Regular readers of Isiiad will know that I’m obsessed with Montsalvat. I love its buildings, its history, its creative roots. I’ve also been known to hang out with the artists in residence to watch the progress of their work. (Dena Ashbolt’s work took shape before my eyes.) With this latest news I’m a bit sorry I wasn’t there last year when Sydney photographer, Tamara Dean had her residency. What resulted, has attracted the attention of art lovers Australia wide. Earlier in June this year, Tamara Dean received the $20,000 Olive Cotton Award, for her portrait of artist and musician, Damien Skipper. The photograph was taken in the grounds of Montsalvat (that’s the Montsalvat Chapel in the background) during her residency. Montsalvat provides opportunities for artists to immerse themselves in a creative experience through their Artist in Residence Program. They are understandably delighted that this resident has been so successful.
I caught up with Tamara via email and have published the interview below.
How did you hear about the residency?
Through an email passed on to me by Larry Macdonald, the manager of Charles Hewitt Gallery who represent my work in Sydney.
In applying, what was it about a residency at Montsalvat that appealed to you most?
The architecture and landscape were precisely what I was looking for at the time to set my series ‘Only Human’ within.
What was your overall impression of Montsalvat?
An absolutely inspiring feat. I was heartened to see that the artistic community was still thriving.
Could you talk a little about the quality of the energy at Montsalvat during your stay?
It seemed very quiet, almost to the point of feeling solitary, and then the common kitchen would bring the resident artists out to share time at the end of the day.
What was the effect of living with other artists in this particular artist’s community?
A strong sense of art as life.
How did the history of the place impact on your work?
The sense of age and decay lends itself very well to the aesthetic I aspire to, so it was the age of the building and the quality of light which really imbued my series.
Could you talk a little about the quality of the light in the photo and how you achieved that?
I shoot at a very particular time of day, just after the sun has set to achieve the quality of light in the photograph.
Could you also talk a little about the collaboration with Damien Skipper?
I had met Damien during my residency and had wanted to photograph him as someone who was a real part of Montsalvat. Damien grew up there, his father Matcham Skipper being one of the initial artists who came together to make Montsalvat what it is. Damien also is an artist and musician, so to me, he embodies the fundamental aspirations of Montsalvat.I asked if he was open to being photographed and wanted to depict him in the role of caretaker or a gate keeper of sorts.
What was it that led you into photography in the first instance?
It was a medium which always resonated with me, through high school, art school, my design degree and then in to my professional life as a photographer at the Sydney Morning Herald and in my ongoing art practise.
What’s next for you?
I am not quite sure at this point having just finished my recent series ‘Only Human’ which was exhibited a month ago at ‘James Makin Gallery’ in Melbourne.
Are you planning any more residencies here or overseas?
I am looking into some options for residencies, and I have just accepted a residency with ‘The Lock-up’ in Newcastle where I also recently showed my series ‘Only Human’.
How has the win impacted on your work and life?
It is a huge validation to keep on with the work I have been doing.
Could you provide any details of upcoming exhibitions?
I will be showing ‘Only Human’ at Charles Hewitt Gallery in Sydney next March in 2012
Finally, what’s the one thing you would like Isiiad readers to know about you?
My photographic practice is an integral part of my life. It takes me to the most wonderful and challenging places and exposes me to incredible people. Staying open to the creative possibilities that can come from these exchanges is a fundamental part of my work.
It’s clear that Tamara was open to the creative possibilities provided by her residency at Montsalvat. If you are interested in finding out more about a residency at Montsalvat, follow this link.
Tamara is represented by The Charles Hewitt Gallery in Sydney and the James Makin Gallery in Melbourne. She is also a member of the Oculi photo collective. I encourage you to take a look at their websites for a feast of her work.
My thanks to Tamara for allowing me to publish her photographs.