Create Art, Not Noise Q&A with Fine Art Photographer Tara Hallquist

Remember when, back in the day, seeing someone toting a big interchangeable lens camera was a rare sight to behold? Now, a DSLR is simply the best way to photograph feisty, quick-moving kids and pets at home. The playing field has been levelled, as affordable DSLRs make it possible for more people to document the world around them—over 40 million images are uploaded to Instagram alone everyday and Flickr boasts over 92 million users. The barrier for photo enthusiasts and professionals has never been lower. What does it take to  really “stand out” as a photographer? For Fine Art photographer Tara Hallquist, it means creating a strong and cohesive body of work, following through with a unique creative vision and really presenting the subject matter with your own voice.

As a fine artist, Tara also produces interesting installation and performance work. It is this breadth and experimentation in other mediums that ultimately shapes her work behind the camera lens, giving it depth and substance.

What inspires you to use the camera lens in a non-traditional way to get your message across?
For me I do a combination of both, [traditional and nontraditional], I do a little bit more traditional photography but I’m inspired to do non-traditional photography because it’s kind of breaking the barrier of what photography is and I want to see how far I can push that, to make a 2 dimentional image become 3 dimensional or make a photograph somehow an installation piece. I know a lot of people who are artists, do non-traditional photography, but I think it’s a matter of breaking away from that and making it your own. So I like to use different materials. I’ve done thread, I’ve done portrait photography as well. I like to incorporate photography and fabric, some kind of a material to kind of incorporate and infuse the two and see that blend between the 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional, and i’m inspired by the outcome, what the product was and seeing if I can push that further and make it something a little bit more unique for the next time.

I think I’ve been successful in the past, I definitely want to push it more. I think, it’s always about for me experimenting with it and seeing what the outcome is going to be.

There are a lot more digital photos being taken on a daily basis from anyone who has any form of a camera. What challenges do you go through in making your work stand apart?
That’s a challenging question because it’s true. Everybody is taking a photo of something and a lot of it is digital. I try to make my work stand out a little more by still going back to film. Because it’s a lost art it seems to some degree, not everybody is doing that, not everybody knows how to use a medium-format camera and do it properly, there’s the digital darkroom of photoshop and everybody easily manipulates a photograph into something that wasn’t to begin with and I like to retain the integrity of what that was to some degree.

My installation photography would be pushing that but when it comes to some of my other work, i would keep it more traditional, but it is hard to try and make your work stand apart from others. I think it’s a matter of not falling into the same thing and the patterns that everybody else is doing. I look at a lot of people’s and artists work, especially photography, I’m inspired by their work, but i want to try and make it more current and infuse my style into it that sets me apart from everybody else, because it’s easy to fall into the grouping of the digital photographers of today, but for me it’s a matter of how can I not be that?

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Have you been able to determine a style for yourself?
Definitely, over the years of taking photos, in any kind of work that I’ve done it’s always stemmed from a photograph, always. And there is some kind of a recurring pattern that happens in most of my images it’s always unintentional, but i think it’s the way of how i see things and I try and make it somewhat visually pleasing, but it doesn’t always have to be all the time, but it’s just a matter of framing and how i see it, that I pull everything together.


What themes do you work with and why?
I started out about doing a lot about personal identity and self-exploration, which i’m still interested in doing. A lot of my current work has to do with drug addiction and effects on children who grew up in households that are dealing with that. I have done projects on dealt motherhood and the stresses of being a mom in today’s society, as well as the societal standards and the media exploitation of women, i think those are really interesting topics and they all relate to me which makes it a bit easier to expand on because i’m bringing a part of myself into these projects and i like to work with that as well.

How do you plan to make your art more engaging with the viewer?
That was a difficult question for me, I wasn’t really sure on how to answer that because perhaps my work could be more engaging by not making it so personal. I think sometimes my work does get very personal, so it makes it hard for somebody to relate to that unless they’ve gone through it. I could potentially make it more visually engaging by adding things to it, but I also like the simplicity or the simplistic nature of what a photograph can be just on its own. I think it’s something I’m still working on as a process.

