Q&A With Photographer Tina Hillier

Tina Hillier’s photographic work in the book My Cool Treehouse features in the latest Elle Decoration and her strong photographic style really caught DECO’s attention.  With her work also having featured in the likes of Architectural Digest, Dazed & Confused, Monocle, Sunday Times Magazine and Freunde von Freunden, we asked Tina to share a bit about herself and her work…

Tina, you’ve photographed the best tree houses all over the globe for the book My Cool Treehouse (featured in Elle Decoration this month). Which was your favourite and why? They were all special but I have two favourites!  Pen y Bryn (meaning Top of the Hill in Welsh) which is set in a forest in a beautiful mountainous remote part of Wales. No internet, no phone reception and no electricity, just a gas hob and candles. Being self-sufficient and completely cut off from ‘normal life’ was deeply satisfying. Chopping wood for the log burner, cooking meals up a tree, waiting for the owls to come out and then waking up to frost on the ground and a steaming open air shower on the forest floor with water heated from the log burner over night.

The second was Chalkey’s at Lion Sands. There’s nothing that makes you feel more alive than sleeping alone up a tree with a lion roaring beneath you! I was very proud of myself for not radioing the ranger in the middle of the night!

What other unusual places have you stayed in for a work trip? I shared a cabin with a journalist on a boat for three weeks during an expedition to Antarctica.  Luckily we got on like a house on fire but it’s enough to test most relationships to the limits!

How does being a photographer change your perspective on how you view the world? I think it makes me a more informed conscious person about the world.  It’s part of my job to know what’s going on where and that’s very interesting to me – following the news but also the work of other photographers and journalists covering different issues while also thinking about my own projects.  The more conscious we are collectively the better understanding we have of each other and the more likely it is we will be be able to work together towards positive change.

Digital or film?  Both! Film is more beautiful, more sensual somehow but digital is easier, cheaper, faster.

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Icons?  Too many to mention but looking at my bookshelf now two favourites are by the Mexican photographer, Graciela Iturbide and Eikoh Hosoe from Japan. I love good painting exhibitions and am lucky to be in London for that.  Some great recent exhibitions include Agnes Martin and Sonia Delauney, both very inspiring characters. I also love the classics, portraits by Van Gogh, Modigliani, Gauguin, Egon Schiele and interiors by Matisse.  Amazing colour palettes that stay in your mind.

Next place on your list to discover? Japan.

Ultimate work project? The dream for most photographers is probably to be sent somewhere for a decent amount of time. Usually the budget just isn’t there to become immersed somewhere and really get to understand a place. That’s why doing my own long term projects is so rewarding but more difficult to fund obviously.

You appear to have travelled a great deal through your work. Top three places and why? One of my favourite quotes by Doris Lessing springs to mind. ‘You may live in a place for months, even years, and it does not touch you, but a weekend or a night in another, and you feel as if your whole being has been sprayed with an equivalent of a cosmic wind.’ (Under My Skin, 1994). It doesn’t necessarily matter where you are, it’s more to do with the particular experience you have there and that can be quite random…the people you share it with, the particular time in your life, a break you really needed.

One way ticket to anywhere – where would it be? That would suggest I would never come home again and that would never do!

Home is…Coming back to friends and family, the brilliant people who make life good.

Biggest work mistake you’ve ever had the misfortune to make? There have probably been a few but thankfully no client has ever noticed. I love the South Africanism to ‘Make a Plan’. There’s a lot of that in this industry!

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Theme song to your life: I share my studio with a couple of other photographers and if anyone is having a bad day this gets played very loudly: ’Things Can Only Get Better’ by D:Ream. It’s hilariously cheesy and uplifting. I have also been playing Bryan Ferry’s Johnny & Mary (2014) on repeat recently and stuff by Sharon Van Etten and Future Islands. Mostly I listen to BBCs 6 Music or Spotify.

What essentials are in your bag before you set off somewhere new and exotic to photograph? After the cameras have gone in (film and digital) my swimsuit goes in.  I never miss an opportunity to dive into any kind of water source be it a wild river or a hotel pool!

Your photographs are beautifully emotive and atmospheric. It seems as though there is no line between commercial and editorial work with your personal portfolio? Yes I think that’s both conscious and unconscious. It’s important if you are commissioned based on your personal work that the job has a similar feeling. But it comes fairly naturally to me. I’m responding to my surroundings on an intuitive level so I’ll always be drawn to a similar aesthetic, the same nuances, details, subtleties in how light falls and how someone looks etc.

You’ve returned a number of times to South Africa. What draws you here over and above other places? Initially I was sent there for 6 months to work on a travel guide and I met some very special people who have become life long friends.  I started doing my own projects and just became more and more fascinated and involved with the country. It’s completely infectious. It has an extraordinary energy and it’s a very exciting place to live and work. There are stories on every street corner. It makes London feel kind of sleepy!

Instagram is… Challenging for someone who likes being off the grid and immersed in projects! But it’s a great free platform that I’m starting to embrace more and more.

Photographs by Tina Hillier


LEARN MORE ABOUT TINA HILLIER:
instagram @misstinahillier | Represented by Kiosk www.wearekiosk.com


Liked This? 

Then you may want to read The Light Fantastic: Paul Barbera’s Photography and Discover Adam Hill’s Mind-Blowing Photography


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The Winter Issue is all about de-cluttering, de-teching and slowing everything down. Packed with inspiration and ideas for making your home a sanctuary, we share the ultimate comfort food recipes, master the art of nesting and take you on a tour of the dreamiest hideaways. Pick up your copy today and tell us what you think on Twitter @Elle_Deco using #WinterIssue.

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