Tamara Blake Chapman views photography as a tool for documenting their community and their loved ones
The New York-based photographer talks us through their intimate and tranquil imagery, fuelled by a need to archive the moments between them and those closest to them.
- Ayla Angelos
- 3 June 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Photography has the power to freeze moments, record memories, events and stories for years and years to come. Tamara Blake Chapman, a photographer and multidisciplinary writer currently based in Brooklyn, recently moved back to New York after spending much of their life in a small town in southwest Florida – upon returning, Tamara pursued their undergraduate studies in Journalism and Design at The New School. For the past two years, however, Tamara has been image-making, which is a practice that took off following their mother’s passing, “shortly after recognising the lack of photographic memorabilia we shared,” they tell It’s Nice That. “I began documenting tender moments with my loved ones as a way to cope with my loss and it’s been my passion ever since. It’s a very calming and healthy way for me to stay connected to the person I was closest to in my life.”
With this in mind, Tamara uses their camera as a means of personal documentation – capturing the sweet moments between them, their friends and family, along with the fascinating subjects that they’ll meet along the way. Intimacy and tranquility form the pinnacle of Tamara’s work, which transcends into a portfolio abound with soft, tonal and calming imagery that sheds light on the personal stories of the people in front of the lens. Alongside photographing youth and dancers, Tamara has recently been focusing their practice on the development of their style, experimenting and elevating the colour palettes used to direct their stories.
“I think what drew me most to photography was the ability to use my lens to capture people the way that I see them through my eyes on a regular basis,” says Tamara, continuing to cite how authenticity and personality is most imperative to their practice. “Also, especially as a queer, Black, non-binary individual, I want to be able to represent my community as there’s not many people that I see who look like me.”
What’s more is that Tamara pulls references from many great photographers working in a similar ilk to theirs, roused by podcasts with some of their favourite image-makers of the moment, including Kennedi Carter, Rahim Fortune and Micaiah Carter. All of which exude an autobiographical and personal outlook throughout their work, which is something that Tamara thinks of highly and succeeds in doing with their own practice. “They all possess qualities of individuality and tenacity, and that’s something I really admire,” they add, pointing out how Kennedi, in particular, has been a key inspiration for being so open about her process. “She’s not about gatekeeping and she’s transparent about it, which is sadly rare to see. Her words have guided me through the process of reaching out for editorial opportunities which has been helpful.” Otherwise, Tamara gives thanks to one of their close friends Olivia, with whom they observe books and head out to museums with, plus generally help each other out with their artistic processes.
With all this in mind, Tamara’s portfolio feels a lot heavier than at first glance – but in the best possible way. These aren’t just aesthetically pleasing portraits of people posing and going about their daily activities; they’re snapshots of life and have been formulated with utmost care and attention. This is because Tamara likes to spend time getting to know their subjects and makes sure that they’re feeling comfortable, elevated through the “ice-breaker” question about their favourite films or music. “I aim to portray them in a light that is intimate and tender,” they continue. “There’s a consistent level of delicacy that I always want to capture.”
Tenny, for example, is the debut image made on Tamara’s Mamiya RZ67 camera in September last year. Having just received the camera in the post, Tenny showed Tamara how to use it, and they’d both just met for the first time after being friends on Instagram. “It was a very comforting moment, and the point where I realised how confined I am in the colour palettes in my work,” they add. The photo is illuminated by the midday sun, rays highlighting the fibres on Tenny’s hat, while they affirm a relaxed gaze directed right through the lens. The hues are natural and glowy, adding a calming, sun-filled luminescence to the picture and an immediate sense of trust.
In another image titled Christian, a friend Isaac had driven the photographer, subject (Christian) and good friend Hee Eun for two hours to a park in Long Island. It was a pivotal moment for Tamara, as the pandemic resulted in them losing a part-time job and provoking them to explore their past life as a dancer – an activity they’d practiced for 15 years prior. “This short-lived series has guided me to a space of contentment where I now know that my love for dance (and its mobility) can be done inside my home on my own time, so that I may dedicate myself to photography full time.”
There are many more images like this, where Tamara uses their camera to tell intimate narratives of themselves or others. Each of which has amassed into a detailed documentation of those around them and their relationships, so that in time to come, they will have an entire archive of experiences to reflect back on.
GalleryCopyright © Tamara Blake Chapman, 2021
Tamara Blake Chapman: Miranda (Copyright © Tamara Blake Chapman, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.