Tami Bahat: Secrets and Lives
“I feel like I’m channeling another lifetime,” says photographer Tami Bahat, speaking about her moody, lush, eccentrically witty Renaissance-inspired portraits. “It’s not studying, it’s more like remembering.” Her Dramatis Personae tableaux depict people interacting with a few carefully-chosen props or set pieces, and sometimes a live animal co-star. Her palette is warm and full, yet the air is slate-stone cold; a world conjured from fully-modeled, high-res chiaroscuro. Her stylized costuming and quirky poses have a cinematic sense of accuracy that matches our expectations of 16th-century lifestyle aesthetics. Combined with the radiant crispness of her focal plane treatment and the bold antique frames, she achieves an effect that is both modern and historical, hybridized and authentic.
Bahat’s style and spirit guides — Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Vermeer, perhaps Whistler, and a hint of Bill Viola — are Old Masters who when not on commission but rather on their own time painted the regular people known to them, the household staff, the maids, guards, and farmers. In Bahat’s quest to prove that beauty is for everyone, her work has become increasingly exotic and ambitious, diverse and inclusive. “Working with animals, children, and untrained actors,” she laughs. “It’s alive, unpredictable. One time, a baboon grabbed the paintbrush and went for the easel — and it was all her own idea!” She is committed to using people from her own life as her models rather than professionals. (The animals handlers are pros.) “As I transform them into art, I bring them into my world. The photographs are our relationships.” Believing that art lives