Hello, and welcome to Keep the Channel Open, a podcast featuring conversations with artists, writers, and curators. My name is Mike Sakasegawa and this is episode 75. Today’s guest is Tami Bahat.
Hey there, folks, today’s guest is photographer Tami Bahat. Tami Bahat is a fine art photographer based in Los Angeles. Her photographs have been featured in publications including Lenscratch, Fraction Magazine, and dotphotozine, and she has been included in exhibitions and art fairs nationally and internationally, including at Photo Independent, AIPAD, Photo LA, Van Rensburg Gallery, the Griffin Museum, and many more.
Earlier this year, Tami opened her first major solo exhibition at Building Bridges Art Exchange featuring images from her Dramatis Personae series in a show entitled “Revisiting Humanity: Secrets and Lives.” Writing about Dramatis Personae for Lenscratch, Aline Smithson said the series “creates a temporal paradox, where she straddles the space between past and present in a series of portraits and still lifes that speak to the old masters, but more importantly, speak to faces that transcend time.” And in a review for Art & Cake magazine, Genie Davis wrote that “The images are often witty and yet profound, speaking of the human condition in a way that transcends time, and exists in a kind of netherworld which is both indefinable and universal,” and that “The viewer is absorbed by an uncanny sensation that classic images are being reincarnated and absorbed into the current cultural zeitgeist.”
In our conversation we mainly talked about this series, Dramatis Personae, and I’ve put a link into the show notes where you can find those images on her website. But I do encourage you to spend a little extra time looking at her other work as well, as it’s all excellent.
If you’d like to get a chance to see Tami’s work in person, coming up in December she will be showing work at the Pulse Art Fair in Miami with Van Rensburg Galleries, that’s going to be Thursday, December 6, through Sunday, December 9. I’ve put a link in the show notes to the Pulse fair’s website, so do check that out.
And one more thing, just a few hours after we recorded this conversation, it was announced that Tami’s work had been selected as part of this year’s Critical Mass Top 50 by Photolucida, so a big congratulations to her and, of course, to all of this year’s finalists.
All right, let’s get to it, shall we? As always, if you’d like to join in the conversation, you can use the hashtag #ChannelOpenPhoto to live-tweet the episode. And now, here’s my conversation with Tami Bahat.
Mike Sakasegawa: So you—just earlier this year, if I'm correct—you had your first big solo exhibition, is that right?
Tami Bahat: That's right. I did.
MS: Yeah. So you were showing your Dramatis Personae series and that was at Building Bridges up in Santa Monica, right?
TB: That's right, yeah.
MS: I was just curious how that went and what the experience was like for you.
TB: Well, the experience was pretty amazing. I have to say that Marisa Caichiolo, she heads Building Bridges over there and she gave me the tremendous opportunity. And I say that because she gave me so much freedom to create whatever kind of space I could possibly envision. So I kind of told her, "Well, look, I'm thinking of putting in wallpaper and creating a bedroom and bringing in, you know, the furniture that I used within the imagery," and she was so excited about it. So for me as an artist it was just the coolest thing to be able to just go for sort of the bigger vision. And we had three different rooms and each one was its own unique space and we had like a fireplace in a little den, so I just felt like I put everything into it that I possibly could. And so when it was finally ready to be presented, I was just, I felt very—like that was me. So it was quite a great feeling.
MS: Yeah, I was—I mean, I didn't get a chance to come up and see it myself, but I had read a bit about it and the thing that you were saying just now about, you know, bringing in different furniture and props and that kind of thing was something that I'd read in some of the articles about the opening.
MS: And it's something that I find really interesting, the idea of really activating a space. The sort of difference, I think, between just interacting with the images as images, like we would maybe online or, you know, like at a portfolio review, where you're just showing prints.
MS: But it sounds like you were really doing more than just that.
TB: I really wanted to create an experience. Which, on opening night I also had a couple like live models that I'd used within the pictures and like I had a priest kind of sitting in a corner which was [laughs] really like, people could come and like look around them and then sometimes he would sort of walk around. And I had, you know, a teenage girl reading a book and she'd move to the bed and then she'd go sit in a chair in the corner. And to me that is really a part of creating, you know, it's that essence and just getting you to feel something within the space, you know, as well as the imagery. I mean, you obviously don't want that to dominate and take over, but I think if you can really get them to work together. Oh. I had—the music playing was my sister-in-law's... She has a renaissance group that she sings in. And so the shots that I do for this series, they're all friends and family.
