A Look Into The Life Of Tamara Bahry: Photographer, Philanthropist, And Voice For Human Trafficking

When it comes to defining a person of interest in Toronto’s ever-evolving arts scene, Tamara Bahry‘s name races to the front of our minds. With an incredible body of work behind her and an impressive portfolio of philanthropic causes like HART and Muskoka Lakes, Bahry captures the essence of an artist that’s just as passionate about world issues as she is about her craft.

In the exclusive interview below, we catch up with Bahry about the things most important to her: charity work, her dream home, and above all, family.

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SC: Tell us about your upbringing and your father’s influence on your photography. 

TB: I grew up in the west-end of Toronto, and my parents were academics who immersed our family in art, theatre and music. My father was an enthusiastic photographer and as a young girl I found his contrasting black and white photos fascinating. He would come out of his closet-turned-darkroom with magical images which I would pour over. He would capture simple things in nature such as ferns, fungus, and seashells in magical ways. His use of lighting was extraordinary, and he would experiment with silhouettes, angles, and shadows, and transform them into elaborate prints.

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SC: It seems that your inspiration comes from many different places in the world. Is there a place that you’re especially inspired by?

TB: Last spring my children and I embarked on a volunteer trip to Africa with the Me To We organization. I feel strongly about teaching my children social responsibility, and doing it through a shared family experience was amazing. We immersed ourselves in the local community, trained with Masai warriors, and visited an elephant orphanage. Our journey was inspiring and we were in awe of the incredible wildlife. At the same time, we were appalled as we came to better understand the realities of the plights facing elephants, rhinos, and a host of other beautiful animals. I was inspired to create my Out of Africa series. As a photographer and lover of nature, I was also delighted in the breathtaking pink sunrises, magical sunsets, and rich colours.

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SC: We love your “familyscapes”. Are they your favourite thing to photograph?

TB: Thank you! Modernscapes was inspired by my desire to approach family portraits in a nontraditional way. While I wasn’t trained as a portrait photographer, I was constantly being asked – as photographers often are – to do family pictures. I wanted to create something timeless that would capture a family in a moment of time representing all of their personalities, quirks, and characteristics, turning it into a modern piece of art. I want to transcend the predictable, monotonous family pictures and create contemporary pieces that blur the line between art and portrait photography. They’re reminiscent of timeless society photographs  inspired by Slim Aarons.

SC: It seems that having your children brought on a change in passion from finance to art. Is this what inspired such a major career change? 

TB: Finance can be competitive and fast-paced, and when I had children I recognized that to pursue a career in that field would require me to make trade-offs I wasn’t prepared to make like missing milestones, activities, and being present. I also recognized that finance was a career, and I was more interested in doing what I’m passionate about. That’s photography, and I was able to pursue it at my own pace and dedicate more time to it as my children grew. Taking a step back from finance allowed me to notice the beauty around me, and that inspires me to capture and create. To this day, I try to capture the extraordinary in the ordinary.

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SC: You have supported countless causes through your foundation. Why sex trafficking?

TB: In my travels I’ve witnessed a lot of gender and social injustices faced by women, and I’ve always been grateful to live in Canada. I was shocked when I learned how prevalent and devastating sex-trafficking is right here at home, and I knew I needed to get involved.

Photo Jenna Wilhelmsen
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Photo Jenna Wilhelmsen
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SC: Tell us about the work of the Human Anti-Trafficking Response Team (HART). 

TB: HART is dedicated to providing shelter and improving the lives of sex trafficking survivors with safe crisis housing, emergency services, and long-term support. HART also provides financial support to partner agencies to help end sex trafficking in the GTA and enable survivors to live the violence-free, fulfilling lives they deserve.

SC: The GTA accounts for 60 per cent of trafficking cases in Canada. What can the average person do to help? 

TB: Learn about the indicators of human traffickers, like the grooming and luring practices used. Share this information with your friends, on social media, and with the young people in your life. If you suspect someone is being trafficked, call the Human Trafficking Hotline. Donate to local organizations that are working on prevention, awareness, and stages of intervention like  the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking or HART. Help raise awareness about sex trafficking in your community by booking a presentation or training. We can visit your school, business, or community agency. Most of all, speak up! Become an advocate for women and girls who are exploited in the commercial sex industry and for those being enslaved by their employers. Start a dialogue with your kids, coworkers, and neighbours about human trafficking.

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SC: How you would describe the aesthetic of your home? 

TB: About 5 years ago, I had the opportunity to build my dream house. I have always loved the Richardsonian, Romanesque homes of Rosedale, the Annex, and St. Clair. Their red sandstone block foundations, locally produced John Price-style red brick, and imposing terra-cotta rounded arches and turrets that give the style its name. To me, it was a mix of urban and regal. While this exterior style appealed to me, I wanted a modern interior with plenty of light and large windows. Something practical for our large family!

I focused on an abstract home design with unique architectural elements, such as hidden doorways  and painted moldings. I prefer contemporary designs that utilize clean lines, though I also like abstract styles that incorporate chaotic aspects to offer a fresh, unique perspective. This type of interior lends itself to bold colours. I used black colours, wood ceilings and door frames, and concrete as contrasting elements. The lighting in the house has simple lines and borrows from a modern aesthetic. You might see a geometric, diamond-shaped pendant that casts abstract lighting throughout the interior. Of course, there is also a lot of colourful art throughout the house, some being my own photography.

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SC: What does an average day look like for you?

TB: The mornings are always a scramble! Every school-day begins with a mad dash to get the children fed and off to school. I try to get some physical activity in, which could be yoga, an infrared fitness class, hike, or a jump on the Peloton. Then I can dig into my photography, or I might have a meeting with one of the charities I’m involved with. At 3:30 p.m., the bell rings and the mad dash happens all over again. This time it’s getting the kids to their activities, having them complete their homework, eat dinner, and go to bed! Most sacred to me is my family, my photography, and my time.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Margaret Bowden

    February 24, 2020 at 12:15 AM

    Jenna Wilhelmsen’s creative photos and eye for detail , capture Tamara’s love of home, art and multi-faceted personality so well. Definitely enhancing a well written interview about an amazing woman.

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