Actually, photographer doesn’t really cover what Tatiana Wills does with her camera — collaborative portraitist or sense-of-self empath might be more appropriate. After a career in commercial and advertising image-making, Wills set out to document communities of creatives, pioneers and “rule-breakers” such as the coterie of independent artists whose portraits (along with Roman Cho’s) make up the iconic book Heroes & Villains (ZERO+). Currently Wills focuses on professional dancers and choreographers, including her daughter, a ballerina, exploring the dynamics of identity, power and vulnerability expressed in the body in performative and private contexts.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
TATIANA WILLS: I don’t think I was ever really encouraged to do anything else, to be honest.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
I’m interested in the essential spirit of artists who are shaping the future of art and culture. I see my practice as highly collaborative and a way to have conversations across disciplines.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I’d be a photographer. I mean, I’ve always had difficulty labeling myself as a photographer versus an artist and sometimes I view those as separate entities. I understand myself as an artistic person with multiple outlets that allow me to express myself (or others).
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
No. I tried for a while but couldn’t afford it. I had a kid in my early 20s, so I worked in a related industry (advertising) and learned on the job. That led to a lot more opportunities and passion projects where I began to realize what was most important to me, artistically speaking.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
L.A. has a mysterious way of luring me into thinking life is full of possibility. People from all walks of life, so many hidden gems, food scenes, things to explore. I love it here.
When was your first show?
April of 2008 at the Corey Helford Gallery. It was a limited engagement, one weekend only affair and very project specific. I exhibited like 50 or more pieces. It was a huge undertaking and Jan Corey was absolutely wonderful. The experience was fantastic.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
This past December during Miami Art Week, I had the pleasure of being invited to show at the Sagamore Hotel. They turned their poolside bungalows into a mini art fair. I was very grateful to be showing work in real life during a global pandemic.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
Berenice Abbot. I feel like we would have vibed.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
Yes. I listen to music all the time, and what I listen to depends on my mood. Or, to put it more accurately, the mood I want to be in. Today, I’ve been obsessed with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.