TB: So basically I'm walking around and for me it's kind of like, "Oh yeah, there's my, you know, my niece and my nephew and my friend," and it's like creating this space with, you know, my sister-in-law's music playing. So it was very much... I don't know, I love... I mean we can talk about it more, but I really love using people that are less experienced—
TB: —in front of the camera because for me there's such a rawness and this beautiful... You know, they start out like, "Oh, I don't know, I don't know if I'll do a good job for you." But then they get in front of the camera and I'm just blown away.
TB: And so I love seeing art in everyday people. It's so beautiful to me.
TB: And that imperfect beauty. So like, yeah, for me when I just walk around and see that, it's like, yeah, it makes my heart really happy.
MS: Yeah. It's interesting. I've read some other interviews that you've done and one of the things that you mentioned in one or the other, I can't remember which, was about how when you're photographing people—the work that you have in your portfolio on your website right now, it's all portraiture.
MS: And one of the things that you talked about was how you try to always sort of capture something essential about—I'm paraphrasing here—
TB: Sure, sure.
MS: But to just try and get something that's actually that person into the work.
MS: And that was really interesting to me because all of your work, but in particular the Dramatis Personae work—I mean it's very obviously very crafted, these images, right?
TB: [laughs] Yeah.
MS: You've also talked about how every detail of the pictures with, you know, the costumes, the furniture, the animals, the props, the... That's all stuff that you're being very deliberate in choosing. Very intentional about those things?
TB: Mm-hm. Yeah.
MS: But sort of having those two things intersect where you're being very detailed and intentional and specific with all of these elements, but then also trying to capture something about the subjects themselves, like that seems like kind of a counterintuitive thing, to have those two things happening at the same time. You know what I mean?
TB: Sure. I mean for me, I put a space there for them and what I've noticed is you'll give them a costume, you'll give them an outfit, something to wear, and it's this incredible transformation that happens. They're just feeling a different way about themselves. They look at themselves in the mirror and they're just... They're feeling it, you know? And so I always tell them it's a collaboration. I'm not putting something on you. If you have an idea, I'd love to see it. I'd love to hear about it, you know what I mean? And I give them that ambiance and that space to just be and give what they want to give. So like we tend to play classical music. Also, the animals in this series are real, they're live animals. We bring in animal handlers. [laughs] So everything just is happening also in the moment. You know, if we have like a little fox interacting with a model, that's exciting and that's happening in live time, whatever that relationship is. I love that, yes, the space is there and it's all crafted to be there. But there is this—when you bring in animals as well, it's like you don't know what they're going to do. Like when the monkey grabs the paint brush from the painter, everybody's kind of surprised because you didn't expect it. I can't tell him to do that. So there's a lot of live things happening in the moment with the relationship, you know, whatever the person wants to convey. I think you have both things happening at the same time, which is very interesting.
MS: Yeah, I mean there's something about... Like for me, you know, I mean you've seen some of my work before and for me I'm usually shooting from life and just sort of whatever I happen across, which is, it's sort of a different way of working. But it seems like there's still sort of this element of commonality in that you're still observing a lot.
MS: Is that, is that about right?
TB: Oh yeah. I mean, I think in every moment you have to be very aware of what's happening, you know what I mean? There's no just set like, "Oh good, let's just..." You know, whatever. I mean, does that answer—because like, I feel that a lot of times people are, they're posing or doing something, but I will keep going.
TB: You know. When it's like, "Okay, let's rest a minute," and things are still happening. I'm always, always, always paying attention to that.
MS: Mm, yeah.
TB: You know, whether it's the underwater work, whether whatever. I mean, I've had some of my most unique shots when people are just kind of not aware of what's happening or kind of resting for a moment. Yeah. But I mean there's definitely something to be said for just having an awareness of what's happening in the moment. Absolutely.
MS: Yeah. It's always... You know, maybe for me, this is sort demystifying the process of studio photography. Like studio photography to me has always seemed just so mysterious because it's something that I am just terrible at. I just can't do it for some reason.
TB: Well, why? Why do you think that? Why? Why do you think you're terrible at it? I'm just curious.
TB: No, I really want to break this down! Let's break it down.
MS: I mean, I think I'm terrible at it mostly because whenever I've tried to construct an image, you know, like build something up rather than just happening across it—
MS: —it always just feels really stiff and really kind of trite and obvious.
TB: Sure. Sure, sure.
MS: And another thing, and this definitely bears on your work, is that I'm not really great with studio lights, but like that is something that obviously, with your work, the lighting is such a big part of it.
TB: But you know what, I'll let you in on a little secret with the lighting. I have never taken a lighting class. I am primarily self-taught. So I basically just started grabbing different lights and experimenting and seeing what worked, honestly.
TB: Because I like it when I have to move some lights around, having one kind of light and I say, "Okay, move it to the left, come over here, do this," because as I'm going, that's how I'm working.
