With your hipstamatic prints, you’re able to capture everything. You’ve even been asked to photograph your niece’s birth. (Why you’d want to capture that, we’re not sure...)
We get it. Nowadays, everyone is a photographer. But when you are searching from a tangible image that captures the fleeting moment, we’ve got the woman for you.
Meet Tamara Lackey, professional photographer, innovative entrepreneur, workshop teacher, and web show personality. Widely recognized for capturing authentic lifestyle moments, from children's portraits to commercial and editorial projects, Tamara's work has received quite the national praise. She's been featured in tons of media outlets, including Vogue, O - The Oprah Magazine, Town & Country, Parenting, Food & Wine and NBC’s The Martha Stewart Show, need we say more?
Recently, Tamara was chosen to head out to the Hamptons and snap celebrities enjoying the day at the Family Fun Fair 2011 for the Children’s Museum of the East End. Here, witnessing meaningful family moments in an enclosed, delightful setting showcases Tamara's professional acumen and artist eye. She truly captures those endearing moments between mother and child, the ones that happen behind closed doors, regardless of fame.
We caught up with Tamara Lackey to flip some tables and put her on the other side of the lens in order to discuss the art of photography, stalking Obama, and of course, how to capture the intangible spirit.
CA: Your work is a lovely melange of art, journalism and business. How did your background lead up to this blend? Was photography always a craft of yours?
CA: I imagine photographing a child could be tough -- I try to photograph my dog and he won’t sit still-- how do you approach the dynamic situation and still capture the essence of childhood? If you attempt to contrive an “natural” situation, it still isn’t exactly natural? It’s kind of a paradox, unless you’re hiding behind a tree... the “authenticity of a real moment” is taken out when someone in the moment sees a camera, no?
Tamara: I love that you’re thinking that way. It is something I struggled with early on. Initially I wanted it to be so authentic, and it was just pure expression, as though I just magically appeared with this invisible camera that no one could tell. (Laughs). And slowly I became much more comfortable with the fact that, “okay, I am photographing you,” and what I needed to do was not necessarily hide myself but get to the point where my subjects, especially children, became less-lens aware. They weren’t really aware that I was photographing them anymore because the connection was so strong. So whether it was photographing children, and just making it into something where they’re just mesmerized by you and what you’re doing, and the game and the goofiness, that they no longer thought about the camera and you no longer had to work against the fact that this may or may not be a contrived situation.
Great question, it’s something that took me a long time to figure out and when I finally did, I got amazing results.
CA: So then do you have a favorite moment of engagement with a subject? An “ah-ha” moment, where everything just came together?
Tamara: Well, when I photographed Barack Obama, I had made that an obsession of mine, something I wanted to do and I had no real “in.” (Laughs) So I kind of stalked him and ended up getting hired by the campaign and following along with the trail. My whole thing is even though I photographed him a couple hundred times, I wanted it to be a portrait, where he’s looking at me and we’re setting it up, lighted and all sorts of stuff, and that took an amazing amount of time and effort and ... being obnoxious to put myself in there. (Laughs). But it’s funny you say that moment, because the minute I clicked the shutter, I knew it was the shot I wanted. I was just like, “I can’t believe I pulled that off!” It was a 10 month journey and I loved the photograph. I worked really hard and was glad I was prepared when I got it.
CA: Do you find it difficult-- I know this happens with me-- I’m much more appealing in person-- something like my aura or attitude can’t be captured. Are there ways that you can capture the intangible, the thing you can’t see about someone, how do you capture that?
It’s little things. I give people tips all the time when I’m about to photograph them. I’m like “Do me a favor and get this way, look this way, lean,” and it’s not that I’m obsessively posing somebody, it’s little things. Tiny little adjustments are huge. In a couple of my books I have a before and after where I’m moving the body and just moving the legs this way and lighting that way and someone looks 30 lbs lighter and way more alive. It has to do with Making sure the eyes are well light and there’s a nice sculpted shadow along their cheekbones that really sends them out and looks beautiful. And that they have their arms away from their body so they have a nice shape to do them.
CA: (Laughs) I know, I have learned the way to pose my arms away from my body so I don’t get “big arm.”
CA: In your web series, you ask successful individuals how they manage to find the balance between life-work, from the perspective of observer. After interviewing so many different people with widespread differing subjectivities, what thread of commonality do you see between them? Is there one overarching thing that people do in order to find balance?
CA: I know that with the art of writing, there is a way to skew someone’s words a certain direction: is the same true for photography? Or does the image itself always speak a truth?
Tamara: No, B. The image does not always speak a truth (laughs). I think that even taking out the idea of adjusting a photograph in Photoshop, just in terms of capture, I think that the major thing that you bring to the table is yourself and how you see the story of who you’re photographing. And if you see them as frustrating, that will come out in your photographs. And if you seem them as generous and loving, that will come out. And that’s part of why that having that relationship, even if you focus on someone for 12 seconds, there’s this interaction that you’re building that has enough meaning that you can pull out of that, “how am I viewing you and how I am telling your story.” I think photographs very much tell a story, even down to how flattering you choose to showcase them how you choose to showcase them in relation to their surroundings. It’s very impact-ful.
CA: I also know with the art of writing it’s just that - an “art.” There is some element of inherent instinct to it, that many debate can’t be taught. As a writer of several books/resources for photographers, do you think creativity can be taught? Or this ability to perceive the small details around us and capture them, effectively, in imagery?
Tamara: I’ve hired like 15 photographs to work out of our studio in North Carolina to do shoots and what I find is that I have significantly more success hiring someone you has an eye, who can see it, and then training them how to get better technically, so they can structure it well, so it’s not overexposed or blurry. I’ve had more success doing that than hiring someone who can shoot things technically well. I don’t know how to make someone see that moment and I struggle with that because I want to, because everything else is so strong.
I think it’s similar to finding your voice in the narrative. It’s about imagery, knowing when to click that shutter, especially when you’re looking for authenticity. If you just click all day long, you ruin the experience.
CA: I saw some of the images on your website from the Family Fun Fair in Bridgehampton. There’s always this weird disconnect witnessing celebrities live in a “natural” environment. Can you talk a little about what you hoped to capture? It’s funny to see Mariska Hargitay with such a huge grin, because her TV character is so serious all the time.
*To check out Tamara's book, Capturing Life Better, click here.
*To check out Tamara's web series, click here.