Photographer Tawny Chatmon, born in Japan, raised in Germany and based in Maryland, creates portraits infused with the gold and symbolism of Gustav Klimt and inspired by her children and her desire to contribute something important to the world. Photographing children she deeply cares for and adding overlappings of gold leaf, paint, digital collage and illustration, Chatmon transforms her images into new compositional expressions. Her recent body of work, titled “Inheritance” and on exhibit at NYC’s newest cultural hotspot Fotografiska, is paving the way for other women, especially those of color. In honor of International Women’s Day 2020, we exclusively spoke with Chatmon about her life, inspirations and work.
What was it that initially drew you to photography and fine art? Describe your stylistic evolution.
I spent most of my childhood thinking I would be an actress. I was in dramatic arts classes and workshops. My aunt owned a theater company so I’d be in her plays too. After high school I attended a dramatic arts conservatory and ultimately I decided acting wasn’t for me. At that point I had to figure out what I was going to do to earn a living, so I turned to photography. In the beginning I’d shoot anything that came my way, until I had my son. That experience definitely gave me a purpose, also in terms of what I wanted to focus my lens on – because I shot him every day of his life. As a result I started to pick up other clients that also wanted shots of their children, and eventually I began to work in commercial photography. A pivotal moment that changed my life and my career was photographing my father’s struggle with prostate cancer, which he eventually lost. It shaped the type of work I create today.
Your photography infuses elements and is deeply inspired by the works of Gustav Klimt. What is it about Klimt’s oeuvre that resonates with you on such a meaningful level?
More than anything, it was the way Klimt’s work made me feel when I first saw it, especially his “Golden Phase”. I still have that same feeling when I see his work today. Klimt’s oeuvre is so regal and beautiful – the use of gold and the symbolism really resonated with me. Ultimately I want my work to convey a similar feeling and emotion.