TB: So I really do believe in experimentation and not just going with, you know, whatever standard things that, you know, someone has learned or expected always, you know?
TB: Just leave a door open to like, "Let's try this. Let's just see what happens." You know? So it's also like when people say, "Oh, I don't have a very good camera," or, you know, "My lens sucks," or whatever. I say, you know what, just start with what you have and just try things. But let yourself. You know?
TB: Because a lot of times they think "This is wrong" or "I'm embarrassed." And it's like, no, just... If you get into that spirit of just creating and seeing what happens and leaving that open, it really can be quite beautiful.
MS: Yeah. I think for me, you know, it's... I don't know, this always sounds kind of like I'm fishing for compliments or something when I say this, but I often feel that for myself that I don't have a lot of imagination. Like I think I can be creative—
MS: —but my creativity tends to be more in the case of, I've already noticed this thing, so I'm going to try and figure out how to present it to you in a way that's interesting, and I do think there's creativity in that.
TB: For sure.
MS: But I think it's a different kind of creativity from imagining something and then realizing the thing that you imagined.
TB: [laughs] Well, what's beautiful is that everyone thinks in a completely different way. Which is exciting, you know? And you'll create things that I would never think about and vice versa. So there's definitely something to be said for that. Now, I don't know if this is the case for you, but I—you know, I've talked to a lot of artists where you get an idea and it's like, "Eh, I don't know, that would kind of suck."
TB: Or, "That wouldn't be great," or... You know what I mean? So you actually like shut yourself down before you even try it. So I don't know if that's the case for you, but it's a very difficult thing to give yourself that freedom. I know when I started this series I had this crazy idea and I told somebody about it and they were like, "Ah, you want to use live animals? That's really rough. Plus it's expensive and this and that." You know, they gave me a lot of things to consider. So I had to be really headstrong in the way of like, "No, no, no, this is the vision, this is what I want to do. I need to follow through with it and just try and see what happens."
TB: And it was a little bit scary because it's like, I have no idea, this could bomb wildly and I could be out of a lot of money. I could, you know, this could be really stupid, but what happens if it works, you know? And it, it happened to work really well. So I would just say if you're ever, if you ever have some crazy out there thought, to just try it, you know?
MS: Yeah. Yeah, and it's funny too because I think a lot of us end up having certain blocks about something—
MS: —or other. You know, like for me it's not like I have so much of a block that I'm not trying new things, you know. About certain things—you know, like for example, I just on a lark decided to teach myself how to make handmade books and so now a lot of my projects revolve around making handmade books and figuring out those things.
TB: Absolutely. Your books are beautiful.
MS: Thank you.
TB: Yeah, absolutely beautiful. Yeah. And that's something that I wouldn't even know where to start, you know? So it's... Again, your aesthetic is so beautiful and... God, I mean, I just love that you decided to just do it. It's, you know, I seriously wouldn't know where to start with that.
MS: Yeah, well, and I think that's the funny thing too, right? Like—or even with this show, you know, like every time I'm about to talk to someone, even if it's somebody that I know pretty well, that's actually like an actual friend—
TB: [laughs] Yeah.
MS: —I still get nervous, you know, like this isn't really what I'm good at kind of thing, talking to people.
TB: Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure.
MS: But I still sort of do it. But it's funny how, you know, certain things I'll have this fear and it's a very obvious fear. I can still work through it and make the thing. Whereas in other cases I just sort of have this idea like "Well, that's—I just can't do that." You know what I mean?
TB: Yes. But that's what needs to be pushed through. Not to have preconceived ideas about yourself.
TB: Because seriously, I think we can all surprise ourselves so much and that's why... You know, I dropped out of school when I was really young, and for me it was just really important to take classes, take seminars in the things that really interested me. So I did like, you know, different design classes, sculpting, whatever kind of moved me to do it. I kind of listened to that little voice.
TB: And I really did push myself and created some things I never thought I could. So I think that we do have it within us. Sometimes it needs a little push or a little inspiration, but if we're open, really open, you know, to those things, just try and...
MS: So, sort of back to this series, I—like, there's like a million things that I've already thought of like to sort of—
MS: —little threads that I'd like to talk about. But like, you know, one of the things—another thing that I had read you'd said about these images is that you like them to be kind of open-ended and—
MS: —that you're not necessarily intending a certain meaning or anything with them. I do feel like when I look at a lot of these pictures that there's like a story that's implied by the image.
MS: And so like, you know, sort of taking that idea of it being open ended, you don't necessarily intend a specific narrative. But one of the things that I was wondering is what your experience with them is. Like when you see them, do you have a story? You know, not necessarily to say that I want you to tell me what your story is with these, right?
