While I do not recall the venue or exhibition I was at at the time, my first face to face encounter with Tami Bahat came with the utterance, “I’m a hugger!”, followed by a smile and embrace that was honest and sincere, and I quickly came to realize was this was the best way to describe her, in a nutshell. It’s her honesty and sincerity that surrounds everything she does. It’s how she conducts herself in the professional arena, it’s how she creates photographs of depth and subtlety, and it’s how she treats everyone like a member of her own family.
It is a person and photographer like Tami that I’ve had the honor of watching grow these past few years, as an artist at an astronomical rate. With a background and life steeped heavily in the arts, she quite literally gives 110%, 110% of the time. No joke. Not a cliché. You want an example? In addition to producing and photographing work, arranging exhibitions at an international level, and promoting herself, she has recently taken on the most difficult job of all - Motherhood. Time management is another thing I’m always going on about, so I’m also not joking when I say that this makes my head spin. 110%. I seriously need this kind of dedication and energy.
I know that I often say that we could all learn from the photographers I feature here, but this is especially true of the efforts that Tami puts forth. Her latest photographs are quiet, beautiful, engaging, and most certainly a nod to the Old Masters of painting. Beyond the photographs though, she has chosen to make her exhibitions an experience for all who encounter them. There is as much thought and process in their design as there is in the initial concept for the work she creates. 110%. It is having had this experience myself that I felt I could not ignore what Tami brings to the table, and seriously needed to pick at her intricate brain to see if I could glean some information to use myself, and share with others. This is, after all, why we are here. 110%.
Tami Bahat (b.1979) is a fine art photographer from Tel Aviv, Israel. Raised by a former dancer and a graphic artist, Bahat’s family resettled in Los Angeles when she was young.
Championed by parents who encouraged her artistic expression, she acquired a stronger knowledge of herself and others through experimentation in various media. Taking the unconventional route she left school at the age of fifteen and was given guidance by her father, who had taught at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. He encouraged her independent study through workshops and seminars of art history, photography, sculpture and design, further enhancing her creative vision.
A series of family trips around the world exposed Bahat to humanity as a whole and the myriad ways that people live, providing her with a keen awareness of the beauty and loss that an earthly existence brings, an undertone in much of her work.
Bahat’s fine art career began in earnest in 2010 when her photography was noticed by the editor of the U.K. publication Nikon Owner Magazine. He was struck by her bold approach and soon after, the work appeared on the cover, along with a feature story detailing her as an artist.
Most recently her work was exhibited at the Catherine Edelman Gallery (Chicago) and This is No Fantasy (Australia). She has also shown at prominent photography events including Fotofever Paris, Scope NY, The Photography Show (AIPAD), as well as the LA Art Show.
Tami lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
Michael Kirchoff: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions, Tami, I truly appreciate the effort you’re putting into doing this with me. Normally, I would start off by asking about your start in photography and your early inspiration, but I know well how your parents had a lot to do with your love of the arts. Creativity and inspiration were very much at home with you in that environment. I wonder if you might speak to us a bit about how that was for you, and how it may have impacted the direction and intention of your work, especially in the beginning.
Tami Bahat: Hi Michael, Thank you! I was very lucky to have parents that supported my decisions implicitly and gave me a lot of freedom growing up. My dad genuinely loved art, it filled the house and his entire spirit as well. The way he dove into books on art and tilted his head with a smile on his face while admiring each detail was heartwarming. He was truly a master in his own right as well, whether it came to calligraphy or pastels. He taught himself how to play the accordion very well and could sing and harmonize beautifully. He opened my world to many different artists and art forms, which I’m incredibly grateful for. He was especially proud of the fact that he, in his own words, “never got bored” because everything around him was interesting. Clouds, people, music, time spent sitting around talking about life… That was all art too. Through him I learned to be an admirer of the less obvious things around me.
