Exposure: Penny Mills

Gem Fletcher profiles the work of set designer Penny Mills, who brings fantasies to life in her work for photographers and brands

Space lies at the core of design, but we rarely reflect on its role in photography. The dimensions, proportions, materials, colour and texture employed in a space can shift our mood, trigger memories and impact our experience in profound ways. David Adjaje describes space as opportunities for “agency, transformation and storytelling. They are deeply emotive structures which form our psyche,” he explains. “People think they’re just things they manoeuvre through, but the make up of a person is influenced by the nature of spaces.”

This sentiment resonates deeply for London-based set designer Penny Mills, who spent the first 14 years of her life travelling between France, Mauritius and Nairobi. “When I think about my upbringing, I think about it in terms of space,” Mills tells me. “I was exposed to the most incredible visual inspiration, from tropical environments and the coral reef to constantly shifting architecture. At the time, I didn’t realise I was absorbing it all, but it had such a big impact on my life.”

This early exposure to something unfixed and ever-changing feels integral to Mills’ storytelling. Her designs are malleable and often open to interpretation, holding space for the viewer to put themselves into the work.

Top: Dazed Beauty shot by Benjamin Madgwick; Above: G-Shock, shot by Jenny Brough. All images courtesy Penny Mills