Building a world with Sophia Wilson & Paul Hill

Sophia Wilson and Paul Hill are both native New Yorkers who are wunderkinds in their own right. The two of them have been collaborating in ways that personally remind me of world building. Sophia and Paul connect people together while creating a space that help enable the people within their orbit. Sophia have been photographing professionally since she was 16, shooting for brands like Vice, Nike, Refinery29 and more. Paul is known for his multi-approach arts platform and community, Strada. Naturally curious of new models for collaborations and artist support, Paul has experimented with a diverse, technologically driven ways to nurture creative ecosystems.

Despite their seemingly stratospheric successes, Sophia and Paul keep it pretty low key. With the recent opening of a new, permanent space for Strada and Sophia’s exhibition, “Lovers & Friends” – we caught up with the two through the world’s favorite mode of communication, emails.

– Alex Thebez

Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Sophia Wilson: My name is Sophia Wilson, I just turned 23, I’m a born and raised New Yorker and a photographer and visual artist. I’ve been working professionally for about 10 years now, which is totally crazy. I sometimes appear in front of the lens as well. Work and traveling for work eats up most of my time, but aside from that I just like hanging out with my friends and I’m really into fashion as well.

Paul Hill: I’m Paul Hill, born and raised in NYC. I like making community-centered & tech-backed solutions to problems I notice. Right now, specifically focused on the art world. You can call me a gallerist, and I’m also a student at Columbia wrapping up my undergrad. Outside of work you’ll find me listening to music every minute of the day and looking for the next outdoor adventure.

How did you two first meet?

S: We met my first semester of NYU at a rooftop party — a mutual friend at the time introduced us and I’m so glad she did. We stayed friends on and off for a few years before dating.

P: What she said ^. Only downside of being friends first was that she didn’t know our first date was a real date until after the dinner I invited her to.

Sophia, tell us a little bit on how you got into photography?

S: I got into photography in middle school (~2012) once Instagram came out. I’ve always been into art and it suddenly felt more accessible with social media so I cold reached out to a ton of editors (one of them being Elizabeth) and started working for publications like VICE, I-D, and Refinery29 at the time. The rest is history.

Paul, how would you describe your creative practice?

P: I’m obsessed with ecosystem development – it’s what I think about everyday. My creative practice as of late is creating Strada, a community- centered, tech backed solution to the problems I’ve noticed in the art world. I feel like calling it a “gallery” is the most digestible term for the art world, which is pretty archaic, but obviously we do much more than the average gallery.

What draws you to each other?

S: Paul is a huge teddy bear. His stature seems intimidating but he is the biggest sweetie and I’ve always really loved that about him. I’m also drawn to his spontaneity, his creativity, his really relaxed and worry-free nature, his ability to make friends wherever he goes. He’s so charismatic. I also find it wonderful how fearless he is in life, because I feel like it matches my level of fearlessness, which is so rare. Oh — and I’m totally drawn to his smile!

P: Haha, I don’t think there’s enough space to list out everything but I’ll try. Sophia is the most uniquely brilliant person I know. Her perspective on life is inspiring and her presence is invigorating. I’m very glad that even if for some reason everything in our lives were to fall apart, having each other’s company is fulfilling enough.

How long have you been together in each other’s lives? How has your relationship changed over the time you’ve known each other?

S: We’ve known each other for about 5 years, but have only been dating for about 3. Crazy because it doesn’t even feel like that long at all! When we started dating I was a teenager so we’ve definitely changed a lot since then. I do think that the biggest thing that’s changed is Paul’s career. He started Strada a year into our relationship and it’s been pretty life-changing for Paul which has been so beautiful to watch.

P: We first officially started dating during quarantine in 2020 when I lived in Iowa for a year. At that time my rural world was very still & peaceful. I’m grateful for having that time to be able to just focus on one another without any pressure from work or school. The difference between then and now is now everyday is jam-packed for both of us. We have to intentionally create time for one another and discover ways of making moments that are rejuvenating. Obviously, with any strong relationship, we’re always building on communication which we seem to keep growing every month.

