Tamara Blake Chapman’s new series is a “gentle approach” to sharing their experience of being transgender
The photographer found a sense of community and belonging in their medium. Here they tell us how they’ve sought to honour that in their latest series.
- Roz Jones
- 21 November 2022
It might surprise you to learn that Tamara Blake Chapman’s background is actually in dance – specifically ballet. Then again, given the graciousness with which they approach photography – the concern for dynamic balance and high regard for narrative – it might not. But grant us this: at first glance, you’d probably never guess that they’ve only been image-making for three years, a heel-turn vocation after their studies in Journalism and Design at The New School. So that enviable empathetic character that oozes from their photos must be a carry-over from the 15 years studying the art of stories as a dancer, and the subsequent years doing the same as a journalist in training.
Consequently, Tamara's latest body of work The Layers of Love is a clear eyed but tremendously compassionate study of love, support and a journey of self-realisation – through the lens of the transgender experience. After starting their transition journey in March of this year, Tamara took to documenting their development to explore “the relationship with myself, my romantic relationship, my chosen family, people who I look up to and how they navigate their transness”. Since hanging up their pointe slippers due to dysphoria, Tamara found that their “life has in a way reset itself” – the camera has “allowed me to relish in the feeling of openness and anticipate the possibilities that lie ahead as my transition continues”.
The Layers of Love is, in Tamara’s words, “a gentle approach to sharing the experience of my life as a transgender, non-binary individual”. You might feel like the work is almost camera-less, completely natural as if you just caught a glimpse of something in conversation. If so, it’s because of Tamara’s natural approach: “I was simply making the photographs at times where it felt effortless,” they say. The series began four months after their top surgery, which was about two and a half months in on testosterone as well. This was no doubt a turbulent time full of change, but Tamara says that the “tenderness existing within my support system is something that I’ve been lucky enough to carry with me since before I started transitioning”.
Tamara refers to themselves as a “very new student" to photography, and is still trying to find their voice visually. Despite this, though, they’ve still managed to craft a tender visual language that tells the story of growth, perseverance and support. For Tamara, the image that sticks out to them the most is the arresting photograph of their chest. “It is really all I have ever wanted,” they detail. “I don’t care at all about what my scars look like, but I feel like I got really lucky.” And while sombre shading and inky tones might suggest sadness in another context, Tamara’s subjects are radiant in each image and the project is one of explicit hopefulness. The photographs bring peace, "especially for my surgery", Tamara concludes, stating how they've started to "really invest in my ideas of working towards building a trans archive for myself to look back on in the later years of my life".
Tamara Blake Chapman: The Layers of Love. Portrait of My Lover (Copyright © Tamara Blake Chapman, 2022)
About the Author
Roz (he/him) joined It’s Nice That as editorial assistant in October 2022 after graduating from Magazine Journalism and Publishing at London College of Communication. He’s particularly interested in publications, archives and multi-media design. Feel free to get in contact with Roz about ideas you may have for stories from the Global South.