MS: But just like what your experience is with them, you know?
TB: Yeah. Well first and foremost, I would say the most important thing to me is to feel something.
TB: I want to feel something when I look at artwork, whatever it is. I mean across the board, I want to feel something. So to me, if I'm creating, I want to put some sort of emotion there. You know, as far as a story, I may have a story, but what I love is that humanity, people we're all so complex, right?
TB: And the different parts of us that we show to different people changes so much based on also who we're around. If we're alone, in front of a boss, or in front of a friend or a parent. Different parts of our personality constantly come out. And so there can be a story. But what I honestly love the most is that people that look at the work, when they see it, they bring their own story into it, right? Because we all have our own lives and our own stories that we've experienced and the way we perceive things is through, I think, our own personal experiences. So when people come up to me at different shows and—like I have a picture of a nun with a scorpion, everyone has a different interpretation of it and I think that's beautiful.
TB: You know, I don't want to be the one to tell you what you're looking at or what to think. I love that you can come at it with your own perspective. And is it right or wrong? I don't know, but that's—it keeps it interesting for me.
TB: You know, I love that. So I tend to not tell people if I do have a certain story going on with that person because I think it's so much more interesting that, you know, everybody brings their own story to it.
MS: Yeah. I do think it's sort of like a... For me, oftentimes when I'm—not necessarily when I'm making the work, a lot of times when I'm making the work, I'm just sort of in the moment and not really thinking too much about it.
TB: Uh huh.
MS: But by the time I'm presenting the work, I feel like I have something pretty specific that I want to try to impart, you know?
TB: Hm. Yeah.
MS: But one of the things that I always find really interesting is that a lot of times people will see things in the work that I didn't realize was there.
TB: Yeah, yeah, totally.
MS: So it's—I guess it's still sort of similar, you know. I am always very interested to find out what's there that I didn't see, you know?
TB: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean that's a beautiful thing and yeah, I do love getting into conversations with people about what they are seeing in the work and I'm like, "Wow. Okay, yeah, [laughs] I haven't seen that. That's really unique and cool."
TB: And so I love that when you can get into that sort of a dialogue with someone, it's just a beautiful thing. I think that's what art does a lot of the time, you know?
TB: It presents questions and it makes you long for something or feel something or... You know.
MS: Yeah. I do feel like there's a lot of emotion in your pictures—in all of your pictures. You know, I was just—the last few days I was... I mean, the work of yours that I'm the most familiar with, that I've seen in person is the Dramatis Personae work. But the older pictures that you have on your website, I was going through those and I feel like—you say questions and you say emotions. I feel like something that's very common throughout your work is that there's a sense of mystery to the pictures.
MS: And that something that I find with all of your work, in all of these series, is that each series has a sort of visual aesthetic to it, right? Like a style of—like color palette or whatever.
MS: And that general aesthetic, to me, imparts a very specific emotion. But that when I spend more time with each image, what I find is there's a lot more in it than what my initial feeling is about it. You know what I mean?
TB: I love that. Well, yeah, I do. Yeah, absolutely. That's... Yeah, I'm all about that.
TB: Hundred percent, yeah.
MS: Yeah. Like with the Dramatis Personae work, I feel like—there's so much literal darkness, right? You're working in this mode where all the backgrounds are very dark, the lighting is very sort of dim and soft and it's sort of a more neutral-ish color palette.
MS: To me that has a sense of melancholy. When I first approached the image, right.
TB: Mm-hm, yeah.
MS: But a lot of your pictures... Like, that I didn't realize at first when I was first looking at them, like some of them are actually kind of funny or some of them are... Like, there's a sense of playfulness to them—
MS: —that sort of works at odds with that melancholy feeling. I find that really interesting.
TB: [laughs] Well, thank you. Yeah, I mean it's definitely—I like to play off of both, because I think things aren't usually what you think they are. You know, there's not a lot of black and white, and so I like to play with that complexity and that you never really know for sure. Just like kind of walking that line. I love that. I love it. I love the mystery. I love open-ended questions. But yeah, no, you're spot on about that
TB: Hundred percent.
TB: Yeah, yeah.
TB: So like with this work you're—I mean, and this is something you've talked about a lot. You're obviously referencing the Dutch Masters. To my eye the one it resembles the most is Rembrandt. But something that I was thinking about was—and I noticed this the most in one particular picture, the "Twins" picture—that in terms of the visual aesthetic and sort of the composition, it's very obviously very Renaissance, like that's the obvious reference.
MS: But that particular picture also really reminded me of the Arbus photo of twins.
TB: Yeah. I get that a lot [laughs] at shows. People are like, "Oh..." And I don't—I mean it must be the twins thing.
