EK Interview: Tamara Lichtenstein


Tamara Lichtenstein has been a favorite at Empty Kingdom since we first saw her work. We’re grit junkies, and Tamara has us hooked on her intense, sometimes straight, oft ethereal photography that is unabashedly honest and completely uncompromising. Take a taste and you might just get hooked too:

Where are you from?  How has your home influenced the content of your work?  How has it influenced your perception of art and what art means to you?

I was raised in Houston, but born in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Houston doesn’t have many locations to shoot, and art isn’t huge here. I really wanted to have a career in Houston, so I just tried harder. Houston is Home. 

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You’re known to use point and shoot cameras, can you tell us why?  A manual SLR camera would provide you more control, is there a reason you opt not to use one?

I use a Contax t2 and t3 half of the time. I also use manual film SLR’s as well though. It just depends how much time I want to take in shooting a photo. 

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What kind of film do you use?  Do you experiment with different film and what about different kind of film appeals to you?  How did you go about deciding what kind of film suits your needs?

I usually use Kodak Portra 400 or 800, but I’ve also used kodak ultramax, and fujicolor natura. It just depends during what time of day I’m shooting.

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As technology gets better, digital cameras will get closer and closer to reproducing film.  Film is making somewhat of a comeback, do you think that is a phase or do you think that film will always be relevant or will it be subsumed by subsumed by digital eventually?

I think film will always be relevant even if digital can produce the same quality. For me, the anxiety I get from waiting on film to develop is so exciting. There will always be someone out there making and developing film, so hopefully I will never have to shoot digital.

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How much planning goes into a shoot?  Do you have an idea or theme in mind before you start?  What’s your preproduction process?  What’s your post production process look like?  What, if any, manipulation do you do in the dark room?  What kind of editing do you do on your photos?  How do these two processes differ?  What can you do with one that you can’t do with the other?

I’m best at being inspired in the moment, but it’s not always easy with a models schedule. Luckily I have friends that are down to shoot whenever. I usually edit my photos minimally in photoshop. I haven’t used a darkroom since high school (about 8 years ago)

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What does your daily routine look like?  You’ve been producing an insane amount of work for the past years, how do you maintain such output?

Honestly, I’m a homebody. I shoot a lot within a couple of weeks, and then I stay at home and edit for weeks. I always want something creative to look forward to. It keeps me busy and inspired, that way I don’t have to be in the real world too much. Keeping in touch with humans feels like a chore sometimes. 

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Tell us a good story from a photo shoot? Have you had shoots where everything went wrong or something totally out of the ordinary happened?

Things don’t ever really go wrong, but I always get really annoying cat callers everywhere I shoot. I shot my good friend, Sara, a few days ago at a retired all-male apartment complex. It was so beautiful and colorful, but we had an audience of old, creepy men shouting random things to us. We just laughed it off though.

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For starting photographers, what kind of advice would you give on how to find the process and medium that best suits them?  Do you have a rubric when you experiment to make sure you’re learning?

As long as it feels good, and you’re happy, you’re doing something right. It doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting with an iPhone, or top of the line camera. Wherever you start, just make sure to keep growing and learning new things about art/yourself.

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Of all your work, which are your three favorite photos?

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Previous features
May 2014
August 2013
September 2012
February 2010