Emma Elizabeth Tillman (née Garr) grew up on a boat in the harbor of Santa Barbara, between the push of an American Riviera and the pull of those apostate burnouts who, beyond the polish of The Waterfront established a rundown refuge called The Wilderness House. This schism gave rise to a kind of camaraderie and bohemian sensibility which deeply influences her life and work today.

Emma likens herself to an idle dilettante but her uncharted directness and sincerity in capturing these profoundly intimate, unsanctioned acts in the split of seconds disproves that premise entirely. Her collection of photographs are underpinned by a formidable sense of tension and seduction which never teeters on sensationalism though they do convey a characteristically arresting nature and in terms of the latter, a self assured femininity. This interplay between the quiet and dulcet, the pitch black, veiled and the haunting command a raw and very real vulnerability. Intentional or not.

This is the kind of person that topples the notion of a professional title with a role offset as both voyeur and contender. The sangfroid beyond the state of undress with which we’re acquainted in Emma's work challenges all traditional theories of the female model, artist and muse and coalesces into something truly exquisite. 

"I’m a secretive bastard. I would never let anybody watch me painting… it would be like somebody watching you have sex - painting is that personal to me."
Andrew Wyeth

Where did you grow up and how did that shape your formative years stylistically?

I grew up in Santa Barbara California USA. It’s a beautiful town on the beach with lots of burn outs and loadies hidden beneath the charm of the place. I was attracted to those people and that part of the landscape from a very early age. I was mostly a loner as a little girl, but as a teenager I came into contact with a couple of men that lived in a very rundown place wedged in between the freeway and the train tracks. Their bare but carefully tended to lifestyle of laziness and intuition was attractive. My friendship with them formed a lot of what I continue to appreciate stylistically.

Tell us about the other places you've lived and those you've visited that have stuck with you, how are they reflected in your aesthetic and creative sensibilities? 

I lived for a long time in Santa Barbara, way after all my school friends left, which fostered my natural proclivity toward seclusion. I lived in Copenhagen for a year and some. I was alone there, in a nice little apartment across the street from a church and an old folks home. I used to ride my bicycle by the old folks home on my way to the grocery store a couple of times a week. There was always the same old man in black glasses who sat in his window when I passed. I always waved and blew kisses to him. He would blow kisses to me too. He was my favorite person there. I also spent a winter in far Western France on the beach in a cottage with no running water and electricity. It was very, very lonely but I was able revive my interest in taking pictures while I was there, which had disappeared for a few years prior. So I have to thank France for that.

Tell us what you love about your current home/city and what you could live without. Where would you like to explore next and why?

I live in Los Angeles, with my fiancé and we live on a very quiet hill, down a long menacing driveway with horses and junk piles in a very strange and tiny adobe house. Just one room. This is my favorite part of the city because when you go down into the crush of humanity that is Los Angeles, it’s just a lot of billboards and people walking their dogs over the bodies of homeless people. I’m making myself laugh while I ssy this. It’s not that bad and there was a time when I derived a lot of creative energy from this city. As far as what is next, Josh and I are planning on leaving California behind for the mysterious, twisted, humid charm of the Southern United States.

Who are the artists/authors/auteurs that inspire you? Which experiences, encounters and environments have guided you?

When I was a little girl I was in love with the writers of the Transcendental Meditation School, all deriving from and around Concord, Massachusetts in the North Eastern United States. Emerson, Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorn and Louisa May Alcott. Reading their novels and journals was the first time I was able to completely leave the reality of being a child in the time and place in which I was living and be taken into a dream world. Once, when I was twenty three I was staying in a small town in the desert during the winter, which was bitter and really windy, which will drive you insane. I was in a coffee shop and a homeless man came in with a guitar and asked if he could play some songs. I thought, “Oh here we go.” And kept reading my book. When he started playing and singing it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. Afterwards I asked him to sit at my table and talk. He was drunk and told me all about his life, which I was interested in. He told me he was playing that evening at a hotel bar and would I stay with him until I played. I said that I couldn’t and still regret it.  I am currently very inspired by the writer Edgar Oliver, about whom I will only say that his readings are on YouTube.

What impelled you to pick up a camera?

There was a photography class offered at an after school art program that I attended, and I don’t remember what interested me then, but I was about 13 and also learned to develop photos in the darkroom. I think at that time the seduction of photography was about immediacy, and vanity. It was something beautiful I could do with very little effort and because I am lazy, that was probably as appealing then as it is now. I’ve gone through several long dry spells since then, where I forget that I ever even was a person who took pictures. Sometimes I think about when that will happen again, because I’ve been very inspired in the last few years and inevitably it will fade away for a time.

What are the main elements you look to bring together in your photographs? How do your ideas come to you and do they evolve or change as you go? 

Any photograph that I’ve ever thought about just looks terrible. Real amateur crap. I cannot be thinking about it or put pressure on myself to take a picture, which I am liable to do. Ideas tend to come to me anywhere between 5 minutes and 5 seconds before I take a picture and the times I bring my camera somewhere are usually the least likely times I end up taking a photo. I take most of my pictures in my mind. I was in the shower earlier actually and I was holding my hands in the water when I noticed the light from the window was shining across, illuminating my hands and the water. I took a picture in my mind. They go away after that, I can’t really retrieve them after I’ve done it but I continue to do it and have done it for so long it’s just a habit. 

Where is the starting point for you when taking a photo? What influences the action, composition and lighting?

It is so simple. It just has to feel right.

Can you tell us about your favourite photo? One of your own or one from someone you admire?

My own photos are inevitably my favorite because it is my world and an image that I completely understand. I reserve my admiration mostly to other realms of creativity. My true favorites are the pictures that I don’t put on my websites because they are just too personal. The most recent favorite photo is of my fiancé in bed eating oatmeal. Every time I look at it I get the most incredible wave of pleasure that washes over me. I could never put it on the internet because there’s just too much in it. There is too much revealed between us in the picture. Maybe I’ll put out a book someday and include all these pictures and people will be like “What was she talking about? These are so boring!”

What's involved in your creative process? How do you like to work and what kind of mindset or conditions produce the best results?

I am very slow, I am starting to figure out that my process is so internal and subconscious that I don’t even know it’s happening. I have absolutely no will to remember the technical details of the camera I am using. I had a very old Pentax Camera for a few years where the aperture was stuck on 2.8 and I didn’t even notice. I have never memorized the details required to be a professional, and by all professional standards I am an embarrassment! I rely purely on intuition and by my ability to inhabit the people and places that I photograph. I do know I have that talent.

How would you describe your impetus to create? What motivates you and how do you pacify your mind when you need a break?

My drive to create is fairly mysterious to me. It has mostly to do with exploring the machinery of my own inner landscape. I’m not interested having lots of physical experiences in order to be stimulated and to feel filled up. There’s a darker and more inviting truth to me which has everything to do with my own soul.

When I feel that I need a break or when I am not doing something creative, which is often, (because as I said, I am very slow coming to personal innovation) I like domesticity. I like laundry and cleaning and cooking and doing the dishes. It makes me feel like I am tapping into a singularity that is bigger than myself. People must cook and clean and do laundry.

Tell us about your philosophy on life love and creativity. 

Convenience is the enemy of mankind!