Portrait of Tamara Dean by Mertim Gokalp

Tamara Dean: Relationships, Nature and Ritual

This week we’re excited to share an exclusive interview with Tamara Dean by writer Kim Triebsee from Beautiful Bizarre Magazine, the freshest Australian based contemporary art magazine for artists, enthusiasts, collectors and galleries. Tamara is an Australian artist whose practice includes photography, installation and participatory works exploring the relationship between humans and the natural world and the role ritual plays in our lives. She was featured in Beautiful Bizarre issue 013.

(Pictured in the header is Bluethumb artist Merton Gokalp’s Portrait of Tamara Dean. Mertim is a past Archibald finalist.)

Photo By Tamara Dean

Narrative plays a huge part in Tamara’s photography.

Wilderness plays such a huge role in your work. I know we can discuss here the mythology of it, our detachment from it and our calling to it but as I sat with your work, I started to see something else. I was thinking about how landscape is often a metaphor for an emotion or state of being. Then I got to thinking that as human beings we often see in others what resonates most deeply as being part of ourselves. It clicked that perhaps in your work nature/the wilderness is so sacred because we’re starting to see our own spirituality reflected back at us. Do you think this might be the case in your work? Tell me more about what the wilderness represents for you?

Self Portrait By Tamara Dean

A self-portrait by Tamara Dean.

Wilderness represents eternity for me, a shared sense of time between our ancestors and our future. It is a space we can imagine ourselves in, as primitive beings and yet still find a place in the now. It’s an ancient space which we can revisit, to remember where we came from and to reflect on where we are going. It is as though time becomes both immediate and infinite when I place myself in the wilderness. I feel most alive when I am in nature.

The intoxication of the scents, sounds and textures brings me into myself and I feel as though I am able to arrive in the present moment.

By Tamara Dean

Many of Tamara’s photographs are set in nature.

I find your background in photojournalism fascinating. Particularly as to how it plays out in your personal work. Documentary and Story seem so diametrically opposed yet in your work they seem to happily rough and tumble together like two notes in a harmony. How do you coax them into being friends in your work? Where does documentary end and story begin?

My work has always held a strong sense of narrative. When I was working as a documentary photographer, I was telling other people’s stories through my photographs. Now with the use of allegory I am telling my own stories, delving into more universal, personal narratives, which I feel compelled to explore.

By Tamara Dean

Tamara’s photography is known for being evocative and emotional.

To me colour has a leading role in your work. It’s almost like it’s the narrator of each scene. Tell me more?

Colour is incredibly seductive. The greens I seek are not unlike the rich and vivid colour of moss. The kind of surface you want to touch. There is a tactile quality to the cotton rag paper, which coupled with the rich colour encourages the viewer to come close to the work.

By Tamara Dean

Green is an important colour in Tamara’s work – often her imagery has a greenish tint.

Human intimacy seems to be the fiercest roar in your work, and the relationships between people, between you and your subjects. But when I look at your work as a whole I can’t help but notice an overwhelming sense of solitude. Even if there’s two or more people within the frame their individual stories sing the loudest. Can you tell me more about the solitude in your work?

When it comes to birth, rites of passage, death… these are challenges we face as individuals. Transition happens within us and by ourselves. I have always been a daydreamer, often isolating myself from the situation around me to delve deeply into my thoughts and imagination. I do believe that there is much of myself, which I bring to my work, and this could account for the sense of isolation apparent in my figures.

By Tamara Dean

I love how your camera points to the beauty/spirituality in the everyday. The deep foundations have that Pre-Raphaelite romance and drama – to me this kind of feels like the bones beneath the work. Something we can’t see directly but it holds everything up. The flesh is a little more gritty and real – that everyday intimate beauty. If I were a novice adventurer and you were teaching me how I could seek out and find these considered moments, what directions would you point me in? What do I need to look for?

I seek out beauty – be that in objects, people, nature, symmetry. I have retained and nurtured my sense of wonder in the world around me. I’ve always thought it a wonderfully optimistic way to be, going out into the world and looking for beauty.

By Tamara Dean

Speaking of looking, I had this thought that the lens or eye we choose as a photographer somehow points to something in our psychological make-up. What do you think your wide-angle viewpoint says about you?

I try to give the sense that the viewer is a part of the social dynamics of the scene. Looking in from a perspective, this feels as though they could be there. This adds to the sense of intimacy and accessibility I try to create within my work.

By Tamara Dean

There’s an ethereal quality to Tamara’s work, don’t you think?

I’m giving you an unlimited budget and an unlimited time frame. Where in the world are you headed to for this project?

I would relish the opportunity to experience the landscapes of Turkey and Iceland. The surreal nature of the landscapes, the sense of scale, the quality of light.

By Tamara Dean

How gorgeous are those dark and moody tones?

I wish I could have seen and smelt your Here and Now installation. Your work already has such an immersive cinematic quality to it. I’m wondering, does your work have a soundtrack? For instance if I could walk through your The Edge works what would be a good thing to be listening too? Does this soundtrack change for each series or is it the same piece but extended by each new work?

I haven’t really considered this before. In my Here-and-Now immersive installation, I did actually create a soundtrack of cicadas and bellbirds. But if I had to choose a song to accompany my work as a whole it would have to be ‘Comptine d’un autre été – L’après-midi’ from the Amelie soundtrack. I feel a delicate balance of optimism, grief, beauty and love in this piece, which is also true to my work.

By Tamara Dean

Tamara is a master of emotion and storytelling.

The act of taking photographs seems to me to be like mindfulness in motion. All of your senses seem keened to the moment. Tell me how this plays out when you’re creating a shot.

This is very true of my process. I bring the characters, the location and the narrative intention together. Then allow the time for my subjects to experience and engage with the environment, inviting a genuine interaction.

By Tamara Dean

This everyday setting has become an otherworldly experience in Tamara’s photograph.

What are your next projects?

I am currently working on my Animalism series, which explores our instinctual human nature and inherent animalism. It is an acknowledgment that we are indeed a part of the natural world. Ultimately, that to wreak destruction upon nature is to wreak destruction upon ourselves.

Loving Tamara’s fine art photography? See more Australian artists’ work here.

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