“Representation is everything”: Sophia Wilson on photographing real people with diverse body types

Ever since her first gig aged 14, the NYC-based photographer has made it her mission to increase diversity in the media.

Date
9 June 2022

Sophia Wilson has not one but a few big flexes. The first is that she was just 14/15-years-old when she became a professional photographer, making her “one of the youngest contributors” to i-D, Vice and Vogue among others. And if that doesn’t make you gawp with amazement, then simply have a gander at her portfolio and you’ll pick up on her other big flex: her impeccable eye for documenting girlhood and increasing diversity in the industry.

It’s clear that Sophia always knew she wanted to be a photographer. As we speak, the New Yorker is currently studying at NYU but taking a gap year – a much-needed break from all the travelling she’s accrued for work. Ever since her first gigs as a young teenager, Sophia has been working hard – and we mean hard – at her practice, building on her increasing client base with commissions for the likes of Google, Nike, Instagram, Vans, and with work published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Paper Magazine and many more. What ties everything together, though – from the personal work to commercial – is her avid passion for telling stories, especially that of Black girlhood.

“Growing up,” she tells It’s Nice That, “I didn’t see very many people that looked like me in front of or behind the lens, and it had a really negative effect on the way I viewed myself.” In response, Sophia set out to increase diversity in the media through casting “real people with diverse body types”, the antithesis to the models so often gracing the covers of magazines and editorial campaigns. It’s a refreshing and necessary ethos that drives Sophia’s practice, which not only looks personal and captivating but also evokes a sense of “feeling seen” from the viewer, she says. “I especially want to make other little Black girls like myself feel seen in a positive light though my work. Representation is everything.”

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Copyright © Sophia Wilson, 2022

Continue to flick through her works and you’ll notice how time might pass you by a little. This is because there’s something so addictively consuming about her style – the sun-drenched colour palettes, the joyful faces smiling back at the lens – that makes you want pause for a moment and enjoy it. From cheerleading girls launching into the air, concentration face at the ready; to a breastfeeding mother cast from “real lovers/besties”; this is real life we’re looking at, perceived through the lens of Sophia. She has a few of her own favourites, too, the first of which is an image she shot when she was just 15 or 16. Featuring a group standing in colourful attire atop some rocks, it’s an image that will always remain in her heart. “It’s the start of my current style of photography. This was the first time that I executed my colour palette, darkroom techniques, and the idea of happiness and freedom all into my work simultaneously,” she adds. “This one photo definitely has inspired my entire body of work to date.”

More recent works include a saturated photo with two girls decked out in crochet – an image created after learning how to hand print colour negatives in the darkroom. “I decided to use this technique to perfect the tones of Black skin and it came out exactly as I had envisioned,” she shares. In another, Sophia had photographed her friend Salem who she’d met LA. A “special” at that, she says how it marks the time of the “deepest depression of her life” where she felt uninspired for months. This photo pinpoints the moment she felt like a “new person”, having flown out to LA “on a total whim” to make friends and find happiness. Whether for personal reasons or more in the way of the industry, Sophia’s work is utterly cathartic and here to stir change.

GalleryCopyright © Sophia Wilson, 2022

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Copyright © Sophia Wilson, 2022

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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