ARTS & CULTURE
08/14/2014 08:51 am ET | Updated Aug 18, 2014

Every Year Since 1974, This Artist Has Photographed Herself In Nothing But Her 'Birthday Suit' (NSFW)

Photographer Lucy Hilmer has spent the last 40 years bringing new, poetic meaning to the phrase "Birthday Suit." Since 1974, the San Francisco-based artist has snapped a self-portrait of herself wearing nothing but a pair of shoes, socks and her signature white "Lolly Pop" drawers.

In the series, she's pictured topless, assuming positions as ambiguous as staring into the sprawling ocean or pointedly powerful as gazing into the camera with a child feeding from her breasts. In total, she's created a visual history of her own life filled with equal parts vulnerability and pride, mystery and revelation.

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All images © Lucy Hilmer

"Birthday Suits" began as a singular self-portrait, with no intention of becoming a life-long series. "I had just started studying photography in San Francisco, and went to Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, CA on a lark, and as a kind of homage to [Michelangelo] Antonioni and his film about the counter culture," Hilmer explained to HuffPost. "I set out to make a picture of myself in my 'birthday suit' because in those days the saying was you couldn’t trust anyone over 30. In 1974, when I turned 29, I figured I’d immortalize myself on the last good year I had left."

Hilmer took several photographs that day, but the one that stood out was an image in her underpants. "I recognized that person more than the skin-deep girl posing in the other frames of film," she recalled. "That girl in her underpants was vulnerable, open, awkward -- she was me."

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All images © Lucy Hilmer

So every birthday after that, she reenacted the pose. She was, in her own words, obsessed with time and the notion that we're all "slip-sliding away, becoming different versions of ourselves before we know it." In the process, she found herself shedding the identity of a "girl child" of the 1950s, winding her own way into the narrative of a blossoming feminist movement.

"I came of age before women’s lib, and wanted to buck the stereotypes of a culture that branded me a pretty girl, thin enough
to be a fashion model and not much more," she proclaimed. "Armed with my camera and tripod, I found a way to define myself on my own terms in the most authentic way I could."

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All images © Lucy Hilmer

More than just documenting the passage of time, Hilmer records a symbolic language understood not only by herself and her loved ones, many of whom are visible in the portraits, but by the viewer as well. Crouching in a nest of dead tree limbs or standing firmly on the side of a highway, the intricacies of the scenes may make little sense to the onlooker, but the message of one confident woman can hardly be missed. Feeling naked and exposed is an essentially human feeling, as is the desire to be seen and heard.

"What I’ve learned [from this series] goes far deeper than what can be expressed in a photograph. But the photograph has been a marker for me, an indication of a deeper truth. What I’ve learned is that I’m really no different from anyone else, and the truths we share are so often hidden. What I think I’ve done in these self-portraits is to strip off a layer or two to reveal some of those truths that are universal."

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All images © Lucy Hilmer

Though Hilmer has been producing photography since the 1970s, she's spent the last 10 years focusing on presenting her work to the public. After receiving recognition from the folks at FotoFest Houston in 2012, she was named a 2014 Emerging Talent winner on Lens Culture . At 69-years-old, the award has already had a profound impact on her career, catapulting her images to platforms across the Internet.

"It's mind boggling to one who's essentially a hermit at heart. I've been getting wonderful emails full of love and gratitude from people all over the world." Her next step? If all goes well, a book. "At the moment my biggest goal is to find a quality publisher."

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All images © Lucy Hilmer

Scroll through a preview of Hilmer's works below and let us know your thoughts on the series in the comments.

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All images © Lucy Hilmer

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All images © Lucy Hilmer

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All images © Lucy Hilmer

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