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“Beautiful images mean nothing if there is not a connection made,” is how Tammy Berk looks at her photography business. Her great passion and skills reflect in her work no matter what she is capturing. Recently, Toonari Post had the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Toonari Post (TP): So, to start off with some background information, how long have you been a photographer?
Tammy Berk (TB): I have always been doing art without realizing that it was in fact art. I bought my first camera when I was 21, and started my business at 28. So I have been doing photography for 20 years now. In the last 5 years I started painting, drawing, and exploring other mediums. Always wanted to be an oil painter, but was always hesitant about the outcome. I am finally starting an oil class and absolutely love it.
TP: Where did you get your start?
TB:I had a rocky start. I was in college and then in another profession. I just decided I didn’t want to stay in that field any longer and it was time to move on. I had a background in business, but no art or photography instruction, just had the passion.
TP: Did you always know it was what you were going to do?
TB: No. I just knew I wanted the chance to put in a lot of input where I worked. I just became more creative in what I was doing, and it just became a natural progression for me.
TP: What has been the most rewarding feeling about being a photographer?
TB: I love looking at images I take once they are developed. Truthfully ,when someone says the “love” word when they are looking at the photos I have taken of them for the first time [it] is the most rewarding feeling. I am more disappointed when I don’t hear that than when I don’t make money or anything else.
TP: Do you feel like you fit in the quote-unquote photographer label? Do you feel you are expanding that definition?
TB:I am definitely expanding it. There are some types of photographic generalities that I do not fit into. I hate doing on the fly photographs, especially if the subjects in the photos are not expecting you. I don’t want to invade. I do use a lot of humor when taking photos. It is a spectator sport; I love looking through the lens. The lens clarifies, allows me to connect with the person, and stay separate all at the same time. I truly love that part of it when all of those come together. I’m more like a director of a documentary, setting the stage and then encouraging them to be spontaneous. I let it happen naturally. Then when I see something that they are doing that looks great through the lens that’s what I go for. Then it becomes more about going with the flow.
TP: Personal story about a specific piece you want to share?
TB: There are so many. Babies and high school seniors are great to photograph. Babies don’t give you anything fake. It is what it is. High school seniors are very honest and brave and they have the world by the tail, along with style. One of my favorite pieces is one I created for a gentleman who is a World War II veteran. He didn’t like to talk about the War but I did a portrait of him and arranged for his son to allow me to use a photograph with his crew in front of the bomber.
When it came time for the shoot, I did the photo of the gentleman and his wife. Then I did one where there was a table behind him. I took the photo his son had let me borrow, restored it, and put that photo on the table using Photoshop. It could tell a story that he didn’t like to talk about. The family didn’t expect this photo at all and loved it. But if I hadn’t heard stories or gotten him to open him [up], I would not have ever been able to do that. Portraits are more 3 dimensional than people sometimes realize.
TP: Any favorite location you have gotten to photograph either of or at?
TB: I love traveling. My favorite location of all time is a breathless place, and is The Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. It is just amazing. I can’t even find words to describe it. It is huge and in middle of nowhere. I was scared and thrilled all at the same time. I went there for 48 hours. At all times of the day, I just couldn’t get enough. That was the most surreal feeling and the photographs still take my breath away.
TP: Where do your terms of success lie?
TB: [With] every client I have to have happy, thrilled clients. My terms of success are personal. It isn’t about money, you can do anything and get that. For me I need to be able to support my daughters and have flexibility, but the impact on other people’s lives is important to me. It’s not going to be that I am famous, rich, it is about the timeless photographs. It is about creating a legacy. My art might not end up in a museum or anything, but someday a little girl will get to look at her grandmother’s photo that I took. She will be able to find a connection between her grandmother that she might not even had the chance to meet. My work will go on after I am gone through that.
TP: You do a lot with charity, tell us a little about that.
TB:I do as much as I can. But people and organizations have a need and I can give. I will sometimes photograph the occasion for special events. Sometimes I donate gift certificates for silent auctions. It’s whatever way they need me to help. The Heart Gallery is what I pour the most into. Those kids are looking for forever homes. It breaks me up that they are alone. It isn’t the same that you don’t have parents who are there to love you. Family means a lot to me, so I go all out for them. I sometimes give Autism speaks. I just do whatever I can, whenever something moves me.
TP: Tell us a little about your upcoming projects.
TB: I have started doing some work with digital pet art. It is an outgrowth of my photography business. Kind of my next step in the evolution of what I am doing. I started free hand painting, but I am not doing that for clients yet. I really take my time and love doing it. I have ideas in the works, one being titled, “Extraordinary Kids” which I got the idea for 5 years. I want to showcase kids who are overcoming extraordinary obstacles. I see it as a black and white exhibit. Another is an urban series that showcases motorcycle riders. I want to photograph men and women who are executives during the day, and weekend warriors on the weekend. I want to tie that to a charity event somehow.
That is a natural fit, with some of the profits going directly to the charity. I am also working on an educational project. There is a desperate need in the U.S. especially with developmentally delayed people, especially teenagers. There is little or no access to things that make any sense to them. They hear a lot about things that impact them, but no way of relating it directly to them. To put everything together, whether they do writing, produce something; create something that helps them make sense for them. I have a child psychologist as well as a pediatrician on board with me in doing this project. Just looking to find the time to get the full committee together. I just want to help them make sense about what is going on in their lives.
TP: How do you come up with ideas? What inspires you?
TB: Every person is an unique experience. But life is my inspiration. Whether it is listening or pulling out little threads that make up the whole quilt. To me it is about paying attention to the little tiny things. That’s what inspires me. I really try to make it about the person or thing I am photographing. It is a collaborative work.
TP: Any suggestions for struggling or beginning photographers?
TB: My industry is one of the industries being completely transformed with the digital technology age. I think there is going to be a swing back to nostalgic portraits though. Younger people are able to adapt to change with that advantage of always being a part of swift technological change. I encourage finding people whose work you really love and combining it with different styles. Working with a great photographer would be great way of learning the art. But most importantly, listen to your intuition, tuning into the little things that whisper, are huge ideas. Those things that whisper should be really getting our attention. But I am still struggling, so we are all in this together. Just keep learning. You have to want to learn all the time. It is a life long thing.
Tammy Berk is a photographer out of St. Petersburg, Florida, and to see her work you can visit her website at http://berkphotography.com/.
Image Courtesy of Berk Photography