EMMA DUNLAVEY – PHOTOGRAPHER & ARTIST
DRAFTED BY: SHANNON LITTLE
Whoever coined the phrase “Good things come in ‘LITTLE’ packages” certainly knew what they were talking about when it comes to describing Emma Dunlavey.
This hilariously, quick-witted woman possesses so much RAW, artistic talent all wrapped up in a beautiful spirit that reaches 5’4” in her tallest boots!
The drive, power, and passion behind this once former horse jockey will never cease. She still loves to go fast, in everything she does. Whether it is personal, or professional, and related to her career; Emma’s photography, paintings, or a combination of both, will not only leave you breathless, but will leave you wanting more.
Emma was born in Wimbledon, England, and has one brother who is six years older. Her father, originally from New Zealand, was a Cambridge man, who began his career in law, was then a colonel in WWII, and was handpicked to serve in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) outfit. This organization was a very secretive elite intelligence outfit in the British Army during WWII conducting Top Secret missions.
He later went on to work for Shell Oil, then owned, and ran a successful property (real estate) company with Emma’s beautiful mother who was instrumental in his business.
Emma’s mother who is an incredible artist, and a highly trained opera singer would teach Emma how to sketch, and paint. Emma was exposed to art, music, and photography from a very early age. They painted together, and when her mother would practice her scales everyday on their full sized Steinway Grande piano, Emma was encouraged to join in, ultimately learning how to play the piano as well. She would run around taking photos of EVERYTHING with her disk camera, completely “fascinated by taking pictures…the bug was there early!” – Emma
She recalled one funny story from when she was four years old, right before they moved deeper into the countryside. Her mother had bought two trout to cook for dinner, and said “Darling, let’s paint the trout.” However, Emma took it quite literally, and by the time her mother had returned to the kitchen, she had painted both fish bright blue with her watercolours. Her mother laughed so hard, and thought it was wonderful.
The family moved from Wimbledon to a tiny, picture perfect village with one beautiful old Church, and a post office. It was a very tight knit community where everyone knew each other, walking their dogs around town in their Wellington rain boots. The village consisted of mainly big homes with lots of acreage, and Emma was fortunate enough to spend her early years rambling around a huge country home set on several acres with a river at the bottom of the property, stables, and a grass tennis court.
During this time Emma’s parents were both very busy, and often away from home, so she would sneak out of the house when the nanny was not looking, and instead of doing her homework, would ride her horse all over the village, and through the bridle paths, and woods. “It truly was the most incredible childhood. It was amazing. I remember it like yesterday…always at home and calm with my best friends (my horse and my dog) and deep in beautiful nature.” – Emma
Throughout most people’s lives they will face obstacles, hardships, and challenges. For some they may not happen till they are older, and have had more life experience to be prepared to deal with them. Others must face them at a very young age, and simply learn from experience how to survive.
Emma’s parents lost everything when she was eleven years old. They left their amazing country lifestyle, sold their precious art, and antiques at Christies, and Sotheby’s, literally being left with nothing. The family then proceeded to move from smaller house, to smaller house practically every six months, with Emma changing schools almost as frequently.
Her teenage years were horrific, and she truly believes that “the mind blocks out certain things that are emotionally devastating.” – Emma
Horses have always been one of Emma’s true passions. She was very successful in competitions riding other owner’s horses. Unfortunately, during this time her show jumper horse escaped from a field in the early hours, and was killed by a speeding semi-truck. Heartbroken, Emma took lessons to be a jockey, however, it was extremely hard work, and the pay was not very good.
After visiting Los Angeles (LA) on a vacation, Emma knew LA was where she needed to live so twenty-four years ago she moved with a suitcase, $300, and literally showed up on the doorstep of a female photographer whom she had met on her previous trip to LA. She slept on her couch, assisted running her studio, and helped to manage the stables, and exercise the woman’s fourteen horses. One day the woman asked if Emma could do make-up, and Emma immediately replied, “Yes, of course, I’m a great make-up artist!”
That is literally how Emma started her career as a make-up artist, working her way up the ladder with some amazing photographers, always thinking “I know I could do what (they’re) doing” – Emma. Especially when they started asking for her opinion on which angles to shoot at, ideas for sets, and designs.
Emma was led to being a professional photographer through other jobs. But she still recalls that first day when she rented a ‘big’ camera, used a friend’s studio, hired an assistant, and shot a friend who was a model. “I finally felt at home with this camera in my hands. I found my voice, and I was on fire!” – Emma
Everything that Emma does, she learns on her own. She is completely self-taught, and she is the first to admit that she is not a technical shooter, but she always has a clear vision of what she wants to achieve. Emma has a great regular crew, and technical assistants that have an incredible creative energy, and synergy. They all understand the importance of teamwork, trust, and having a strong work ethic that makes their shoots fun, and always full of adventures.
