Alia Wilhelm: Relationships and Intimacy on Film

Rookie Mag contributer Alia Wilhelm set herself a project to document intimate moments between couples. She chose to shoot this sries on film and talked to us about her reasons for this.

Photos:Alia Wilhelm

Tell us about yourself?

My name is Alia Wilhelm and I am a 25-year-old illustrator, photographer and video editor based in London. I am a regular contributor at Rookie Mag, Tavi Gevinson's online publication for teenage girls. I write and illustrate comics, curate playlists, make collages and GIFs, put together annotated photo series and occasionally write pieces for the website. I am decidedly indecisive about which medium to commit to; I love them all equally, especially when they're mixed together. Identity and introspection are usual themes in my work since these are both things I think about a lot.

Photos:Alia Wilhelm

Explain this series of photographs and what they're about?

Well, what began as a pretty straightforward photo series sort of wormed its way into my heart. I pitched the idea to Rookie in January, saying that I wanted to photograph the intimate moments between couples, then do a little Q&A with each of them about their relationship. It was an incredibly interesting experience that took me all over London. I hopped on and off buses, biked in the rain, walked around places I’d never been and was welcomed into the house of strangers, where they were then open enough to let me see their love stories. It sounds cheesy but witnessing that intimacy between two people, over and over again, meant a lot to me. I was let in by people who didn’t know me, made privy to some really beautiful moments. I guess essentially it’s a photo series about love; it’s about capturing those moments of mutual vulnerability between two people and the whole world they’ve created between themselves, with time and patience and a little bit of luck. I loved the project so much that I’m going to continue with it in my own time and maybe one day I’ll make an exhibit out of it.

Photos:Alia Wilhelm

Why did you choose to shoot these on film?

I find that shooting on film is a way more intense and immersive experience than shooting with a digital camera. It makes me a more creative photographer. I love that I can’t see what my pictures look like during the process; I can’t turn the camera around to check for flaws in the photos, which would take me out of the experience and put me in a different headspace. I need to trust that it’s going to turn out as it should. When I let myself be guided by my intuition like that, my photos turn out a thousand times better. I also love that using film requires your subjects to put quite a lot of trust in you because they can’t flag photos they don’t like or check that they look okay. Ironically I think that actually makes them let go more, which makes for better pictures.

Photos:Alia Wilhelm

How does film change your way of photographing?

It makes me pay tribute to what’s natural. I like that you have to work within the confines of a certain ISO and, because of that, you make do with whatever light you have at that moment in time. I guess you could go to the other extreme and work with that constraint by using lots of external light sources but I like to just accept what things look like at that moment in time and go with it. I’m opposed to manufacturing moments, having pictures feel posed or artificial. I like capturing someone in action, right as they’re in the middle of an emotion. It’s a journalistic approach through an artistic lens. I look through the viewfinder and that’s it - never at the back of the camera since obviously there’s no digital preview there. That means that I’m super involved in what I’m seeing, I’m really in tune with the subject, with the light, with everything about that moment.

Photos:Alia Wilhelm

What's coming up in 2018?

Well, some big changes in my personal life first of all, which I’m sure will affect my work. Next week I’ll be moving to Melbourne for a few months, to take a shot at freelancing out there. I’d like to focus more on photography and illustration, less on video. I’ll keep this couples’ project going and do more travel photography when I’m out there.

For more information visit Alia's website or see the full project with interviews at

2018-02-26 #people #film #london #relationships #rookie-mag #alia-wilhelm

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