Looking for a feeling with Emma Tillman

Intimate, considered and subtle, Emma Tillman’s photographs have had us captivated long before her husband (singer Father John Misty) stepped into the limelight. And whilst she may have earned thousands of new fans after the success of his second album I love you Honeybear, in which she is the proclaimed muse and inspiration for his complex lyrics and idiosyncratic melodies, Tillman’s accolades are all her own.

We caught up with Emma to find out more about her work, photographing love and not getting instagram.

How did you get into photography?

When I was 12 years old I took an after school class where the students took pictures and learned how to work in the dark room. My mother gave me a camera that had been hers when she was young and I became obsessed with the medium.

Light and shadow play a strong role in your work, what is it that you’re looking for when you take a picture?

I’m looking for a feeling.

Whether your subject is human or an object, there’s strong sense of intimacy in your photographs. What’s your process when you’re working?

I have a gift for communicating my emotions through the lens of a camera. All photographers who take compelling photographs have this gift. There is a supernatural quality to photography that is not often acknowledged, but in my opinion contains all the undeniable fascination of the medium within it.

Your photographs retain a sense of the individual behind the lens, and often you’re in front of it too. Do you find that photography creates and mythologises a character or uncovers the crux of an individual?

It is both. The moment is raw and alive, but somehow also a vitrine of an experience that is just beyond the viewers reach. It is a clear representation of an individual but yet you must put your own imagination into it to complete the story for yourself. It is mercurial, imagination runs wild. That’s the good stuff.

People regularly revel and empathise with other’s misery but in the photographs that you take of your husband there’s a clear sense of joy and celebration. Do you ever feel conscious of this?

I choose my moments. At this time in my life couldn’t take a photograph of someone I love in pain.

Your self-portraits and portraits of other women reclaim the idea of the gaze, like early Cindy Sherman photographs. There’s a sense of exposure without exploitation. Why is it important for you to capture the female body in this way?

I like to photograph other women naked because it is simple and the lines are lovely. There aren’t any distractions to contend with in the picture. As for photographing myself, I can’t help but be drawn to the endless mystery of it. I come back to it again and again. My own face, my own body. It holds a lot of secrets.

How has the rise of instagram affected your relationship with the lens, if at all?

Oh I can’t stand Instagram! To say too much about it would be to marginalize myself, but I can say that from Instagram I glean how much our culture relies in the comforts of sentimentality and try to run in the other direction, artistically speaking.

You’ve also worked in film, how was that experience? In terms of story telling, which medium have you found gives you more narrative freedom?

I don’t know if a comparison can be drawn. Film satisfies an urge for me which has always existed, to tell a story. Photography is more playful. The feeling about it changes, the style changes. It is more about  subtraction than addition, which is how I think of film.

What was the last record you listened to?

It’ll be Better by Francis and the Lights

Favourite equipment to shoot on?

I have a few cameras. A Pentax from the 1970s, A Nikon from the 1980s, a Minolta from the 1990s

Who are the exciting photographers to watch?

I like the work of Amanda Charchian and Aneta Bartos.

What’re your upcoming projects?

I am finishing a book of photographs, Born with a Disco Ball Soul. I’m also in pre-production on a feature length film I wrote. We’re shooting the film in Summer 2016, in New Orleans.

What’re you looking forward to for the rest of 2016?

My book, my film, and Christmas.

Find all of Emma’s work here: http://lovetheghost.tumblr.com/
First published on Twin, December 2015 

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