The term “Fine Art” is a bit problematic. How do you define this term? Is it more important to get your ideas across to the public, or is making money off your art more important?
It’s different to be a fine artist than just an artist. A fine artist is more of a well-rounded artist you’re more familiar and able to do more. Typically or traditionally I think it was painting, drawing…[limitations to a discipline], but now it’s expanded for sure and I think for me i definitely can call myself a fine artist because i can draw, i can paint, I can do installation, sculpture, ceramics, photography, many different things. Fine art is a creative vision brought about by the artist through a medium of their choice, such as, painting, sculpture, photography, installation, that communicates a story, an idea, or an issue that the artist wishes to bring awareness too, and that’s exactly what i do with my work, I’m either telling  a story, not so much in a journalist kind of way, but there’s always something that i’m trying to communicate to the viewer with and something that i think needs to be spoken about, but in a visual way because i’m not a good writer, so I can take a pretty good picture and i can make something pretty good and there’s all the signs and messages in there to bring that conversation up, i think that’s important.

As to make more money and if that’s more important…Not really. I’d be happy if people just knew my work and the conversations that i wanted to talk about. I’m a talker and i want to talk about things that are important to me and that have some kind of significance. There’s got to be something weighty to it whether it’s something that happened to me personally or somebody else, that’s what i want to talk about. If the money were to come with, all the better. But that’s not important, it’s to create.

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What are your thoughts on ‘photographic manipulation?’ Does it stay true to photography or is there a difference between this and ‘realistic’ photography. Is there an existence of ‘realistic photography?’
My thoughts on photographic manipulation, I think it’s fine. Photographers have been doing that since day one, with photography, you’re doing it in the dark room, you’re always manipulating something, whether it’s enhancing, or burning something in, or dodging something in or just the way you can move the paper, you’re manipulating it to some point by adding filters in the dark room there’s always going to be a manipulation taking place. I think there’s a point of where it can be pushed too far where it becomes more like…We’re in a digital age, so it’s going to happen. I take photos on my iphone and i’m manipulating it at some degree by adding a filter or taking a blemish out or something, that’s always going to happen, I think whether it stays true to photography or realistic photography…There’s definitely a fine line there.

I would say i’m more of a natural realistic photographer because i like things in their natural state, and what i try to do is i always go back to the same essay of Edward Weston’s  “Seeing Photographically”. That essay resonated with me the most and I’ve always remembered that one because it spoke to me, and I’ve always tried to keep that essay in mind every time I take a photograph. To me it’s more important to create that photo before you even take it. It’s different to manipulate it afterwards and i would rather spend more time thinking about the photo and creating it. I would rather spend my time creating it before i’ve even taken it rather than manipulating it into something that it never was to begin with. It’s a fine line then, it’s photography, but it’s not.

What has been your biggest Fine Art related challenge and how did you solve it?
I think there is always the struggle and a challenge in Fine Arts is if what i thought…How do I say this…It’s challenging to make your ideas translate correctly to the viewer. That’s always been a challenge for me. You can think something’s going to work, and then come critique it fell apart. I’ve had it happen and i know people that it’s happened to as well. And that’s always the hard part i think for me in Fine Arts, are you too obvious, are you not obvious enough? Should i have used that material instead? Perhaps I should’ve used a different medium, I’ve gone through that before. When I was creating one of my installation pieces, that was a challenge for sure because it’s working with something new that you’re not really sure it’s going to work out, and that’s scary. And it’s a matter of, I think it’s going to work, but is the viewer going to get it? That’s challenging for me, if my message is going to come across the way I had intended it to be? Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. You can never predict and that’s challenging is being able to read that.

For more work by Tara Hallquist check out her website at
Contributed by Aksha Suri

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