Emma Elizabeth Tillman’s Intimate Masterpieces of Self-Portraiture

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Masterpiece: Self Portraits
Masterpiece: Self PortraitsIn the shower, Chiltern Firehouse, London, 2015. Photography by Emma Elizabeth Tillman

“I took self-portraits because I wanted to have a relationship with myself,” the image-maker tells Miss Rosen as she releases her latest book, Masterpiece: Self Portraits

Emma Elizabeth Tillman’s husband once told her she was born with a “disco ball soul” — meaning she revealed herself in a dizzying array of glimmering slivers that reflected the world back at itself. Throughout her career, the Los Angeles-based writer, director, and photographer has used self-portraiture to explore the extraordinary mysteries of everyday life, teasing the magic out of the mundane moments that we all too often take for granted. 

With the publication of Masterpiece: Self Portraits (Tired Eyes Publishing), Tillman offers a window into her world. In the book, she shares a mesmerising series of scenes that capture the delicate beauty, euphoric joys, and extraordinary complexities of being alive. Made between 2005 and 2018 in romantic corners of the globe, Tillman’s self-portraits are equal parts revelatory and bold.

“I took self-portraits because I wanted to have a relationship with myself through photography,” Tillman tells AnOther. “Because of the nature of the medium that relationship was delayed and distorted, but it was there. I could always pick up my camera, take photos of myself, and draw myself in. I now have a different relationship with myself, something more direct, but I love looking at the self-portraits because they are an artifact.”

Tillman first got interested in photography as a young teen working in the darkroom. “I saw the alchemical wonder in the process, how it was technical while still leaving space for the unexpected. There is always an element of magic,” she says. Tillman’s photographs underscore this point, offering fleeting glimpses of private moments alone in the world and provide a space to reflect on the sheer majesty of mind, body and soul as one.

Drawing inspiration from Carl Jung, Graciela Iturbide, Yoko Ono, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Cy Twombly, Tillman liberates herself by facing doubt, pride, shame and love in front of the camera without restraint. “All these artists are not hiding behind artifice, they speak directly to the soul in their own languages,” she says.

Masterpiece marks the end of a journey of discovery through self-portraiture as Tillman emerges from her experience looking toward the world. “I wanted to put these photographs in one place and move onto other concepts and ideas. Maybe I am saying goodbye to the young woman I was and moving into a different phase of life. I don’t have the same concerns; life has changed,” Tillman says.

“I look back on my photographs that centre around my life and think a lot about my circumstances of living. I think a lot about how worried I was about this thing or that at the time I took the picture, and how all those fears and worries have dissipated into nothing. The photographs of my life are a good reminder that all things must pass.”

Masterpiece: Self-Portraits by Emma Elizabeth Tillman is available now