, but personally it’s really about women owning their bodies and sexuality.

The majority of your work is provocative with highly sexual tones. How do you walk the line between art and what may be perceived by some as pornographic imagery?
Ultimately whether it is interpreted as soft porn or art, my photographs are taken by me, for women, and it’s mainly women who are responding. If men like the images that’s cool, but personally it’s really about women owning their bodies and sexuality, as well as myself through my social media to promote this.

Where does inspiration or influence for your projects usually come from?
I photograph what’s interesting and important to me, but I try and make the image slightly humorous and spontaneous too — nothing should ever be so serious. I feel like I grew up with others expecting the 9-5 working life from me. It made me feel so pressured and completely suffocated so I always include something fun in my work. I’m super inspired by film, so I like to watch a lot of movies; and I read a lot too, so I guess that helps with imagination and creating new stories and ideas for shoots.

Describe your style to us. How does it have a hand in what you do?
My style really fluctuates between wearing super baggy jumpers, trainers and jeans to wearing a fluffy pimp coat, knee high boots and red sunglasses. I guess it can be either 70s vegas stripper or 90s bricklayer.

You’re not shy when it comes to shooting nude models or being nude yourself in front of the camera — it takes a certain level of confidence to do that. When or how did you develop this within yourself?
I’m not necessarily “confident” in my own skin, I think that I just don’t care anymore what people think or say, it’s tiring. It’s important to remember that an image can reveal as much or as little about a person as they want. I feel really strongly that I live my work. It’s really important to be the woman that I want to photograph, too, so I don’t separate myself from my work that way.

Social media is a platform through which you push your message and a space where the #freethenipple conversation continues to be a hot topic. How do you respond to critics who have a negative reaction to sexually explicit content?
I guess that if my images make me — and the women I’m photographing — feel empowered and strong, then it’s doing its job. Obviously it’s a platform for self-publicizing and self-expression; you can control what people see of you, so you can make your own image and your own press. That’s important for me because it helps people understand my work and the thought process behind it.

Although you can’t dictate how images will be received, you just have to shoot with the correct intentions. I suppose it’s always better to get a reaction then no reaction at all.

You’re a member of GRL PWR GNG — Can you explain to us what that is and how a collective like this one is significant in terms of female friendship and empowerment?
It’s super important for me to be part of a collective full of amazing and talented girls. We love and support each other and frequently work together on projects which makes them way more special. It’s definitely made me feel more comfortable in my own skin, having a strong unit around me to pick me up, work with me and also to know that the girls really support and understand what I’m doing in my work.

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