Back to Writing / 2-01-2005

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LA photographer Emma Wilcox is fresh on the fetish art scene, and her unique attitude coupled with a female perspective produce seductive yet strong pieces. Her surreal vision of the world simultaneously beckons and unnerves the viewer, resulting in powerful art. Emma spoke with us about her connection with the fetish world and subtle appreciation of smog.

Sez G: Many of your photos are in striking locations, creating an untold story within them. How much pre-planning goes into your shots and how much is spontaneous?

Emma Wilcox: It's about half and half. I guess it's more spontaneous then anything. Many times I don't even know what the girls are going to wear so I have to color coordinate backgrounds and settings at the last minute. My outdoor shoots are a bit more thought out, as I usually pull permits and have a location scout beforehand. I like spontaneity though; it keeps my mind open to ideas so I don't become too neurotic about a pre-conceived photograph.

EZ: Why do you think you're drawn to such theatrical imagery?

EW: I was in a professional dance troupe for six years - we traveled around the United States and would prance on stage wearing leotards and hats with feathers bulging from the tip. It was the early 90's, so it was pretty over the top attire. I fell in love with it and decided I wanted to be a showgirl in Vegas. However plans changed when I realized my childbearing hips weren't suitable for the job, so I attended Boston University and studied Psychology instead. I still love dance and theatre and the fantasy that comes with it - photography became a means of reconstructing that world.

EZ: So when did you begin shooting and did fetish or photography come first to you?

Helen Lane
EW: I've always taken pictures. It's the whole cliché tale of asking Santa for a camera when I was 5, which of course I never received. I didn't think of it as a profession until I traveled around the world with three friends in college and kept forcing them to model for me. They got really annoyed and kept telling me to just be a professional photographer. So after I got my BA, I studied at Art Center College of Design in California and got my BFA in Photography.

Photography definitely came first. I've only been shooting fetish for a year … my first run in with the fetish community was at BondCon '04 last year in Vegas. I went with my short best friend who eventually broke my heart for my makeup artist…and I ran into Helen Lane, who I thought was so incredible. She was the first fetish model I ever shot, and from there on out I was addicted.

EZ: Wow, your photos have become so pervasive in the fetish world since then that I'm surprised you just began exploring it! How much of a participant are you in the fetish lifestyle?

EW: I go to fetish events here and there, but don't really participate. My involvement is strictly from an observer's point of view. I'm more of a voyeur than an exhibitionist, which is why photography is perfect for me. I like to dive into different subcultures and see what's going on. However, I usually maintain a slight distance from each world so I can keep an objective eye and remain almost naïve to what it's all about. That way I can visually project my own viewpoint without too much influence.

EZ: You're based in Southern California now. Where are you from originally and how did you end up there?

EW: I'm from Boulder, Colorado. I came out to Hollywood to attend Art Center, which is about 20 minutes from downtown. That's the only reason I came to LA, because I don't really like it here. However, the pollution in this town creates this soft light that's only endemic to smog infested areas. It's some of the best light in the world for photography.

EZ: Ah, very romantic! Speaking of lighting, your photographs are really rich, intense and vibrant. How much effort do you put into lighting? Do you do computer retouching?

EW: I think lighting is one of the most important elements in a photograph. I have to use professional lighting equipment to achieve the surreal look of my images. Using only natural light doesn't do it for me. I don't want to take a photograph that looks like just anyone with a camera can do it. I want there to be an obvious technical feel to it so the viewer knows that the creator behind the image is educated in their field and takes it seriously.

I do some computer retouching but not a lot. Usually it's just taking away flaws or enhancing certain colors here and there. I never do collage or masking though, everything in terms of the environment and model is through the camera.

EZ: You work in an industry that generally has women in front of the camera and men behind it. Do you think being a female artist has helped or hindered your career?

EW: In terms of my fetish photography it has definitely helped to be a young female. I think it has made the girls more receptive to working with me without meeting first. I also think they like where my photography is going. I'm not shooting them in the sexual context they're used to. It's more sensual and strange. The most important thing to me is making the image unique and a bit bizarre, yet still showing the woman as a strong, seductive being in a surreal world. I want the girls to be these perfect little creatures in our peculiar reality, like a "Stepford wife," but in a latex see-through dress with a full-faced hood instead of a kitchen apron and petticoat.

EZ: What's coming up for you in the future?

EW: I plan on coming out with a book of all my fetish photography…however that won't be for 5 or 6 years. For now I just shoot fetish photography for myself, but my ultimate goal is to introduce it to the commercial world and hopefully do a fashion spread/article in a commercial magazine, or an advertising campaign, using some of the my favorite fetish models.

You're well on your way, Emma, and we have no trouble imagining you attain that dream and bigger ones with photographic products like these! You can learn more about Emma Wilcox at

Emma Wilcox - by Sez G.