Tara Whitney

Tara Whitney

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1. Tara, we are such huge fans of your work! It was only after we asked you to do this interview that we saw you have this line on your website: "I will notice what makes you special." Can you expand on this? How does the art of noticing play a role in your work?

Everyone wants to be seen and understood. If I start there, that means that noticing is the most important work that I can do. More than anything else, more than knowing how to use light and angle and posing—it is actually the act of paying attention that creates the connection that I need.

2. When you show up to a photoshoot, what is the first thing you notice?

When I show up to meet a group of people for a session, the first thing I notice is how they are feeling. I immediately get “the vibe”. I can tell who is excited, who is bored, who is shy, who doesn’t want to be there. I look for who needs space, who wants my attention. I learn what makes them laugh. I can see a lot, pretty quickly. Paying attention to all of these things helps me decide how to connect best to each person I work with. I can lighten the mood if needed, I can bolster confidence if needed, I can create excitement and energy if needed.

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3. How has motherhood influenced or inspired your photography?

Becoming a mother inspired an even deeper urgency to record, collect, and remember. My children were born and of course I, as their mother, thought them to be magic. I had all of this LIFE happening around me every day, a whirling dervish of four children, each about two years apart. (They are now 21, 19, 17, 14.) I started documenting them, differently than the snapshots of my youth. I sat back and watched, often using a telephoto lens so as not to disturb their natural play. At the time, I had little knowledge of documentary photography, only a desire not to bother them and also capture them as naturally as possible. When I became a photographer, I used that same motivation and strategy to capture other people’s children. Which, at the time (somewhere around 2004), was a new idea for commissioned family photos. I went about my work as if I was photographing my own family, my own children.

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4. This month we’re exploring the idea of noticing beauty and wonder all around us, which can sometimes be difficult to do with young children at home, piles of dishes in the sink, and laundry all over the couch. Where can mothers find beauty and inspiration among the mundane, often less-than-glamorous work of raising kids?

Experiencing beauty is necessary to fulfill our senses, to allow us to feel something real. Seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, and tasting things we find to be beautiful actually brings satisfaction to our lives. I was a stay at home mom for ten years before I became a work from home mom, and my oldest daughter has severe neurological delays and violent behavior issues. I know that as caretakers we are often depleted. Searching out beauty is one way to fill yourself up.

I’ve been a “noticer” of small things since I was a child, although maybe at the time adults might have called me “nosy.” The more I understood the importance of my curiosity the more I searched to understand what I found to be meaningfully beautiful. It’s not always a big grand gesture like the sun setting over the ocean, because who can get to the ocean every night when it’s time for homework and dinner and tucking in? So, you must be curious, and seek beauty innocently, simply to experience joy and connect to your body. Just like a child might. What will I experience today? What can I do to remain open to receiving?

As far as getting past the mundane, I think it’s almost like a game. For me I can come across something as mundane as a weed growing in the corner of a parking lot with a shadow playing on the cement wall behind it. Something about it grabs my attention, I guess maybe the surprise of something beautiful where I didn’t expect it, and I am just stupidly grateful to be alive to see it.

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5. A photographer and a non-photographer walk into a room. What does the photographer notice that perhaps the non-photographer wouldn’t?

Light. And possibly, who they would want to photograph.

6. Do you have a scripture, word or mantra that guides your work?

“Let me listen to me and not to them.” Gertrude Stein

7. What or who inspires you: as a wife, mother, human and artist? Who are your favorite photographers?

Vulnerability, spontaneous joy, wisdom, meaningful conversation, water, light, shadows dancing, pink skies, bravery, confidence, rocks, filling my senses, innocence, good trouble.

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8. Have you ever gone through a dry spell with your photography or creativity? How do you get out of that rut?

If they happen, you first have to decide if it’s a dry spell or you just hate it now. (Whatever it is.) Sometimes you just hate it now, and that’s okay, and you can move on to something else. Sometimes it’s how you pay the bills, so you keep at it, keep working, and it passes. I don’t give much attention to dry spells.

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9. You recently hit a milestone birthday, the big 4-0! How has the gift of time changed what you notice? Does 40 year-old Tara notice things that 20 year-old Tara may have missed?

Forty-year-old Tara is very much more aware of her limited time on this Earth, and what that means regarding how she wants to spend the time she has left. Also the way her eyelids have drooped and the wrinkles on her chest.

I am happy to be 40. The alternative is quite unsavory. Being 40 is also terrifying, because I know I am in the second half of my life. There is just more urgency to experience things I haven’t before, and to fulfill my potentials. That means learning (another form of noticing) as much as I can about myself, all of my faults and my strengths. It’s crazy that after 40 years of living with myself I can still be surprised with what is inside of myself.

Twenty-year-old Tara was treading water with a newborn and a one year old. Twenty-year-old Tara didn’t even think she’d make it to 40. So this Tara is certainly paying attention with all her might and every pore.

10. If you could tell moms who long to create as they raise little ones a piece of advice, what would it be?

Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is a phase. Do what you can with what you have, and don’t make things harder on yourself than they have to be.

Don’t forget, you are their mother but you must also become your own mother, and take good care of yourself.

Connect with Tara: Website // Instagram // Facebook // Twitter // Blog

Erin Loechner

Erin Loechner

Kaylan Buteyn

Kaylan Buteyn

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