Saturday, February 27, 2010

IT TAKES AN ISLAND ] Tammy David trains the camera on herself


Tammy David is a 27-year old photographer. Her series of self-portraits called It Takes An Island is currently on display at the Silverlens Gallery in Pasong Tamo Extension along with two other shows, also documentary works, by Jake Versoza and Veejay Villafranca. TheSwankStyle interviewed Tammy David recently, albeit only via Facebook, on the occassion of this, her fourth group show, and her first for Silverlens.

You photographed yourself. Why?
I joined a portraiture workshop last September under German photographer Espen Eichhöfer. My original class project was to produce serial portraits of people experiencing quarter life crisis. That didn't work out so I had to resort to my back up which was self-portraits. I had to do it cause I didn't want to fail. Surprisingly, this is the project which got the most positive feedback. Personally, it turned out to be a terrific learning experience since, as what a young American photographer said, 'How can he take intimate photographs of other people when he can't do the same to himself?' I can now understand my subjects more.


This is like telling the world you have a weight issue, which isn't something a lot of people would do.
I have always been vocal about my weight issues from writing about it in the paper to tweeting about my 6-course merienda. In the past I have been invited to model in magazines as a person of size but refused because I know the impact is different when it's visual. So when the time came to do my self-portraits, I had to remind myself I had to produce a damn good job. My goal was to please myself as a photographer and not attract a potential husband or a talent scout. Self-portraits are supposed to reveal things about the subject and with me, it includes late night eating in a parking lot and wearing spanx. I was consoled by the fact I only have to show it to the instructor and eight other students. I just didn't expect Silverlens to give me the opportunity to make it into a show six months later. Even during the opening reception I got myself a bit drunk since it still felt uncomfortable seeing people look at photos of me in my bathrobe. But it felt good seeing people laugh at my photographs instead of feeling sorry for me or worse, look away.

What camera did you use for the works in the show?
I used a Canon EOS 30D with a Sigma 17-70 lens


Can you describe to me the physical work involved in setting up these photographs? Were they shot at home, etc, was there anyone else in the room?
They were shot at home, office, my gym's locker room and inside the car. All photographs were taken with the self-timer function. There came a point I got used to taking pictures that I would even leave my gear in my car trunk just in case. One of the best compliments I got was from my cousin who refused to believe I took the photographs when in reality, I was alone the whole time. It means I am a pretty good actress or despite the set up, it feels authentic.

What drew you to photography?
My dad is a hobbyist and would pass on his old cameras to me. When I was 16, I was writing for the youth section of a national broadsheet then and I got paid more with photos compared to text. For a teenager, extra cash was always good. Around the same time I was exploring journalism, I was moved by the works of photojournalists Romeo Gacad, James Nachtwey, Dan Eldon and the Magnum photographers. I realized I was able to express more through photographs and used photography as an introspective tool so I stopped writing and focused more on photography.

Who are your influences?
When people look at my work, they feel I am heavily influenced by Western photographers which I can't really deny. It's the Western photographers who flooded National Geographic, Time, World Press Photo awards, Phaidon books plus had a strong presence in the Internet. I have a couple of influences who I am blessed to consider as mentors as well. Renowned Filipino photojournalist Romeo Gacad of Agence France Presse (AFP) is one. I was only seven when I came across the book 'Bayan Ko' and it made me want to be on the frontline of history as well. Another is Jose Enrique Soriano who in my opinion is one of the best documentary photographers ever. The depth of his work on mental patients affected and inspired me to do more stories instead of the single image. Lastly another big influence in my life as a photographer is Peter Bialobrzeski. Taking his workshop in January 2008 at Silverlens taught me professionalism and to be more open to other work. I'm self-studying now on German Photography and I'm excited to get a copy of Dusseldorf School.


Are there particular subjects that are most attractive to you?

I like to do documentaries that are offbeat which is not a lot of blood or poverty. I credit my curiosity to two of my personal projects namely Beauty Queen Boot Camp and Fat Acceptance in America. Most of my work is about women because I obviously have an advantage in terms of access and a lot of people want to know more about women! I also like stories that are very positive that will leave the audience with a smile instead of a heavy feeling in their chest.

Tammy, Jake and Veejay give a free talk today at 3pm at Silverlens on documentary photography.

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