My mom was a dancer in Israel and traveled the world with her dance troupe before I was born. She has a great aesthetic and sense for people and is the most compassionate human being I’ve ever met. I was always encouraged by her and sent to schools with art programs, which were a saving grace for me. Art gave me a means to channel my feelings about the world around me, and the ability to learn how to process things and express myself in a positive way. Fortunately my parents never hindered my growth or tried to sway me towards a safer “money-making” career. They just encouraged me to find what I was passionate about which gave me a truer sense of my own identity and why I was here.
MK: I’m often curious about how our environment affects our process. You were born in Israel, but moved to the U.S. at an early age. Did that move change anything about your process, or did it happen at too early of an age to have had any significance in your art yet? Alternatively, have any later visits to your birth country yielded any type of outlook on how you create?
TB: Yes, growing up we went back to visit every year. My culture and heritage have definitely had an effect on how I view the world. There’s something very soulful and spiritual about the Jewish people. There is great depth and solemnity, yet humor remains at the heart of life and has carried us through many difficult times. There’s so much history and a reverence for spirituality. All that certainly influences things.
Also, my grandmother was an art collector and we would stay with her while we were in the country. Her walls were completely covered with art and she took us to the museum and dance shows and theatre performances. I even purchased a piece of art there when I was young with money I had saved, which I felt proud of. So I think it’s safe to say it played a big part.
MK: What is it about your creative process that you feel is represented most significantly in your photographs?
TB: It has everything to do with expression. It’s emotional because that’s innately who I am. I’ve always felt too much and loved too much and felt a little alienated in this world, yet I wanted to be understood deeply. I strive to create imagery that leaves room for interpretation and is somewhat complex like every human being on this planet. There are always layers to us that ask to be explored.
MK: I think it was about a year ago (or maybe longer), that I had the chance to see your exhibition for Dramatis Personae at Building Bridges Art Exchange in Santa Monica, CA. You took the standard photographic exhibition and made it more of an experience for the viewer by including props from the actual shoots, a custom paint palette on the walls, and music that set a tone for the work presented. This extra effort to create a mood for your show was brilliant in its execution. Was the plan always to include these additions, or did they grow from the intonation of the work itself as the planning stage began? What was the overall result of these efforts (besides impressing me immensely)?
TB: Thank you so much! I was really glad you could see it. I’ve had the opportunity now to show this series both in the U.S. as well as abroad, which has been amazing. But I’m always striving to do more, so when I found out I was going to have a solo exhibition, I asked myself what kind of show I would be most excited to see. I started developing what we could do in the space with the curator and there was no way I could go with a traditional presentation. You are correct in that I wanted everyone to have an experience. In doing so, I connected with people in new ways, and so many had a visceral response and there’s just nothing better than that.
MK: You have opened an exhibition at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago just recently for this work as well, taking the entire experience on the road. What were the logistical endeavors that had to be made for this to happen to your satisfaction? Was the gallery equally on board with your intentions? Were there ever second thoughts on doing this, or is this how you will always intend the work to be seen?
TB: The staff of the Catherine Edelman Gallery are some of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever come across. It was an honor that they believed in this show and dove straight into the eccentric world of Dramatis Personae headfirst with me. It wasn’t a small venture by any means but their level of commitment to the detailed presentation was incredible. In Los Angeles my husband and I built a model of the Chicago gallery to gain a better perspective and there were many conversations between all of us regarding layout, color choices, furniture etc. Then we shipped out all the furniture and got to work when we arrived. I think it turned out beautifully. At this point it’s not feasible to present in this way on every occasion but I’m certainly open to the right opportunities presenting themselves. It’s certainly special when it all comes together.
MK: During the actual shooting portion of creating Dramatis Personae, you were working with non-professional models, children, and animals. All of these things can add up to a recipe for disaster or amazing acts of serendipity with their actions. Was this a decision based on the hope that you would get something out of the ordinary while making images? Any particular events that brought out something magical for an image?
TB: The unpredictable aspects make it exciting! Like the time the baboon grabbed the paint brush in “The Painter” or the Capuchin monkey gazed up at the model in “The Concern”. There are too many truly great things to mention, things taking place that I could have never planned for, and that is magic. When you don’t have all the answers you discover as you go, which is a beautiful thing.