How have you supported each other in your career? Are there areas that you rely on the other person either in your personal or creative lives?

S: I think just being there for each other day-to-day with constant motivation and love has been the most helpful way for us to support one another in our careers. While I have shot a handful of Paul’s campaigns and shown in some of his exhibitions, I’m not too keen on mixing work with personal life in general. I do love that we get to be each other’s number one cheerleaders, though.

P: We balance each other out super well. Sophia is incredible with finding quick solutions to immediate problems, and I do best with strategic planning for a longterm goal. Problems with work, life, or just people in general, that would take us days or weeks to sort out independently, we’re able to solve together in just a few hours most of the time. Outside of that we don’t really work together on projects, I prefer to keep personal relationships and work separate.

How has your relationship influenced your approach to your creative practice?

S: I really value Paul’s creative opinion so I often ask him to critique my work, which is really helpful. We also share advice — I help him write emails and he helps me out with pitch decks, etc. Paul has given me some of the wisest advice that has allowed me to be at ease with balancing commercial jobs with personal shoots.

P: Soph has introduced me to a more fun and lighthearted approach to building and making things. I’ve found that many people often take the approach to creating far too seriously than necessary so that the end result lacks a human touch. Take a look at the average traditional gallery for instance, where most people can feel the cold and unapproachable atmosphere before even walking in. It’s been inspiring to see someone like Soph, as successful as she is, lead a creative practice that feels extremely human and reflects the skill and dedication of someone who’s been working professionally for the past 10 years.

Who are some working / living creatives who inspire you? Why?

S: Currently I’m really inspired by David LaChapelle. I love a lot of editorial and commercial photo work from the early 2000’s, not just because I’m a Y2K baby, but also for its use of humor, lightheartedness, bright colors, campy props, and bold lighting techniques. I am also really inspired by the Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yoko Ono, Studio 54 era. I love hearing stories of these household names growing up right where I live when they were my age, hustling to completely take over the downtown scene with their art.

P: All of my biggest inspirations are individuals who have broken boundaries in their fields. Even though I don’t make music, my biggest living creative inspirations are all musicians—Andre 3000, Young Thug, Phillip Glass, Madonna, and “He who can’t be named” of course. Personally, I’ve been more inspired by people who have skills that seem the farthest out of reach for me.

What are some of your anxieties for the future? What makes you hopeless on some days? What makes you hopeful on others?

S: Health and happiness. I struggle with mental health a lot so I always feel like I’m in this constant battle to stay healthy and happy.

P: We’re about to open a new 5,500 sq ft permanent Strada gallery space in SoHo right next to LES. This has been a huge source of anxiety for me, but also the potential for what it can be is equally as exciting. It’s a very nerve-racking experience, but the best advice I’ve received from multiple successful people within the fine arts world regarding this situation is that taking a risk is a crucial step to the process of creating a huge impact.

What aspirations do you have for each other?

S: I hope all of our dreams come true together. It’s such a beautiful thing to grow into a household name alongside somebody you love, so I am very much looking forward to that with Paul and I. We also talk about having a beautiful house on a lake together someday, that would be amazing.

P: That lake house (or cliffside beach crib) is about to go crazy. Definitely looking forward to designing everything from scratch the most.

What are some of the unique challenges in each of your field?

S: Knowing when to say no to certain projects. Also not comparing yourself to others — the internet makes it seem like everybody’s always accomplishing so much when most of it is really fabricated.

P: Telling myself to slow down. Strada has grown a ton in the past two years, but we’re not where I want to be just yet. Now, I’m focusing on slowing down on innovation and making sure we’re cultivating the branches we’ve built (and still building.) Learning to be a bit more patient with myself.

Do you have a playlist that you share with each other? Could you share a link with us?

S: Paul has made some playlists for me, those are my favorite playlists ever.

P: Love playlists – most of mine are private but here’s my most recent one I made public for y’all. My Favorite song from the playlist is Mystery by Fabiana Palladino.

This article is part of TAGTAGTAG’s release “Together.” Originally appeared on TAGTAGTAG