The Aje Report


The Trailblazer Series |
Tamara Dean

Starting her journey as a documentary photographer and photojournalist, whilst concurrently honing the art in her craft, Tamara Dean is now hailed as one of Australia's most acclaimed photographic artists. Her work, embedded with a raw and emotive beauty, is a visual language she uses to communicate deeper ideas and concepts revolving primarily around the complexities of the human condition. Self captured at home in New South Wales, Australia, we delve into the detail of Tamara's work and what she's up to next.


Meet the trailblazer here.

Tamara wears the Motocyclette Quilted Bubble Dress throughout

Describe your journey to where you are today and how you ended up in your chosen field.


I began studying photography in high school and art school, going on to work as a documentary photographer and a photojournalist for over a decade whilst concurrently developing my photographic art practice.


I had my first child in 2005 and my second in 2007 and found my life had to radically change.


Balancing my life as a full-time staff photographer, a mother and working on my art photography was challenging and meant that most of my personal work was done on artist residencies. I took a redundancy from my position as staff photographer on the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014 to focus full time on my art practice and have been exhibiting ever since. I have now been exhibiting for over a decade and am represented by Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney.


A highlight of my career was being selected for the 2018 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art where I created two major works, my ‘Stream of Consciousness’ installation and my series ‘In Our Nature’ which went on to achieve significant critical and commercial success.


My works are now held in major public and private collections including

the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra ACT; Parliament House Art Collection, Canberra ACT, Art Gallery of South Australia, Artbank, The Mordant Family Collection, Neil Balnaves Collection, Francis J. Greenburger Collection NYC, Tweed River Gallery, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Macquarie University Art Gallery, Newcastle Art Gallery.



As one of Australia's most acclaimed photographic artists, how do you decide when or where to shoot?


It continues to be an organic process, often led by opportunities that present themselves such as the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, or site-specific experiences that I seek out in the way of artist residencies. During this time of self-isolation due to Covid 19, I have been shooting on my own property using myself as my model.


In 2017 I was invited to Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef with The Climate Council and leading international reef scientists to learn about the impacts of climate change on the environment.


The trip to Heron Island was a wake up call for me which reignited my environmental values; and made me realise how important it is to individually do whatever we can to address the climate crisis. This trip also gave me the opportunity to test out my idea of photographing people underwater in formation similar to a school of fish. This became the start of my ‘Endangered’ series.

Your images are embedded with such rich emotion, can you describe your creative process?


For me photography is an intuitive process, it is a visual language which has the ability to portray the complexities and nuances of the human condition in a way that can be understood universally. My shoots are physically active and employ a process of connecting with place and of letting go, unfolding over the space of a couple of hours.


I tend to work in series, and more often that not, one series will lead into the next. One idea will dominate my consciousness at a certain time, and once I express that idea through my work a new concept will inevitably surface. I use symbolism to communicate ideas and concepts about my deeply held beliefs and environmental concerns.



Playing a pivotal role in your work, describe your relationship with the ocean.


I have a deep respect for the ocean, although for much of my life is was not a place where I felt comfortable or safe. Not one to enjoy being dumped by waves, I was usually the person waiting with the towels on the beach, keeping watch while my friends would go swimming.


When I worked at the SMH I was sent to Phuket after the tsunami to photograph the aftermath. The first hand experience of seeing the destruction of such a powerful force stayed with me and affected my relationship to the beach for many years. So the act of immersing myself in the ocean and pushing past my fears to create my Endangered series was incredibly challenging.


Having said that, through the making of this series I overcame some of my fears and am now seen regularly on the beach walking the dog, jogging, sometimes going in for a dip, and collecting as many bits of rubbish as my hands and pockets will hold to take home and dispose of properly.


It’s fair to say my relationship with the ocean has changed drastically. I continue to be in awe of its power but now also appreciative of how integral it is to life on this planet.



What has been the most valuable professional lesson for you?


Whilst working at the SMH the skill which was the most challenging to learn and which has served me best to this day was ironically, that of directing. Developing the ability to walk into someone’s home who I had never met before, and gently guide them through a shoot so that they felt comfortable and empowered. This is the skill that has had the most influence on my process, and continues to help me in creating a sense of ease in my shoots with my models.



As an advocate for climate change, how can we implement small changes for big effect?


Plant a tree! Plant many trees! Plant as many trees as you are able to!

Which has been your most challenging series to date?


100% my ‘Endangered’ series for the aforementioned points and in terms of the logistics of the underwater shoots.


After my experience at Heron Island I arranged another underwater shoot in Jervis Bay with 21 women. This involved chartering two boats (to fit everyone), catering, having support people as well as a multitude of other factors. Whilst also being aware of the individual needs of each person to make sure everyone was feeling safe and able to get to the boat if they needed to.


The orchestration of 21 people underwater at once to achieve the formations I was aiming for was definitely the hardest part. Having everyone end up exactly where they needed to be underwater in front of the camera at the same time whilst being swept around in moving currents was a huge feat.



What is inspiring you at the moment? What are you looking forward to?


I find myself more and more drawn to sculpture as a medium. I love the work of Jason deCaires Taylor who is a British sculptor who has been creating underwater sculptures for over a decade. His concrete sculptures encourage the growth of coral on their surfaces, creating ecosystems and bringing his sculptures to life. The vivid colours and textures are extraordinary. His 2010 underwater sculpture museum, MUSA El Museo subaquàtico de Arte (The Museum of Underwater Art) comprises of over 400 life sized sculptures in the Caribbean sea.

It would be a life highlight to be able to see these works in their underwater environment one day.



Who has played an impactful role in your professional or personal life?


My 1st year COFA art school photography teacher Simone Douglas. Simone is an internationally recognized photographic artist who now heads the MFA program at Parsons, NYC.


Simone has come in and out of my life at critical times, offering guidance and support for over two decades now. Among many other things, Simone helped give me the tools to push my practice from photographic prints to large-scale installations at a time when I was struggling to know how to make the leap. Simone continues to be a great inspiration, a mentor and a dear friend.



What is next on the horizon for you?


I have been working away at a multidisciplinary body of work whilst in isolation which I plan to continue working on for the next year. The series will be exhibited in 2021 at Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney.

Muse: Tamara Dean, self captured at home in New South Wales, Australia

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