Seeing Life Through a Lens

Panhandle Kids Photographer Loves the Challenge
By Jessica Jones

A house decorated with baby snapshots on every wall offers an inkling of how much photographer Tami DeSellier loves her job. Inseparable from her camera for more than 18 years, the self-taught artist says that she simply can’t imagine herself doing anything else.

"I thought about it recently, and even when I’m traveling, I can’t put my camera down," DeSellier said. She got hooked when she received her first camera as a present for her 26th birthday, and has been taking pictures ever since. "The best times of my life are when I’m taking a photograph."

Growing up in Springfield, Mass., a rather traditional town, a photographer was not what DeSellier aspired to become. With a Marketing degree in advertising from San Francisco State University, DeSellier said she "failed terribly" at professional jobs.

When she realized that the corporate world wasn’t her niche, DeSellier found she could earn a comfortable living as a bartender. But she soon realized that photography was her true calling. She professed that giving up her career and deciding to become a professional photographer was terrifying. "It took me seven years to give everything up," she said, adding that it has definitely been worth the trouble.

What makes DeSellier stand out from other photographers is that she specializes in photographing toddlers and infants. She is captivated by their spontaneity and unpredictability, and loves taking their pictures. "They interact like puppies and kittens, you can’t control them and as long as you realize this, you get them to loosen up."

Her overflowing energy may be what gives her the ability to tap into the youngsters' playful spirits. DeSellier said she prefers to shoot in black and white as opposed to color because of its "timeless quality."

The key is making the subject comfortable. "I see myself as an entertainer rather then a photographer, because I need to be able to make people comfortable in a short period of time," she said. Since entertaining the children is job one, DeSellier prefers to use a plain white background rather putting them in a pretty backdrop or scene.

She also explains that with young children it’s all about distraction and getting them to take themselves out of the "studio" setting. She uses things like hand puppets, squeaky toys and gestures to get reactions out of the children, in turn producing a beautiful photograph. She seems to be able to anticipate the priceless moments children produce and capture them on camera.

And some people think the job isn’t hard work. "It never ends, there is work all the time!" she said. DeSellier shoots an average of three sessions a day, four days a week. "It’s a physical job and a lot of people don’t realize that," she said. "I literally sweat when I work."

Still, the photography isn't half of the work that goes into producing Desellier’s portraits. "I eat, sleep, and breath it all," she said. "It’s all about running a business; there is paperwork, planning, and decision making. It doesn’t just end at taking the pictures." She admitted needing help in the form of a personal assistant.

In her spare time DeSellier enjoys salsa dancing, referring to the activity as her "second calling." Traveling to places like Europe, South East Asia, and Mexico is another hobby the artist enjoys. Most of all, however, DeSellier loves taking pictures, and advises everyone to simply "do what you love."

SF Observer, July 2004