If you lived in Auckland between 2010 - 2018 and you’re interested in fashion, chances are you’ve either met Imogen Wilson or come across her work.
Originally from Wellington, the creative powerhouse called Tāmaki Makaurau her stomping ground for almost a decade. It’s where she cut her teeth as a young stylist in the red-hot era of indie sleaze (when Lonely Hearts and Stolen Girlfriends Club were the epitome of cool), photographed for magazines like Oyster, VICE and i-D, and established the (now-closed) talent agency The Others with Angela Bevan in 2016.
Known in the industry for her playful eye and lo-fi style, Imogen made the move to Sydney in 2018, where she has since set-up her casting and scouting service, Mimi Casting. On top of running a business and working as a photographer and stylist for the likes of Benee, Imogen continued to chip away on her personal project, Dreams, a photography book which was released via Bad News Books last month.
Captured on her travels through Japan and Australia between 2019-2022, Dreams delves into a melting pot of subcultures and explores ideas of youth, adventure, identity, motherhood and friendship.
To celebrate the book launch, family and friends (including myself), gathered at a neon-lit gallery in the heart of Sydney's Chinatown, followed by a pop-up event with collaborators including designer Niamh Galea of Ramp Tramp Tramp Stamp, jeweller Annemieke Ytsma of Underground Sundae and Melbourne hair stylist Madison Finn, who Imogen photographed for Dreams while pregnant with her daughter.
For as long as I’ve known Imogen (we met as teenage ratbags), I’ve been impressed by her Momager work ethic, stylistic digital integrity (her website cursor shoots sparkles!) and her ability to pull a diverse and creative crowd, seemingly in her sleep. Only, I know now this is all the result of her extremely online habits. Imogen always gets it done, so I set out to learn more about her screen time and digital prowess.
How many emails do you typically receive in a day?
I get about 10-100 emails a day which can get overwhelming, but there is no way around it other than calls, which I tend to do more of. Folders and subfolders are important. Archiving old threads. Tagging what’s unread. I’m a Capricorn and semi OCD so I enjoy organising admin which is lucky.
We need to see the subfolders, please.
What sites or apps do you use the most?
Instagram, sadly. My inbox, via Spark. Airtable is a life changer for all things project management, not to mention the entire Mimi Casting Network is in there! My notes app for everything: lists, journaling, keywords and thoughts.
What sorts of media influenced you growing up?
Dolly magazine, iD, Pavement, Russh magazine in the early days with Tamila Purvis, when it was more undone and super Aussie. Francesca Burns. Julia Sarr-Jamois, OG Fashion East Labels; Luella Barltey, Giles Deacon.
What’s your earliest internet memory?
Dial Up, and trying to kick off whoever was on the phone if I wanted the line.
What was the first phone you had?
Nokia 2280. Then a Blackberry.
What is your phone now?
iPhone 13 Mini <3
What was the last screenshot you took?
What are your most used emojis?
Your YouTube go-to?
What’s your email sign off?
Social media gets a lot of bad press. What do you love and what do you dislike?
Yeah, it’s definitely a good/bad situation. If I didn't have to have it for work, I probably wouldn't have it for a while. In saying that, it can be a beautiful way to connect and some of my biggest projects and relationships have come through social media, so I'm very happy for that. People can see my work from all around the world and I don't have to have an agent or be published in magazines, and more traditional outlets like that. So everyone kind of gets a shot in that sense.
I think social media is really good, if you have the right headspace to deal with it properly. I think the pressure around performing on social media is a lot. I've given up trying to care about how well my posts do on Instagram, but the performance thing definitely rocks some people, like their following and things like that.
For me, if someone doesn't like what you post and they unfollow you, well that's someone who's not interested anymore, and that's so fine. You just want people tuning into your work who like it and care about it, and maybe it inspires them.
What is your approach to Instagram?
Don't overthink it, if you do it will fuck with you. Post what you want, not what people want to see and stay true to yourself in that capacity. What you don't want to put out, don't.
I'm very private on my Instagram, like not really, but most of my Instagram is my work and my process day to day, not actually me and my face and my body and things like that. I love when people do that, but I just haven't much and sometimes I dip into that but just tune into what you want to do and not what others want to see.
Thoughts on TikTok?
I have a TikTok from Mimi Casting which I hardly ever open. I think it's an awesome platform creatively, but pretty much all the stuff I see on it I don't really understand why it's funny or popular, but I think that's just a generational thing. Wrapping my head around another form of social media every day is a lot, lol. Creating videos takes a lot of time so yeah, I don't hate it but I'm not quite there yet.
What’s your relationship with Facebook?
Marketplace and Messenger.
You work so much with digital media. Why was it important for you to make a physical book?