MS: They're dressed very similar to the twins in her photo, also.
TB: See, when I created it, I wasn't even thinking about it. It wasn't on my radar at all. But I can absolutely see that. People also bring up like American Horror Story and that sort of thing, which I haven't seen an episode of yet.
TB: But, you know, I'm—the weirdest thing is, like I do create some work that's a bit dark, but I hate horror. I can't watch it.
TB: It's very interesting. So it's almost like... [sigh] Who was that...? I think it was Avedon who said he—I don't know word for word, but he said like, he kind of creates the dark things to get them out of his system.
TB: For me, I mean I've always felt like I felt too much. I'm too sensitive, always observing. And so for me, I think art gives me that. It's a tool where I can, you know. But the work that I create, it's not based on any specific thing.
TB: It's just sort of getting a picture in my head of what I create. Or sometimes I'll find a bench or, you know, twins where—
TB: —I'll be like, "Ah, this could be amazing," and create that. But yeah, I just... Arbus's work is fantastic. But yeah, that piece wasn't based on that or Rembrandt or Caravaggio. It was just kind of like I had these really cool people in front of me and I was like, "Ah, let's see what we can do." You know?
TB: And then bring in the snakes. And I don't know if you saw there on the tray, there's a serving tray in front of them.
TB: There's little cockroaches. And they're actual Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.
TB: And so they were moving around, and at one point we kind of like lost one.
MS: [laughs] Oh my god.
TB: [laughs] And we're shooting it in my living room. And I was like, "Okay, we need to find this, guys. Because like, yeah, not gonna be sleeping tonight."
TB: So finally we found it. It was like under the tray. But those are the kinds of fun things that happen, you know, in live time. It's like, "Okay."
MS: I do think it's an interesting thing. You know, like, yeah, some of your pictures are kind of dark and not just in like the visual sense, but sort of in the emotional sense as well.
MS: And that is something that I find kind of interesting. But I always find when I come back to these pictures that—like there's a sense of strangeness to some of them.
MS: They can be a little unsettling, you know, but it's not just that either, you know. And also I always—the question of like where does this all come from is always such a—on one level it's such a... kind of a trite question. But also it's like I can't not be interested in it, you know?
MS: Even if there's not really an answer. [laughs]
TB: Well, no, it's cool that you bring it up, actually. I mean I was thinking about it and I don't know a hundred percent, but a lot of Jewish and Israeli artists who I've been very influenced by have had work, either paintings, like Yosl Bergner or, you know, Modigliani or... They have work that both has this dark side to it, but it also... You know, I always heard that, you know, Jewish people in general have had to have a sense of humor because we've been through so much.
TB: So my grandmother, she was an avid art collector and she lived in Israel. Whenever we went to Israel growing up—I mean, it's a very common thing in Israel where people have artwork just all over, completely covering their walls. And I really started thinking about that, how I would be influenced just by being surrounded by this work. You know what I mean? Where it's—some of it is very dark, but at the same time it's whimsical and it has this undertone of like humor.
TB: So I just started wondering, hey, maybe, you know, I really did sort of get influenced by just that and being surrounded by this artwork growing up. And she would take me to museums when were there. And... You know.
MS: Yeah, that's really interesting. It's... I think it's an interesting sort of—I mean I guess it's sort of an impossible puzzle to figure out like—
MS: —this sort of soup that we're all kind of swimming through all of our lives.
MS: But it kind of does remind me of how—you know, like for me, my family has been in the US for many generations, so like culturally I'm much more American than I am Japanese.
MS: But at the same time there's still something about sort of my aesthetic that often sort of comes across as Japanese and there's some kind of commonality to what I understand of certain sort of philosophical approaches or whatever—
MS: —about my work that's kind of Japanese. Even though like I don't have a lot of connection to Japanese culture, you know. It's sort of interesting how that all sort of sort of trickles in somehow, you know?
TB: Absolutely man. Absolutely. And it's—yeah, just sort of creeps in, doesn't it? Like even like Chagall for example, they had an exhibition over at Los Angeles County Museum of Art and I saw that and I just stood there and I was crying, and I was like "What is going on?"
TB: But there's something so deeply rooted, deeply connected. I don't know if it's within the experience, the cultural experience or... You know. But it's like you said, it somehow gets intertwined in there, you know, emotionally and... Yeah, it's very interesting.
MS: Yeah. Well why don't we take a little break and then we'll come back and do the second segment.
Mike Sakasegawa: So for the second segment, I always invite the guest to bring a topic of their own, which can be whatever's on your mind, whatever you'd like to talk about. So what would you like to talk about today?
Tami Bahat: So I would like to talk about pushing past your comfort zone creatively.
