Tamara Reynolds is a documentary photographer whose unyielding eye considers what it means to be human in today’s society. In particular, her work focuses on the lives of those who are usually unseen. Her goal as a photographer is to be “curious, fearless and compassionate.”
Reynolds’ photo project "The Drake," a series of portraits, still lifes and streetscapes that document the lives of people existing just above survival on one square block around a motel in Nashville, Tennessee, was selected by Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, for the prestigious Santa Fe Center 2018 Project Launch Grant. The work was also awarded the 2019 Tennessee Arts Commission Individual Artist Grant and featured in Ain’t Bad Issue #13 and on Strange Fire Collective. Reynolds’ earlier body of work, "Southern Route," which explores issues of identity, conflict and the disappearing culture of the South, is included in Southbound, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation-supported traveling exhibition curated by Mark Sloan and Mark Long of Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at The College of Charleston. A selection of this same series is held in The Do Good Fund Collection. In addition, "Southern Route" was included in the Finalist List of Photo Lucida 2012 and 2013 and featured on the "New York Times Lens Blog," "PBS News Hour" and "Lenscratch." Images were also published in "American Photography 29", 30 and 33, "Oxford American Magazine – Eyes on the South," "Communication Arts" and "Don't Take Pictures."
Tamara Reynolds was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and has lived there all her life. In 2017, she received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Hartford, where she graduated with honors. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Middle Tennessee State University. Prior to her current work in documentary photography, Reynolds was a commercial photographer for 25 years and a pioneer as a woman in the business. Her work has appeared in many national publications including "Rolling Stone," "Forbes," "The New York Times Magazine" and "The Wall Street Journal" and has been part of numerous national advertising campaigns.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: The Drake
The Drake is a series of portraits, still lifes and streetscapes that document the lives of people existing just above survival on one square block around a motel in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Drake Motel is located in an area ignored by developers, a microcosm of the disregarded or resentfully tolerated. Alcohol and drug addiction are prevalent among those who live in its shadow. Prostitution, panhandling and day labor have become ways to maintain addiction.
The Drake offers a means to delve deeply into a world far removed from my own but also perilously close — how my life might have looked had I not found the resources that led me to recovery. The work continuously challenges my concept of empathy and how to photograph my subjects in such a way as to “make the unseen seen.”1 I am passionate in my intent to push back against a society of increasing culturally endorsed behavior to not acknowledge the marginalized. These are not easy pictures, but my hope is that the images give space for viewers to move closer, to enter the stillness of the photographs and consider the lives of those looking back.
1| Linfield, Susie, The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence (University of Chicago Press, 2010), p. 258.
When and where did The Drake begin?
The Drake project began when I was in the MFA photography program at the University of Hartford/Hartford Art School. I found myself returning to a particular neighborhood of Nashville – actually, one square block -- over and over again. I was working on other projects at the time, but the people and this place just kept calling to me. When I first started going there, my thought was to do something on the overdevelopment of my home city. After a few months of watching the activity on the block from a swivel stool in the café-bar that was the local gathering hole, I saw the real story emerge. It wasn’t about a little forgotten bar or a vintage motel of the bygone years of Nashville; it was about the women walking the block. Although there are men within the story, they are more like secondary characters of the series.
Where do you see this project going?
I have stopped photographing for The Drake, but I have been returning to the area to interview some of the women with whom I have kept in contact. I would love to include their voices telling their personal stories in my project somehow. My intention is to have the interviews either transcribed for the book or included as an audio component for the exhibition. So, you see, my plan is to publish a book of this project as well as have a traveling exhibition. My intention for the work is to give an opportunity for the women and men to be seen. The disease of addiction is misunderstood. It isn’t something those who have not been affected can easily grasp. But a huge part of the population is affected either directly or indirectly by addiction. The problem will perpetuate if there is no awareness of its insidious nature. I would say empathy is the primary impetus for the project, to heighten awareness.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
I think all of life can be lead creatively, but am I just making art all day? No. I have demands on me that I cannot always have a camera in my hands, but I do carry one most everywhere I go. I’m always looking or making some kind of note about what I see — in my head if not in my journal. Sometimes it is just getting something out of my head onto paper that is necessary. The camera doesn’t always say everything I want it to say. But that is another story or project. I have so many things that inspire me.
My completed project "X Factor" is one that demanded that I drive 6 hours to get to it, so I had to be very purposeful with scheduling time. Each project dictates my approach to how I work out the routine or habits. The main thing I keep in mind is to just get out and explore life with a camera. Only then can the next project emerge. In addition to freelance photography work, I’m a Special Ed teacher for high school students in Metro Nashville Public Schools. It is expanding me not just creatively but essentially by deepening my understanding of myself and others and the universal needs we all share. I know more about who I am and what I can pull from myself, and I am discovering that is where my best art comes from.
I meet with a group of Nashville photographers once a month, when one or two of us will present our work that is in progress. It holds us accountable and is a very supportive environment. The group is Kristine Potter, Julia Steele, Christine Rogers, Vesna Pavlovic, Tema Stauffer, Stacy Kranitz, Robin Paris, Rachel Boillot and Beth Gorham. They are smart photographers, and they inspire me.
Also, I read about photography a lot. I keep Geoff Dyer’s book "The Ongoing Moment" on my bedside table. It keeps me engaged and observant. I also like to read biographies of photographers. It makes me feel part of a continuum. As for fiction and other nonfiction, I’ve been on a Cormac McCarthy and Rebecca Solnit kick lately. I am reading "Blood Meridian," "Wanderlust," and also Joan Didion’s "Slouching Towards Bethlehem."
And I like photobooks. The last photobooks I’ve purchased were works by Anthony Hernandez, Judith Joy Ross (found at McKay’s, a used bookstore I love to frequent) and Kevin Kunstadt’s "Poughkeepsie, Poughkeepsie." I also just got Andrew Waits’ "Aporia" and Sheron Rupp’s finally released "Taken From Memory."
I’ve just ordered a CD of the opera "Acquanetta" by composer Michael Gordon and librettist Deborah Artman. I’ve been hearing so much buzz about it – I’m intrigued by what the opera says about the camera and identity.
What’s next for you?
Right now I am in conversations with publishers about The Drake. My work was chosen for inclusion in the 2019 Center Annual at Houston Center for Photography, curated by Shane Lavalette, and I just went to the opening, which was great. In November I’ll be at a workshop at The Humid in Athens, Georgia, where I will show a new project to visiting artists Curran Hatleburg and Matthew Connors. I just got a shooting platform for my Subaru Outback that I plan on putting into action soon. Being a short person, I’m so excited about the new perspective and possibilities. And I am applying for grants, open calls and residencies regularly.
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
I have to say I continue to be impressed with my Hartford cohort. We had a unique group. I like to consider us the golden year. The photographers are: Rita Baunok, Charles Byrne, Ben Brody, Mat Brutger, Zach Callahan, Matthew Genitempo, Garrett Grove, Kelly Lynn James, Seth Johnson, Kevin Kunstadt, Emma Phillips, Andrew Waits and Virginia Wilcox. And all the women I mentioned above in my Nashville group are doing amazing things.