Interview #10: Tara Violet Niami


CUS: First of all, the most standard question in the book: how did you get into photography?

Tara Violet Niami: I owned a plastic kids Polaroid camera given to me on my fifth birthday, and used to occasionally take photographs of my family which printed out tiny thumbnails. But, I really only started photography about three years ago. I used to buy disposable cameras to take to various summer camps, until two years ago, I realized how much easier it would be to own a digital camera, and asked my parents if I could have one. They bought me my first digital camera and it was a Nikon Coolpix L4.


CUS: If you could photograph any person (past or present) who would you choose?

TVN: I would love to photograph Audrey Hepburn.


CUS: What kind of camera do you enjoy using the most?

TVN: I love using my Nikon Fm 10 camera the most. Film is fun to shoot, and the results have a certain magic that film adds to a photo.


CUS: Do you have a favorite subject you like to shoot? And why?

TVN: I love portraits. I think that human expression and posture can really be important to a photograph; people are just really interesting to take photos of!


CUS: If every photograph should contain one key element, what would it be in your opinion?

TVN: Light. I think good lighting is essential to a photograph, it conveys a certain emotion or adds to the 'story' that the photograph speaks.


CUS: What are your other hobbies besides photography?

TVN: I am very much into music; I play the guitar and keyboard as well as write songs. I also read a lot, and write poetry.


CUS: If you could go anywhere in the world to take photographs where would you go?

TVN: I would love to go to India. India has an extremely rich culture; I'm dying to visit! All the swarms of colors and spices in the air, the insight I'd get from seeing poverty first hand. The people who live there seem to have a great sense of aesthetic, as they dress beautifully; perform ceremonies that are like dreams, even if they can barely afford their living. It's incredible.


CUS: What sort of themes do you try to explore through your photographs? Is there any one in particular in which you try to convey often?

TVN: I try and convey a mixture of magic and realism. I try and make my photographs convey how I feel and see the world, as well as adding a dream-like atmosphere to them.


CUS: Do you feel that your mood affects the type of photographs you produce on a particular day?

TVN: Yes, I do. Often, I shoot dark photos when I am down, and light, airy photographs when I'm happy. However, sometimes, my moods don't affect my photographs and I just shoot what comes to mind, not regarding how I feel at that moment.


CUS: How much time do you generally spend on a shoot?

TVN: It depends. I've rarely ever had a 'shoot', but the few times I have they have ranged from 1/2 an hour to 1 1/2 hours. My shoot with Noel was 1 1/2 hours because we both shot each other.


CUS: What is your favorite time of day to shoot?

TVN: My favorite time to shoot is in the early afternoon, because of the way the lighting looks. It illuminates my surroundings, yet has shadows, unlike later in the afternoon.


CUS: What is something that no one knows about you?

TVN: I believed in Santa Claus until I was eleven. I had quite the imagination.


CUS: What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you on a photo shoot?

TVN: Well, when I shot Noel, we were in an area of abandoned train tracks which we thought was completely empty. This random lady came up to me and said "nice photo" and later told Noel to "smile" when she had a somewhat solemn expression for my photograph. It was just kind of out-of-nowhere.


CUS: What’s have you always wanted to photograph but have thought was too difficult to execute?

TVN: I have always wanted to shoot photographs of girls in trees and of someone on the top of a huge hill in a forest, but neither are very practical or possible. First of all, the closest thing I have to a 'forest' is a national park, and having someone climb up a steep hill or a tall tree seems a little too difficult.


CUS: Do you always have preconceived concepts of what you want to shoot?

TVN: It varies. Often my best photographs are spontaneous, where I just get influenced by my location or lighting for a photo concept. Some days however (as with my birthday self portrait) I sketch out an idea and take the photo.


CUS: What’s playing on your iTunes right now?

TVN: "The Call" by Regina Spektor.


CUS: What is the thing you like the least about photography? The most?

TVN: I suppose that the thing I dislike, that is hardest for me, is if I am not satisfied with photographs I take in a really amazing location. It's rare that I get to shoot in places other than my neighborhood or home, and so I expect to be able to take good photos in a beautiful place, but it's not always the case.

There is so much that I love about photography. I love that I can visualize my perspective on the world and bare my soul in the photographs I take.


CUS: Do you believe that with the rise of digital photography the phrase “everyone can be a photographer” is true?

TVN: Anyone can pick up a camera and take a photo. Being a photographer is a different story though. I see myself as a photographer because I think about photography all the time. I sketch photo ideas during free periods and write down photo ideas in notebooks. I also take my camera pretty much everywhere I go.

Anyone can claim to be a photographer, but not everyone loves photography to the point that they're a 'photographer.' Also, in regards to being good at it, it’s hard to take the kind of photo that gives someone a reaction-whether they cry or their jaw drops or it's glued in their mind permanently.


CUS: Many of your photographs resemble film stills; what would you say your favorite films are?

TVN: My favorite films list is quite large, as I watch many films, but they include Amelie, The Science of Sleep, The Virgin Suicides, Little Miss Sunshine, and Elephant. I'm into 'indie' (independent) films, or alternative films that are a bit peculiar.


CUS: What are 5 things you can’t live without?

TVN: Other than the obvious food, water, and shelter, I can't live without my guitar, my camera, a notebook, music, and movies.


CUS: Do all your photographs go through some sort of post-processing treatment? And if so what kind of effect do you try to produce through Photoshop/other post-processing tools?

TVN: Not all of my photographs are post-processed. With editing, I just try and achieve either a dreamy look by making the colors and lightness soft, or a dark look by adding contrast and making the colors colder.


CUS: Do you have a favorite photographer?

TVN: Diane Arbus.


CUS: What advice would you give to your fellow up-and-coming photographers?

TVN: I would suggest that you take photographs because you love it. Don't take photos that people will like, just take the photos you yourself would like. Move out of your comfort zone and experiment. Experimenting is always a great learning experience.


CUS: Where do you see yourself in 20 years? Do you think that photography will still be a big part of your life?

TVN: I'm not sure. I'd love to be in the music industry in the future, but I don't know how it will play out. On the side, I'll take photographs. I think it will be a big part of my life, though I won't do it as a profession, I'll just take them whenever I get the time because it's what I love to do.


CUS: I think it’s great that a past interviewee, Mike-Bailey Gates (interview #5) mentioned you in his interview. Flickr has certainly acted as a meeting place for young photographers; would you say that friends you have made on Flickr have pushed you to be a better photographer? Have you ever met a friend that you made on Flickr in person?

TVN: Yes. I have made many friends on Flickr over the course of time that I've been a member (it'll be two years in July). My flickr friends definitely have an impact on me photography-wise, especially the comments they give me on what I take or just gathering inspiration from their streams (especially with the case of fellow Flickr friends who are top inspirations to me; that in itself pushes me to grow as a photographer!).

Yes, I've met Noel Michele from Flickr, because we started talking and arranged a photoshoot since we live near each other. It was quite wonderful, and the first time I had met a fellow flickr'er!


CUS: Our last interviewee, Cassie Kammerzell, wants to know: What is your single most favorite photograph?

TVN: There are too many photographs that I love, but I do know that I love the portraits that Diane Arbus took, for example the one she took of a mental patient in a wheelchair with a witch's mask over her face. I love how raw and candid it is, and the dark whimsy of the patient's mask.


CUS: Last but not least, what would you like to ask our next Interviewee?

TVN: I would like to ask them: Are your photographs ever inspired by the music you love?

Tara Violet Niami, b. 1993 from Los Angeles, California

Images provided by Tara Niami. All rights reserved.