MS: We touched on that a little bit already—
TB: [laughs] We actually did, yeah.
MS: —but let's see where we can get with this. What were you thinking?
TB: Okay. Awesome. So yeah, when we touched upon it earlier, we talked about, you know, the fact that when I started the current series, Dramatis Personae, like I didn't know if it would even work. So I just think really that if you get an idea, to definitely try it. That's the first thing. Even if it seems like—you know, I think we tend to shut ourselves down a lot and that's hard because it's normal. It's normal to get blocks and that sort of thing. But I feel like it's important to kind of write things down if you have ideas just kind of during the day that are fleeting because you never know if they'll turn into something bigger. But beyond pushing past your comfort zone creatively, I think it's also important to push past any fears you have. You know, in 2015... Actually in 2014, I was asked to go to Paris because I had some work that was going to be showing there. And I hadn't flown in probably, I think at that time at least 12 years. And it just became more and more of this fear that I had. And not going in 2014, I had so much regret. I had friends that just really pushed me and encouraged me like, "Hey, if ever you get this chance again, you know, don't miss it." And so when I went in 2015, that opened up so much for me. Both pushing past my fear, but also, you know, it was getting there in Paris, talking to people in person, that just opened up so many doors for me, that I just really like to encourage others to like really push past the things that are uncomfortable because they are the most rewarding in the end I think.
MS: Yeah. I guess, you know, one of the things that I think about a lot is what the fear actually is.
MS: Like what is the part of it that I might be afraid of, you know?
MS: It can be really hard to kind of put your finger on what actually—like when you stop and think about it, you're "Well what actually am I scared of about that." You know?
TB: Well I think because it doesn't actually exist, right?
TB: Like you're actually just imagining something but it's not happening in the moment. It's not something that is real in the moment. I mean it's real in the way that you're feeling it, you're anxious about it. It's real in that way, but it's not a situation that's actually happening at the—
TB: You know? So yeah, I mean I think that's a very important thing, to just be in the present moment and ask yourself like, "Hey, is this... What is it? What is it that I'm afraid of?"
TB: Yeah, because, you know, pushing past that it... The crazy thing was, when we went—there were terrorist attacks that happened when we went.
TB: And so it was kind of this whole mixed bag of like, "Alright, I'm conquering my biggest fear." And then we get there and it's like, "Oh my gosh, there's just like crazy stuff happening." But it was mixed with the experience of being in a place where people were so resilient, and getting to have these deep, genuine conversations about life and art. And it's like, I always say do things rather than not do them.
TB: You know. So rewarding.
MS: It is kind of an interesting thing that—I mean when you're talking about the terrorist attacks, I mean... And I guess this is something that I've talked about with my therapist too, that like there is actual real danger in the world and real things to be afraid of, but that your brain doesn't process those things differently from the things that aren't actually dangerous.
MS: And so in terms of like how you feel it, the things that aren't actually a danger to you still get emotionally processed very intensely. Or can.
MS: Sometimes telling the difference between those things can be tricky. You know?
TB: Yeah, for sure. But yeah, I think luckily... My mom is a bad ass, right? And she was always like, "You know what? There's always going to be things and you basically can't let that win. You can't let those guys win, you can't let the fear win." You know what I mean?
TB: Just to push ahead and push forward and try to live your life in the way that you feel you should live it. It's a hard thing because I mean with gun violence now and it's just so unpredictable and it's just crazy.
TB: So you know, there are a lot of things that are unexpected in the world and you don't know.
MS: Yeah. But then I guess a big part of it too is that like a lot of these things are things you don't have any control over, so...
TB: So, what, you're gonna—you know, you can't just hide.
TB: Yeah, it's a wild thing
MS: Sort of bringing this back to like art practice—
TB: Yes. [laughs]
MS: Something that was just occurring to me as I was listening to you talk about fear, is how fear can be kind of related to perfectionism.
TB: Oh my gosh. Yes. Oh, I don't have a problem with that.
TB: No, just kidding. [laughs] Oh my gosh. Yeah, it's like if you don't make the thing as it should be, like don't even bother. Like that's... Yeah, yeah.
TB: Anyway, go on. Sorry. [laughs]
MS: No, I'm... One of the things for me that I often struggle with—and maybe this kind of gets at what's difficult for me about studio photography.
MS: This is true for me both as a photographer and as a writer, that I have a really hard time with revising.
MS: That like I kind of just want it to come out right the first time.
MS: And so like when I'm writing an essay or something, I will sit there and labor over the first sentence and if it's not—
MS: You know, or if I don't know where it's going to end up, then I just can't even get started.