When asked who inspired her, Emma’s immediate response was her parents. They both always encouraged her to never give up, and no matter what they always showed strength, and tenacity. Emma’s father passed away in 2001, at the grand age of 95! Sadly, she was not able to say goodbye, and this haunts her everyday.
It remains clear though that everything her parents instilled in her as a child has made Emma into the loving, sensitive, honest, creative, and determined woman she is today. Whatever she wants to achieve in her life, she literally will not stop until it is ‘mission accomplished’. She visualizes where she wants to be, and even if she is not sure how she will get there, she works fiercely until she accomplishes her goal.
Other artists that have provided inspiration for Emma are Pollock, Helmut Newton, Ellen Von Unwerth, and Raphael Mazzucco.
Emma loves that Pollock did not “plan his pieces after he found his ‘signature style’ he was almost a human instrument himself of applying paint in unplanned random beautiful ways. No template, no preconceived ideas, as far as I am aware…he created purely from his energy and openness to receive creative messages and let them flow from within.” – Emma
She is a huge fan of Black and White photography, and Helmut Newton’s work is incredible with his ability to capture strength, sensuality, and ‘push the envelope’ with his ideas, and his images. Emma thinks Ellen Von Unwerth has amazing energy, and sexiness in her images, and is absolutely brilliant.
While in New York to attend a charity event for NYCLASS, an amazing organization, working hard to eradicate horse drawn carriages in New York, a cause very near, and dear to Emma’s heart given her love of horses, she met Raphael Mazzucco, with some other friends. Since then they have become artistic ‘pen pals’! “He has been one of the most encouraging and supportive people in my life regarding my art and photography.” – Emma
She regards him as a creative genius, for he has an unique style of shooting, with this “ability to see the beauty of the female form and shape, and to incorporate this amongst incredible natural surroundings…his art is purely from the heart…more from a feeling, an intuition than a ‘planned project.’ More of a spontaneous act which is amazing.” – Emma
Emma has been extremely fortunate to travel all over the world, “99% of the time with the one and only iconic – Pamela Anderson!” – Emma
Some of her favourite places were Taormina, an enchanting, tiny village perched on a cliff, on the east coast of the island of Sicily, Italy, made up of the most exquisite cobble stoned streets, and alleyways. There were little restaurants with checkered tablecloths, window baskets overflowing with beautiful blooms, tiny family run shops, such as the bakery with delectable handmade goodies, a pottery store, breathtaking old Churches, all overlooking the beautiful Ionian Sea.
In Brazil, Emma, and Pamela had a shoot on the infamous Ipanema Beach. However, what she recalls was driving through different areas at night, and how the villages on the hillsides were all lit up, “like hillside after hillside of twinkling lights…so beautiful.” – Emma
“I fell in love with Buenos Aires, the people, the diversity of the city is stunning. One minute you think you’re in Paris, (and) then you pass incredible walls of graffiti…stunning. I would love to go back there and explore the wine country.” – Emma
Another favourite destination of Emma’s is British Columbia. She fell in love with Vancouver, and Vancouver Island a few years ago when she came here for an event with Pamela. Being English she felt an instant connection, and she even said to Pamela, “if I didn’t live in LA I would want to live in BC!” – Emma. Since that initial visit Emma has been back to Vancouver many times.
In September 2015, Emma, and Pamela launched their book tour in Vancouver, for their book ‘RAW’. This event was organized and presented by Vernard Lg Goud of LuvnGrace Entertainment. This book is a compilation of over twenty years of friendship between the two women, showcasing both professional, and private behind the scenes photos that Emma took of Pamela over the years, as well as, Pamela’s poetry, and prose. This unique piece of artwork “is not just a ‘picture book’ to me. Every picture has a place, an event, and emotions, dialogues attached to each shot. I have a story for every single image. So it is a very personal project for me, very heartfelt.” – Emma
The proceeds from every purchase of ‘RAW’ go towards the Pamela Anderson Foundation, which supports organizations, and individuals that stand on the front lines in the protection of animal, human, and environmental rights. They have had book signings at Barnes & Noble in New York City, with Ron Robinson in LA, and with Dena Barabash of Details Designs Inc., and Bacaro, at The Hatch Winery in Kelowna, BC.
Recently Emma has been focusing heavily on her art career. Creating magnificent collections inspired by her own personal life experiences, from her past right up to the present. Each of her art pieces are unique, and she literally sees a fully completed snapshot of the finished piece in her head, and then must figure out how she will create it. She usually starts with a big print of one her images that she has manipulated in Photoshop to bring to her desired colours.
