The collection started in 2007 in a hand built cottage in rural France. With no running water, no electricity and only a fireplace for heat, Tillman meticulously recorded her rocky experience of stealing potatoes and beet greens from the local fields, scavenging for firewood on the beach and trying desperately to maintain her relationship among the challenges of language, isolation, weather, and being flat broke. With each entry in her diary, Tillman was able to save the memory, to mark the passing of time and make sense of the unreliable thoughts that raced through her mind. By living each day twice, first through it’s experience and lastly by writing it down, Tillman was able to create a world that suited her more than the one outside her own mind. To shape its corners, to fill the pages of her diary with her life Tillman allows herself to experience the color of it again and again and again. She is an island unto herself and the people and places that exist with and around her are elevated to mythic status, imbued with mystery and considered in all their complexity. Her photography accomplishes this same intention. It was on this trip that a renewed interest in photography was sparked. After having learned to work in the dark room at age 14, Tillman had lost the passion for taking and printing photographs by the time she entered college. She focused instead on her writing. But when her boyfriend gave her his grandmother’s Pentax camera for her 21st birthday, her interest was revived. Among the early subjects of this revival was the magnificent desolation of the Arizona desert and Rick, the boyfriend who lived there in a crumbling adobe. When the couple temporarily moved to France, the camera and the diary came with and both have never failed in aiding Tillman in her obsession to capture time and gain repeated access to the past. From Arizona and France came a road trip to Spain in an ailing Peugeot coupe and later a trip alone to Iceland. The pictures begin to thin during Tillman’s tenure in Graduate School but come back with raging force when she meets her husband, Josh in 2011. From nearly their first meeting Tillman brought her camera and recorded their life together as it took shape. From early days at his house in Los Angeles, mushroom trips in the Joshua Tree desert and across the world from Norway to Mexico, Tillman traveled with Josh and recorded nearly every day the couple has spent together since. The need to keep time is familiar to Tillman. Since she was a child she saved things, collected memories, recounted days to herself before bedtime, felt the ephemeral passing of time with great intensity and longed for a way to capture it. Before she knew how to write, Tillman would dictate stories and poems to her mother who wrote them out on her electric typewriter. Tillman’s mother saved them, as she has saved many scraps of memories that are benchmarks in time, objects that carry symbolic weight and meaning. Memory and mystery may be the most important things to Tillman. Each concept locked in amber as she records them not as the world sees them, but as she sees them. Mystery seems to be imbued in each frame, and each piece of writing. The images and words do not attempt to explain and yet always draw the viewer, the reader, a little bit closer to the dark heart of experience. There seems to be ghosts lingering in her photographs, ghosts that one can’t quite catch. In the modern time, where a light eraser has been taken to mystery and the mercurial notion of happenstance, Tillman’s work seems to be going in the opposite direction. For Tillman, shooting on film, hand writing a diary, printing photographs and making collages on paper; each act is in defiance of convenience and ease. The work is labor intensive and time consuming, the results are not immediate. It is this understanding that adds a layer of immersion to the work. To know the will of the artist in creating the work will hopefully allow the viewer to step inside of the world she has created, to slow time for a moment and be immersed in the world of one woman’s wild mind.
Emma Elizabeth Tillman was born in Santa Barbara, California. She attended the College of Creative Studies (at the University of California, Santa Barbara) where she received her Bachelor of Art in Literature and Writing. In 2014 Tillman graduated at the top of her class with an Masters of Fine Art in Film Directing from the UCLA School of Film, Theater, and Television. In addition to writing and directing films Tillman is a fine art photographer. Her photographic work has been featured in numerous publications and hangs in many home collections around the world. Tillman’s work deals mostly in the personal, photographing the lives of her husband, close friends, and family as well as interiors, landscape, and architecture that the artist maintains a personal connection to. Tillman is also an obsessive diarist, which until now has remained an an entirely private enterprise. Disco Ball Soul is a collection of diary entries with photographs spanning the last 10 years.
Tillman and her husband, Josh currently live and work in Los Angeles.