MS: And the same thing with photographs. For me, photography is so much more immediate—
MS: —that I don't have time to worry about those things. But when it comes to studio photography then I have that opportunity again to be like "It's not coming out the way I want and it's not going to come out the way that I want." So it's just like "Eh, shut down." You know?
TB: Yeah. Do you ever bounce stuff off of other people or do you have—you know what I mean? Like...
MS: As a photographer lately, I actually have finally found sort of a community of people that I can kind of bounce stuff off of, but it still sort of depends on me having something to show them first. You know?
MS: So I still have to get over that first hump myself.
TB: Oh, it's always the hardest part, man.
TB: It's always so hard just to start.
MS: Yeah. As a writer, I don't really [laughs] have anybody to show stuff to, or bounce ideas off of. I just kind of have to do it and see what happens.
TB: Yeah. Yeah.
MS: But, it is kind of—I mean, it's nice when you can finally... If you have access to a community of people who are knowledgeable. It's like, I can always show stuff to like my mom or something, but it's—
MS: And that can be good as an ego boost but not necessarily useful in terms of—
TB: Breaking it down.
MS: —figuring out where I need to develop.
TB: Well it's—yeah, that point of having a community, too, that is priceless. You know, when I first started out in fine art photography, I just didn't know what I was doing. I was self-taught and just figuring it out and luckily, you know, I came across like Aline Smithson and the LA Center of Photography and all those wonderful people that were so supportive there. And there's really nothing like community. Like when I was initially having to learn about editioning and different kinds of paper and printing, and you can always sort of like ask someone, "Hey, who do you go to for this?" Or, you know, take a certain seminar on whatever it is. It really is just... I don't know. I don't know what I would do without some sort of like those people that are on your side helping, you know, in different ways.
MS: It's—you know, for me, one of the things about community was, when I was first starting out, I didn't know anybody and I was completely self-taught except for like, you know, when I was 14 I took one semester of high school photography.
TB: Yeah, yeah.
MS: But I was just getting started, and I knew that there were—like in LA and even in San Diego there were photographers around, but I was just so intimidated by them.
MS: And that gets back to fear again. It's interesting, because like right now I'm prepping for the portfolio reviews at Medium next month.
MS: And this year they're doing a thing where they started up a private Facebook group for all the reviewees to sort of get to know each other beforehand.
TB: Mm! Nice.
MS: And at this point I'm just like—I have no nerves about it at all. I kind of like, I know what I'm doing and I'm fine.
MS: But there's people who are in the group who are like, this is their first time ever being reviewed. And some of them were like saying like, "I'm freaking out a little bit."
TB: [laughs] Yeah. Oh, I remember those days. I remember it very well. Yeah.
MS: It's hard to get past that—you know, the thing that you were saying about community. I think that a lot of us, when we're first starting have this idea that artists are going to be really elitist or really snobby, really sort of exclusionary—
MS: —and that has just not been my experience at all.
TB: Yeah. It's so true. I have found so many people that are so willing to just—whatever it is, give advice. And I definitely have tried to do that. Also, I've tried to mentor younger kids. Anytime somebody needs something from me, like I am here for people because I feel there's so many people who were there for me when I was just starting. And you talk about the portfolio reviews, my goodness. I mean, oh, that was—I remember my first portfolio review, I was so scared. I felt sick.
TB: You know, so if you can be there for someone who's going to go through that same experience and be like, "Hey, you're cool," and just maybe give them a couple tips. It's priceless.
MS: Yeah. Like having that I think is a good way of, you know, helping other people get over that little first hump of fear. I wish—I'm kind of surprised that I... [laughs]
MS: Because I didn't have when I was starting, so I'm like, I don't even know how I got started.
TB: Yeah. I know. How did we do that? What, like what happened? Just kind of... Yeah, well my—I remember like when I first started out, I remember I was photographing my niece and I was doing this dark makeup on her and I was just kind of creating.
TB: And my brother's friend came from the UK and he had this magazine, and I had just taken down a show, my first show, and I had the work just in a room in the house and my brother's like, "Hey, show him some of your work that you've got and stuff." And so I did and he asked me to send him some of the pictures and whatever. And also he used my work for the cover of the magazine and decided to do an interview with me. Now, that was very early on, but things like that, which are fluke—right place, right time, I don't know. But it's—they give you confidence. So whatever it is, you know, if you're just starting out and whether it's a portfolio review or somebody that you're talking to, all of those experiences along the way I think help give you confidence. But it's so hard because you need to put yourself out there.
TB: And that's the hardest thing, man. It's a very vulnerable position to be in, but that is the most important thing I think you can do.
MS: Yeah. It's so hard to—especially when you're first starting out, to find some source of confidence. For me, like, that does not come naturally to me.