Then she will add all the other elements; her writing, poetry, different paints, mediums, and depending on the piece she will use three dimensional objects ranging from tape, dirt, metal, a huge butterfly, labour cut letters hand painted in gold, to 86 bottles of nail polish. “Then I go ‘hazmat style’…mix and pour one if not two layers of resin and torch the resin as it cures to eliminate any bubbles, wearing a respirator! Then she is left in quarantine for 48 hours as the resin cures and 72 hours later I can run my fingers across my latest baby and really look at her. I love it…I pour myself into (my) pieces…literally.” – Emma
Like so many, David Bowie, had a profound impact on Emma’s life. She had been a huge fan of his since she was a little girl growing up in the UK. She described him as an entity, “an ever morphing creative genius.”
Emma’s first huge solo art exhibition which she shot in Vancouver, and debuted at Art Basel Miami, in the Sagamore Hotel, in December 2015, was inspired by David Bowie. Pamela Anderson hosted Emma’s solo show, Vernard Lg Goud of LuvnGrace Entertainment organized and presented, and VENÜ, the prestigious art and luxury lifestyle magazine had Emma as their cover story for Fall/Winter 2015.
Emma’s collection “A Tribute to David Bowie” was on display throughout February, and March 2016 in Nina Torres’ Fine Art Gallery in South Beach, Miami, in collaboration with world renown, ‘Pop Artist’ Francois Duernickx, owner of the prestigious Art Wanson Gallery, Spain, where one of Emma’s huge pieces hangs on display. It is an extreme honour for Emma to be integrated with the Art Wanson Gallery Group.
On April 7th, 2016 Emma’s next gallery exhibition occurred at the Macaya Gallery, Miami, once again in collaboration with Francois, and celebrated artist Mercedes Lesarte.
Emma had created her Bowie collection before he passed, and this was a huge turning point in her career as an artist. Now more than ever, these pieces will forever be “A Tribute to David Bowie” both for the legacy that he left as an artist, and for how greatly he affected her life.
On Friday, May 27th, 2016, coinciding with ART! Vancouver, Emma will be having her invitation only solo Art Show called ‘CURVE’ in Vancouver, BC at Leone. This red carpet, media covered, valeted event presented by Vernard Lg Goud of LuvnGrace & Leone will showcase pieces from Emma’s Fine Art Photography Galleries. This will be a uniquely beautiful collaborative showing from multiple collections. Her pieces will be on display in Leone from May 26th through to May 29th, 2016.
She does admit that as a female photographer being so short can have its challenges, but with her quick sense of humour she laughs, and reminds herself that Napoleon Bonaparte was also vertically challenged. However, she is not afraid to speak up, communicate her wishes in the nicest way possible, and take charge of any situation.
Emma is a woman who does not believe in the word “CAN’T”. She does believe that you must “follow your dreams, make them happen. It is inevitable that big stumbling blocks…will be thrown your way, but there’s always a way to ‘fix it’. They are tests, sent to ultimately make you stronger and shape you into a powerhouse!” – Emma
Emma Dunlavey has lived a very full, blessed life, but one that has been touched time, and again by loss, struggle, and heartache. She continues to persevere, truly believing that “age and life experience are things that shape you as a person (and) that cannot be learned in any other way than by actually ‘living’. My art pieces are how I purge my deep-rooted somewhat painful emotions, easier to communicate through art than through words…a lot of beauty comes from pain. Happiness and pain shape us and this is where so much great art through the ages has stemmed from.” – Emma
Without any doubt Emma’s stars are aligning. She has visions, and goals for her career that are not only outside the box creatively, but are also very marketable. Ultimately, tying all of her worlds together, Emma would ideally love to one day own her own horse again, have a little country cottage in the village where she grew up, spend certain months of the year there, and get back to her roots. Riding her horse through the same bridle paths “wild is the wind, wild is the wind.” – David Bowie
PHOTOGRAPHY/ART GALLERY FROM EMMA’S COLLECTIONS
RAW Book info: www.emmadunlavey.com
RTF info: www.emmadunlavey.com
About the Author
Shannon Little graduated with honours from UBC with degrees in Human Kinetics and Education. She began volunteering for MLZ in July 2014, and loves that it combines two of her favourite passions, writing and connecting with people. She has also volunteered with Ronald McDonald House BC, BC Children’s Hospital, and as an emcee and music scout for Turner Entertainment Group. She loves quotes, music, her friends and family. Shannon truly believes that life is like riding the waves of the ocean, “We can’t stop the waves, but we can learn to surf.” ~ unknown
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