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Meet Tara Niami

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tara Niami.

Tara, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I have always been interested in the visual arts since I was a child. As my father is an indie filmmaker, I grew up being an extra in his films, reading his scripts, and watching films with him.

In regards to my own passion and craft- I started seriously photographing when I was 14 after taking a 35mm black and white film photography and darkroom printing class at my high school. I was hired to do production still photography on films and became interested in that field. I started making short films of my own when I was in high school but learned more about the craft through film/video classes at art school.

Midway through college, where I was pursuing a BFA in Fine Art Photography, I realized I couldn’t just be “a photographer.” I had to work in the film industry. I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of being a cinematographer-it seemed like such an amazing job to me.

During my thesis year of undergrad, I decided to apply to grad school for cinematography and got into American Film Institute Conservatory where I received my MFA in Cinematography. Now, today I work as a freelance fine art photographer and cinematographer.

Has it been a smooth road?
I have been privileged enough to have had the support of my parents and their guidance (as they work in the entertainment industry) which has helped me navigate the industry and led to my various great opportunities. Nonetheless, there have been struggles. I struggled to not fit into a box as a photographer when I started to do commissioned work and get my work published my work wasn’t commercial enough to be defined as commercial nor experimental enough to be conventional ‘fine art photography.’

I struggled with being a good salesperson- although passionate about what I do it was hard for me at first to charge people for my services, price my prints, and speak highly of myself. Also-I don’t doubt that I have had less opportunities generally due to my gender or certain incorrect perceptions about my personality based on the way I look.

However, I think the hardest thing for me has been finding a balance of being hard on myself and that motivating me to work hard and grow as an artist but not letting it stop me from creating or believing in my abilities. I am my own worst critic.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I have worked as a production still photographer on films (the film I shot the poster and publicity images for THE MUSTANG, a Focus Features film comes out in March), done fashion photography, and primarily now focus on cinematography. I also do my personal fine art photography.

I am most proud of my passion, my work ethic, and my consistent perspective/style even as my art has changed and evolved. I am also proud of my strong moral values and how they guide my personal art and who I choose to work with.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
LA is “where the film industry is” as people say. If someone wanted to work in film (especially in crew/below the line positions), I’d certainly suggest coming here as most of the people who’d hire you live and work here. I love what I do, but I don’t love the film industry. There is a lot of ignorance in Hollywood which calls itself ‘liberal,’ sexism, homophobia, the list goes on and on.

This leads to less opportunities for marginalized people who are creative and have big dreams. It is also easier, due to nepotism, for kids of famous entertainment people to be able to succeed simply because they have the safety net of wealth and opportunities afforded to them having the parents they have. This to me, is wrong. The LA film industry needs to become more inclusive for the purpose of helping people as opposed to tokenizing/being patted on the back.

In regards to the photo world, I find issue with the over-saturation of image creators and how talented people get swept under the rug and can’t live off their work simply because they aren’t as privileged or good enough salespeople.

If one doesn’t have the financial security or ‘connection’ and wants to not be in the position of struggling to make ends meet in these fields, I’d suggest living in a different city that still has perhaps a more supportive, community-based art world.

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