MK: In Dramatis Personae, is there one image that stands as a signature photograph or one that speaks loudest?
TB: Michael, they’re all my kids, you know… There’s no way to pick one!
MK: It is quite clear that collaboration is a big part of your process, and your amazing husband is a wonderful conspirator in all of this as well. Can you speak of the process and need to collaborate with like-minded individuals in the creation of your work?
TB: Thank you so much for recognizing him! There is no way I could have done any of this without Matthew’s partnership. He’s my “make it happen” guy that goes above and beyond to make sure that all technical details are taken care of. In Chicago he even pulled an all-nighter while stenciling the walls to keep us on track. It seems that there’s nothing he can’t figure out, which makes it possible for me to go big. It’s amazing! I’ve also had friends step in and assist me with holding lights, getting models into their outfits, doing hair, moving furniture. It takes a village and I’m so grateful to have such talented, caring people surrounding me. Teamwork in fact does make the dream work.
MK: With regard to creativity and the projects you take on. Do you feel it is better to create work that fits a particular style for yourself, branch out and try new things, or better to simply leave yourself open to possibilities that happen organically?
TB: I would say all of the above. There are no limits to what a person can accomplish so it’s truly where one’s heart is pulling them. That feeling may change at different stages of a life/career. I like to chase down ideas and see where they take me. If they make me nervous or wonder if they’ll work that’s usually a great sign to move forward. I do think it’s very important to push yourself to try things. Whether it turns into a series or not, it may teach you something or open you up to another world. I’ve taken sculpting and design classes and seen new ways of creating which have only enriched my skillset. I’ve shot underwater when I had never attempted it before and it was exhilarating. Try. Try. Try. And remember to enjoy yourself along the way.
MK: Do you have any other creative pursuits, or has photography become the one obsession that always takes precedence?
TB: Photography is certainly my passion and what I love to do most.
MK: How have you sought out an audience for your work? Is there a social media aspect to this purpose?
TB: I think the best way to get people to see your work is to show it in person whenever you can. Meet face to face. Talk about it. I do like to share on social media too, it’s great to have a presence there. But from my own experience there’s nothing like meeting people in real life including galleries looking for quality work.
MK: In the midst of creating your photographs, exhibiting them, and promoting it all, you have also taken on the most difficult job of all recently - motherhood. How has time management enabled you to make this happen? Has the birth of your son inspired any new avenues for you to explore?
TB: It’s not always easy but I’m very fortunate to have a great support system. I’ve started incorporating him into the work and I hope it’s something he can be proud of and enjoy when he’s older. It was very special to have him at my opening in Chicago and I love that he gets to see me doing what I love. All we can do as parents is try our best to find balance and to make sure our little ones always know they’re loved. We’re lucky if there are family and friends that can also do that for them and encourage along the way.
MK: Anyone working in an artistic field has matured and grown over time. Is there anything you’ve discovered lately that you’d like people to know about you or your creative process?
TB: I’ve grown the most by going outside of my comfort zone. If you think you might fail, do it anyway. That’s how you grow. I’m reminded of this again and again.
MK: I think that a great many people would benefit greatly from your ideas and discipline. In speaking to future generations of photographers, do you have any words of wisdom to those setting out to make their own mark in the photographic world?
TB: Be true to yourself and your vision. Find your community and grow together. Write out your ideas so you can reference them later. Look at the world and work outside of your own medium. The business of being an artist is not always easy it’s a long game so prepare yourself. My dad would say to me when I started out, “Van Gogh only sold one picture his entire lifetime. But look at what a legacy he’s left in this world.” Each one of us is unique and has something to express that no one else can in the same way. I hope you find happiness in the journey, the process and connecting with others.
MK: Ok, Tami, as if you have not had your hands full lately, what’s next for you? Are there any projects, exhibitions, books, events, or experiences you will take us on in the near future?
TB: I have shows in development and will be shooting more of this series in the coming months. I look forward to connecting with even more people through this work!
You can find more of Tami's work at her website here.