Friday, June 12, 2015

Artist's Touch: Bonnie Tate's 'Journal Portraits'

Bonnie Tate
  • ‘Journal Portraits’
  • What: Exhibit of photographs by Bonnie Tate
  • Where: Bay County Public Library, 898 W. 11th St., Panama City
  • Details: 850-522-2100 or NWRLS.com
  • About the Artist: BonnieTatePhoto.com

PANAMA CITY — A hand covered in dirt gingerly clutches a snapshot of soldiers as, caught under the edge of a canteen, a journal page below it lists “Impressions of Khe Sanh.”

With the corner of a diary showing her daily chores, a woman kneads dough on a scratched butcher block, her rings and wristwatch carefully set aside.

These and other images designed to put the viewer in the heads of strangers — seeing the world through their eyes, with tantalizing glimpses of their secret lives — make up the compelling “Journal Portraits” exhibit of work by photographer Bonnie Tate.

“I think of them as mysterious,” Bonnie said. “I’ve always enjoyed pairing photography with storytelling, and making series of connected pictures. My favorite pictures are usually of and about people, or at least have a human element.”

On display at the Bay County Public Library in Panama City through the end of June, the photos were inspired by actual entries Bonnie discovered in journals and diaries she found in thrift shops and other locations.


“Being a diary keeper myself, I am interested in how we interpret the events of our lives and string them together into narratives,” Bonnie said. “These are stories we almost always keep to ourselves. I stage each moment using a loose mix of the author’s description and my imagination.”

Including the actual diary or a page from a journal in each photo creates an interesting merging of past and present, she said, adding, “It also passes on the personal nature of reading another’s private thoughts.”

Those personal insights — the little things, the details — are a recurring theme in Bonnie’s work.

“It is the idiosyncrasies, the quirks, the hint of a story, that create the urge for a picture,” she said in an entry on her website, speaking specifically of portraiture. “Tuning in to an individual’s specifics and recording them is in some way important.”

Bonnie’s father was a journalist, who often told her “the devil is in the details.” She developed an appreciation for specifics and nuances, and this carries over to how she approaches photography. She even has a series she’s working on that shows both God and “the Devil” can be found with a macro lens setting.

“In all of my projects, I approach image-making with an eye for life’s small details,” she said. “I am shooting and organizing this series of photos by season so that when viewed as a whole, the photos will suggest the movement of time, the passing of a year observed in the smallest of moments.”

A series of moves around the country eventually brought Bonnie to Bay County, but she turned that period of transience to her advantage by finding a variety of subjects for her lens. One such move to Texas resulted in a black-and-white series she calls “American Home.”

“With the nature of our time in each place being transitory, my idea of home takes on an ephemeral quality,” she says in a posting at her website (BonnieTatePhoto.com). “Our temporary Texas home was a summer lake house fully furnished with the odds and ends and memories of another family. 

Using the artifacts and surroundings that were not mine, I hoped to create an intimate yet slightly distant sensation that matched my experience.”

Bonnie initially studied creative writing at Florida State University, then went on to receive an MFA in photography at the University of Memphis.

“I got into creative photography when I started studying art at FSU, around 1999, right before the digital wave,” she said. “I had a few great teachers who got me looking at projects by other photographers and also the history of photography, which opened up the possibilities for me.”

She currently teaches photography classes at CityArts Cooperative and Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, and is also available for private lessons. For information on these or other classes, email bonnietatephoto@gmail.com, visit BonnieTatePhoto.com or call 850-238-2077.


“By nature the camera is cold,” she said. “I think that a glimpse of someone’s home, belongings, habits, makes a portrait a bit warmer and richer. Ultimately, I hope that each portrait taps into the unique mystery of the person in it.”
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