For AWT contributing photographer Tatum Mangus, moving around is a lifestyle that complements her art. After a childhood spent moving around with her military family, she earned her degree in Fine Art Photography at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University and then made the cross-coastal move to New York. Never content to stay in one place for long, she settled in and then promptly took off again for six months of soaking in sights around the world.
During Tatum’s sojourn her shooting methods expanded as well as her horizons. “I’ve always been a big nerd about shooting film and never felt the quality of digital suited me,” says Tatum. “But I’ve recently come to embrace the flexibility of the digital format, partly because it’s improved over the years. It allows me to capture moments I otherwise couldn’t with film—very low light situations, fast moving subjects.” While Tatum focuses on portraiture, she says she’s “happiest when [she] captures a beautiful found moment.”
Tatum is now based in Brooklyn, which provides just as much material as any far-flung destination.
You just got back from a long trip around the world. Tell us more about it.
In the past five years or so, traveling has become more and more a priority in my life. Moving across the country was a good start for a change of scenery, but after two years in New York, I had saved up some money and was starting to get antsy. I was talking to a friend about how I wanted to go to so many places, but just didn’t have the time because of my jobs. My friend looked at me and said, “So just quit.” So I did.
Amazing! Where did you go? What did you do?
Thailand, Japan, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Dominican Republic, followed by a cross-country roadtrip of our very own US of A. All of it was for pleasure, but of course, I photographed every day. Those photos went into a new book, “Everything Was the Same,” that will be released on Thursday, September 15 at the New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1.
What objects or situations encourage you to take photographs, and which don’t?
There’s no one thing that inspires me to shoot. Sometimes good light in a weird situation is just what it takes for me to shoot off two rolls in a matter of 30 minutes. However, I found that I shot so much more in Asia than I did in Australia or Europe. Maybe it’s because Asia is such a serious departure from Western cultures that it was more interesting for me than, say, Australia, which just didn’t have the grime and character; it was too polished for me. Of course both Australia and Europe were beautiful, objectively, but it was difficult for me to make compelling images there.
You published “Blessing Flow,” a small photo book, in 2015. What was it about?
I travelled to Trinidad last April with my best friend and current roommate, Shana, for just six days. It was a bit of a whirlwind, but I shot as we tried to figure out what was what. We found out the hard way that Trinidad is not the easiest place to get around by the seat of your pants. The title “Blessing Flow” came from a car decal Shana really liked (Trinidad is a very Christian country) and it seemed to fit how we felt about our time there as we just went along with whatever came our way. The book was a little sliver of what we saw; a flavor of how we experienced Trinidad.
How do you find your story line in the editing process?
I think this is a question all photographers ask themselves when trying to put together a book. I typically start with a chronological lay of the land and then from there, aesthetically, pairing images and putting them into sequences. This is what I love about bookmaking. It’s so much more than one photograph standing alone—it’s the conversation they’re having with each other that is so interesting.
You shot our cover for the Mothers and Grandmothers issue. What was it like working with sculptor and textile artist Dot Vile?
Dot was full of the best energy. We went into an abandoned apartment in the Lower East Side for that shoot. It was pretty grimy in there, but she was down to get dirty for the shot. We were shooting with a Hasselblad, which is a slow and cumbersome process, but she was very patient with me and we had a lot of fun playing with materials she brought from her own pieces to create an image together.