"I have ingested a few stems ... yes."
This is not a diet. Tamara Lackey is talking about getting down in the leaves with a child to capture that magic moment with a camera. For a wedding she has been battered by knee-high waves as she snaps bridesmaids cavorting in their gowns on a white sand beach. She has gone face down in the shore to capture the rills of wind-whipped sand in the wake of a departing bride and groom.
She seeks what she terms "authentic capture" in her wedding and portrait photographs. The results are spontaneous, poignant and sometimes irreverent at her five-year-old company, Tamara Lackey Photography.
Lackey, 36, is part of the creative class that Durham claims particularly as its own. A graduate of the "dot.com" era, she and her husband work in Durham for lots of the same reasons touted by Durham boosters.
Lackey, an Army brat who graduated from The University of Miami of Ohio in 1993 with a degree in art history and photojournalism, worked five years consulting with businesses on their workflows before landing in San Francisco's Internet tech world. There she and her husband, Steve, recruited talent for venture capital firms for five years.
When the dot.com bubble burst in 2001, she was pregnant. Steve, a fitness enthusiast, wanted to try something else and discovered that North Carolina was one of the top five areas in the nation for fitness. Tamara wanted to give her ongoing interest in photography a shot.
They had cashed in their Internet stocks at the right time, and a healthy San Francisco real-estate market gave them enough to bankroll their individual business aspirations for either three years in San Francisco or nine in Chapel Hill.
"Liberal Chapel Hill" and "cool, funky Durham" fit their needs, she says.
"It has so many great things: the feel, the weather, the people." After arriving in September 2002, Steve began a fitness magazine, "Endurance." Lackey hung her cameras around her neck and has operated a studio at Southpoint Renaissance Center for almost two years.
Through her lens, Lackey found an unexpected dimension to Durham. "Durham has the best look," she says. "Architecturally it has a busy feel."
And she ticks through the attractions for a photographer: American Tobacco Campus, the American Tobacco Trail, woods, gardens, Ninth Street, the old doors and the shapes inside the Loop and "the golden, green light."
From a second-story corner office flooded by light and air, Lackey flicks a black scarf over a black, scoop-neck sweater and talks about her photographs.
From checking her Web site -- www.tamaralackey.com
-- prospective customers "know who they're talking to. I don't do traditional shots," she says of her penchant for candid, human moments that have won her more than 25 regional and national awards.
Well, almost. The wedding party at the altar and at the church door and the groom eating wedding cake from his bride's hand are all part of the package. Then Lackey is off to "catch the action as it unfolds," as she says.
The result? An exultant groom hanging in midair above the steps he and his bride should have descended together to the waiting reception. A father with early-stage Alzheimer's dancing with his daughter while tearful guests watch.
"There's always something," says Lackey, who employs a second photographer for large weddings. That something isn't always hugs and kisses. And Lackey doesn't necessarily want to capture it, like the wedding in which the principals shot daggers at each other during the ceremony and ate at different reception tables because of a spat.
The high divorce rate is not lost on Lackey, who lives in Chapel Hill with her husband and two children, ages 3 and 6.
"I try not to think about it that day [of the wedding]," she says.
Lackey has shot about 150 weddings in her five years as a photographer. None of the marriages has ended in divorce as far as she knows, she says. But she's not charting it.
Personal portraits require drawing subjects out. Lackey has eaten leaves with children, has had sand dumped on her head and admits to being "goofy" to elicit a response. The best shots frequently come at the end of a session when subjects are tired and drop their guard, she says.
The shooting is just the tip of the iceberg. In a typical 40-hour work week, Lackey shoots photos for 14 hours. The remainder of the week she and four other women line up customers, select and PhotoShop photos, send work off to be processed, make frames and design photo albums.
"I want to keep it real," Lackey says of her work.
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