MS: And when I see other people, especially young people—or, not necessarily chronologically young but like young in their artistic career—
MS: —who just seem to know what they're doing?
MS: You know, I'm like, where does that come from? Like that is pretty amazing.
MS: I know for me it was the same exact thing that in that first review, having just like one person be like, "You know what? There's something here. Keep working on it, but there is something there." So I don't know. Yeah. Having that—and maybe this is another thing when it comes to fear, is that on some level you have to feel like you have permission. That you like really are... Like that nobody can tell you you're an artist, that you kind of have to just claim that for yourself and then once you do that, then that helps you keep going.
TB: Yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, yeah, nobody's going to... Especially I think for people who are perfectionists.
TB: I mean, you know, people could say, "Oh, you're so great and that's so great," and that's only going to help you for so long. Because the next thing, it's like you have that all over again, that battle of like, "Alright, just push through." You know what I mean?
TB: Because I think we deal with so much and especially... You know, I've heard a lot of stories too, where people go to school and the teachers are harsh on them. And then it's, you know, you not only have your own voice, then you have somebody else that's kind of telling you you're not good enough necessarily.
TB: Potentially. So there's, I think so much in the world that you have to fight against, whether it's yourself or other people trying to put you down or whatever it is, to push through that and pass that.
MS: Yeah. And it never really goes away either. You know.
TB: [laughs] Right. Yeah.
MS: You know, that thing you were saying about other people saying you're great. But like I remember a few years ago I was reading Sally Mann's autobiography and—
MS: —there's this whole section in there where she's talking about how people are always telling her, "Oh, you'll be fine, you'll do fine. You always come up with something."
MS: And she's just thinking "You have no idea what you're talking about. What if I can't ever come up with anything ever again?"
TB: Oh my gosh. It's that fear. It's like... Ah. Yeah, but I think the only option we have is to move forward and keep going. Right?
MS: Yeah. Yeah. So there's one last question that I like to close with—
MS: —and that is if there is a piece of art or literature or just general creativity that you've experienced recently that meant something to you.
TB: Oh.. See, you ask me that and I don't want to just pick one thing. [laughs]
TB: Like, let me make a list and get back to you.
TB: [laughs] I don't know, I believe in keeping yourself open to things. So... Oh man, I saw a documentary. So this isn't a piece of art or anything, but I saw a documentary about young kids in India.
TB: And this guy who—I'm trying to remember the name, I'll remember the name of it in a moment. But he was a businessman but he always wanted to open up a school in India because, you know, the whole class system there, it's a wild thing. You know, the people who are at the bottom of the class system never have a chance to rise up. He wanted to take a lot of these kids—like one kid per household—and bring them to this boarding school. And so from—I think it was the age of five until they graduate high school, and then he helps them get into college, and really pursue whatever it is that they want, and sort of prove to the world that they don't have to stay in this suppressed state of existence, and give them opportunity. To me it really got me thinking about how things are different in the world and, you know, different spaces, and there were all these interpersonal stories. So I think everything influences art, whether it's poetry, a movie. You know.
TB: But yeah, I would give you like a list of probably like 10 things if I could. [laughs] Because I'm always—I just think that being open to the things around you can inspire really unexpected creations.
MS: Yeah, definitely. Can you remember the title of the documentary?
TB: Yeah, let me look it up real quick. Let's see... Daughters of Destiny. That's what it's called.
MS: Mm, cool. Well, thank you so much for taking the time and talking with me. I really appreciate it.
TB: Yeah, you're amazing. And I really appreciate you putting this podcast out. It's fantastic.
MS: Thank you.
Mike Sakasegawa: All right, so once again, Tami will be exhibiting with Van Rensburg Galleries at this year’s Pulse Art Fair in Miami, that’s December 6th through the 9th, and there’s a link in the show notes for that, do be on the lookout for more details there soon. And if you wanted to get a little closer look at what Tami’s exhibition at Building Bridges was like, there’s a video link in the show notes showing a sort of walk-through of the exhibition, so check that out as well.
And that is our show. If you’d like to get in touch, you can follow me and the show on Twitter at @ChannelOpenPod, on Facebook at facebook.com/keepthechannelopen, or you can send an email to email@example.com. If you’d like to support the show, a monthly pledge in any amount to our Patreon campaign is greatly appreciated, it also gets you access to our subscriber-only bonus content. You can find that at patreon.com/sakeriver, that’s sake like the drink and river like river. And please leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts, that does help new listeners find the show. Our theme music is by Podington Bear, you can find more of his music available for licensing at soundofpicture.com. We’ll be back on October 10th with a conversation with writer and editor Nicole Chung, so be sure to come back for that, and until then remember: keep the channel open.