Interview by Amanda Quinn Olivar, West Coast Editor
Tami Bahat is an award-winning photographer based in Los Angeles. Her career began in 2010, when her photography was noticed by the editor of UK publication Nikon Owner Magazine, which led to participation in a series of photo events and speaking engagements, including Photo LA. Her work has been included in nearly fifty exhibitions, including Fotofever (Paris), AAF New York and Hong Kong, and the LA Art Show. Tami was selected as a Critical Mass finalist (2016), also invited to attend Review Santa Fe (2017), and has received numerous awards including the Media Services Award (San Diego Art Institute), Juror’s Honorable mention (Center for Fine Art Photography), Best of Photography 2013 Finalist (Photographer’s Forum magazine), and the Spotlight Award (B&W Magazine).
Amanda Quinn Olivar: How would you describe your work and subject matter?
Tami Bahat: Portraiture with a twist of unconventionality.
AQO: You come from a background rooted primarily in performance. What was it about photography that drew you away?
TB: I can’t say I’ll ever be completely drawn away, because I believe in keeping the channel open towards being inspired by the things that surround us. Theater gave me the courage to become a bolder artist and trust my instincts, while singing helped me be disciplined and express myself fully from a very open and emotional place. I love that all art forms inform one another and I feel it’s important to push beyond what’s comfortable.
AQO: How did your upbringing influence your path?
TB: We moved to the States when I was young and the family had very little resources, but my parents made sure to never let us feel that. They always exposed me to music, dance, art books, etc. I was surrounded by a lot of love and encouraged to go for every endeavor I had an interest in.
AQO: The artists you reference in your recent Dramatis Personae series are primarily painters, and all from the 15th and 16th centuries (Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer, etc). What is the significance to you, of that time period and those particular artists?
TB: You know when you walk into a family member’s home and feel a warmth and ease that you don’t get from anywhere else? That’s how the Old Masters’ artwork feels to me. Whether we’ve lived other lifetimes is up for debate, but the best way I can put it is it just feels like coming home to me. The work makes me very emotional, while this modern world feels more like a business meeting that I have to wear heels to.
AQO: How do you see the relationship between painting and your medium of choice, photography?
TB: I may not be able to paint like the Old Masters, but I’m grateful that photography has gotten to the point of becoming a very well-respected art form. I know it wasn’t always the case. To be given an opportunity to create a thoughtful scene with my camera, instead of needing only a brush is certainly a gift. I definitely admire the breadth of what can be achieved within both mediums.
AQO: Tell us about your technique and process.
TB: I focus first and foremost on the conceptual, knowing that the smallest details make up the big picture. I have my hand in all aspects of the work, from choosing the models to finding their clothing, buying antique pieces, directing the lighting, choosing the animals, finding the frames, printing the work, etc. It’s a lot, but such a thrill seeing it all come together and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
AQO: What messages are conveyed in your work? Talk to us about the concept of "imperfect beauty", which is a consistent theme.
TB: As far as messages being conveyed within the work, I leave that up to the viewer. We all have our own life experiences that we bring to what we see, and that’s a truly beautiful thing. Each tableau is an open-ended story, and just like life, there are complexities and often more than only one straightforward answer. I’m a big fan of embracing each other’s uniqueness. It’s the differences I want to know more about.
AQO: Please relate a memory that influenced or changed your life and career.
TB: I overcame a fear of flying to exhibit my work abroad. It was life-changing, and doors immediately opened because of it. I share this story because I think it’s important to not only talk about all the wins, but to show that sometimes it takes everything we have to push forward. Those breakthroughs tend to be the moments where we experience the most growth. I hope to help others accomplish their biggest dreams by doing more than they ever imagined they could.
AQO: What is your favorite art accident?
TB: I was photographing underwater and captured a model in a way that completely distorted her head and body. Her expression was otherworldly and thus began a new photo series based on this one image.
AQO: What's next for you? Do you have upcoming any exhibitions, or events?
TB: Aside from my solo exhibition at Building Bridges Art Exchange in LA from January 6th-February 8th, I’ll be exhibiting work at the LA Art Show from January 10th-14th, and with the Catherine Edelman Gallery at the Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary from January 11th-15th. In April, I have an exhibition in Boston at The Griffin Museum of Photography.
Featured Image: High and Low, 12" × 18", archival pigment print, 2014