Photographing teenage girlhood in the late 90s

For seven years, Angela Hill captured her young muse, Sylvia, at different moments of her adolescence.

Angela Hill is the co-founder of London's favourite independent bookstore IDEA. Alongside David Owen, she's been in the business of collecting and selling ultra-rare, ultra-out-there photo books since the late 1990s, when the pair were first enlisted to stock vintage tomes in the now-closed (but forever revolutionary) Colette store in Paris. These days, in addition to their incomparable offering of collectable books — stocked online and in Dover Street Market — the pair are also the minds behind some of the most spectacular new visual titles to have come out of the last decade. With a library of artists that includes Collier Schorr, Davide Sorrenti, Willy Vanderperre, Glen Luchford, and Nadia Lee Cohen in their publishing wing, it's fair to say that when it comes to photo books, no one's touching IDEA.

What some might not know about Angela, though, is that she's an incredibly gifted photographer herself. This month, after years of bringing other artists' books to life, she is at long last to release her first publication with her name on the cover. Titled Sylvia, the book in question is a tender years-long study of one girl, Sylvia Mann, who Angela photographed intermittently through the late 90s and early 00s for magazines like Dazed, EXIT, and Purple. Rendered in dreamy, pared-back portraits shot in her family home and the wild woodlands which surround it, the project charts Sylvia between the pivotal ages of 11 to 18, as she transforms from a child into a young woman. An exercise in pure photographic simplicity, the resulting book is a heartfelt document of girlhood and all its various phases of awkwardness, joy and self-discovery. 

Angela's no bells and whistles approach to image-making is described best by artist Nadia Lee Cohen, who has published two perpetually sold out books with IDEA and authors the foreword to Sylvia. In it, she writes: "Angela Hill may not dress like a punk, but to me, she takes photos like one. Her team is non-existent, no make-up, lighting, styling, devoid of the usual paraphernalia. Angela just shows up with her camera, probably wearing a cap, jeans and maybe something from Hermès slung over her shoulder. What I'm trying to say is that Angela Hill isn't really a pre-planner, and to me, this is a magical fairy-like quality of which I am forever envious."

This sense of natural ease is felt throughout the jumbled years and pages of the book, which are purposefully not arranged in chronological order. Shot in Angela's strikingly simple style, they capture Sylvia just as she is — traipsing through the woods with camping gear, wrapping herself in towels in her bathroom, slurping down juice boxes, and peering down trees mid-climb. Alongside snapshots of domestic stillness and natural beauty, the book also features recurring scenes of Sylvia travelling in the backseat of a car, evoking the childhood sensation of being on long family drives, gazing out the window and daydreaming of alternate realities. 
Aside from their bond as photographer and muse, Angela and Sylvia's connection is explained by a shared love of nature — a commonality which is evident in Angela's warm descriptions of her own teenage years. "Nature has always been important to me," she says. "My father was a bird watcher, so I spent many, many weekends going to bird reserves in Essex and Norfolk. I grew up at one end of the Central Line, and I had the best of both worlds. At the weekend, I would go horse riding through Epping Forest, and after school, I would jump on the tube up to Bond Street to Vivienne Westwood's shop or to Kensington Market and Hyper Hyper. Sunday afternoon drives were always me and my parents going to Richmond, Tunbridge Wells or Bath, and I would come home exhausted and happy, full of ideas and inspiration which I have always kept with me as I shoot." 


The years of young womanhood have, of course, been captured on camera by many photographers. As a publisher and avid photo book lover, Angela's favourite explorations of the subject include a publication called Cathy, which captures a young Kate Bush in portraits taken by her brother, John Carder Bush; and the revolutionary, stripped-back work of Corinne Day. "I knew her in the late 80s and admired her work from the moment she first showed me a small print of Kate Moss, her arms around a boy walking along a street," she says. "I think it was her first picture of Kate, and she showed it to me when we were both in Milan ‘testing', as it was called." 
Angela's varied endeavours as a book collector, publisher and photographer are all united by one thing — "everything has to have a meaning to me personally," she says. But what, in her decades of experience, makes the difference between a good photo book and a truly special one? "The feel. As soon as I pick something up I know if it feels put together with genuine love and care. The actual resolution of the photographs or their composition are not so important as the feelings the book invokes in me. It has to have resonance, meaning, a soul.”
‘Sylvia’ is available to purchase here.




Source: I-D

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