As a working creative, most of what I’m producing is for other people. I'm lucky that I like pretty much all of my client work, but it's always related to promoting someone or something. For me, a physical book was important for my personal work. I wanted the photos I started taking and collecting to be in a physical form, something really special.
I didn’t want to just put them on the internet straight away, I wanted to sit on them and build a series that I was really proud of. All the photos no one had seen before as well, which I think is important when you're producing a book or exhibition, to share something that’s fresh and intimate.
Your photographs in Dreams span 2019-2022, which was a whirlwind time for everyone. How do you feel looking back on them?
The photos feel very nostalgic, just because most of them are shot pre Covid. Being in Japan, of course, was a highlight. I was having a really tricky time in my life and it refreshed me and opened my mind a lot and helped me kind of get back on my feet emotionally and mentally. And creatively, I was so inspired when I was there.
Every year, for the last four years I’ve felt completely different, kind of evolving and growing much faster than I previously had been. So when I look at the photos I'm reminded of that time, whether it was a good or bad or a tricky time, it's a nice check-in point to where I was. Also just knowing that when I took them I didn't plan too much, which I think is the beauty of them and how I take my best photos, it’s also a reminder to keep doing that.
What was it like shooting people you had only met through social media?
Probably half of the subjects [in Dreams] I had met or had relationships with, and a few I hadn't. I think when I'm messaging people online to shoot them, they can see the work I do for clients and for musicians and magazines, and if they like it they generally trust me. I've been pretty lucky.
A lot of the time it was like, “Hey, can I come and take photos of you this weekend?” It’s not, “I have this book or project in mind, you'll get the photos by this time…” There’s a mutual understanding that the photos are just for us, and if something comes after that, it’s a bonus. It’s more about creating a moment, and there's also like, no risk and no pressure. In saying that, whenever there's no pressure, I find the best magic is made, when people really relax.
I’m sure all the shoots were special, but do any moments stand out to you?
Shooting Maina in Japan was really special. She invited me to her family home, about 40 minutes out of Tokyo where she lived with her mum and her grandma. I think that was my first insight into Japanese people living at home with their parents. She had a single bed and she was like 30, so seeing that was cool.
Her grandma made us red bean pancakes with cream and we watched TV. It was just so sweet being welcomed into someone's home without chaos. They were so welcoming, her grandma didn't speak English either but she had her makeup done that day for me and she apparently only wears it on special occasions.
We photographed Maina around her room and the neighbourhood. When we were leaving her house, her grandma goes on the balcony and waves goodbye to Maina until she can't see her anymore. And she was like, “This is why I can't move to LA, my family is so special and beautiful.” That was something that I was really impressed and inspired by.
How do you stay grounded working in your industry and being online a lot?
It's pretty hard, I have a big conflict with being online, emails and social media etc. People don't realise that 90% of my work, whether it's casting or photography, or styling, or art direction, is pre or post-production, which is organising or editing. Only 10% of the job is actually on the shoot. So a lot of emails, phone calls, online mood boards, call sheets. I'm in front of my computer, four or five days a week.
I'm trying to do one day a week where I neglect my phone, the weekend is always good for that. People can call me at any time with opportunities and there's a lot of back and forth, especially with casting. So for me, it's replying in good time, but not as fast as maybe people want me to. Working after hours has been a big one for me in the last year of knowing when to say, “Hey, I'm going to stop working today and if you want me to do something, I'll do it in the morning.” Having boundaries with people is really hard but I think people respond well if your approach is kind and professional. In saying that, I'll always get something done. If I have to pull an all nighter for a deadline, I will.
It’s a hard one for me because everything online is really surrounded by work and promoting what I do, and sometimes I can feel silly for doing that. But that's just what you have to do. You have to learn to not care, people have to see it and you have to keep pushing yourself. You have to reply to messages, there's no way around it, this is just part of the job and I'll be doing it for the rest of my life.
Damn, I needed to hear that. You turned 30 this year, how do you feel about it?
I had a very prolific shift at the start of the year when I turned 30, which I wasn't expecting, but I feel like I kind of needed it. I've been thinking of myself as thirty for a few years in preparation, and I am really proud of where I'm at. There's definitely things that I thought I would have, places I would be or all these things that you think when you're young, by 30, you're gonna have, but I'm just trying not to care. Everyone has a different path, and different obstacles, and you can't compare yourself to anyone.
I suppose the shift has been realising what I want and who I am, and just viewing myself as someone who's 30. Knowing when to still be silly and pretend I'm younger and tune into that, or tuning into being 30 and pretending I'm 35, I don't know. I feel really good about it and I think it's something that people should embrace.
I wouldn't want to be 20 again. Obviously, it's fun but the emotional intelligence that comes with getting older is really rewarding. When you're trying to do as many things as I'm doing, you need that kind of life experience of knowing how to handle things and how to respond to things.