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At Home With Fashion And Portrait Photographer Tami Aftab

Step into the world of Tami Aftab, a fashion and portrait photographer whose lens captures the essence of life’s most profound moments. Based in London, Tami’s work resonates with themes close to home, offering viewers a glimpse into the beauty of human connection.

After collaborating with Whistles on several projects, Tami now invites us into her space to explore her creative process, inspirations, and her latest project, ‘The Rice is on the Hob.’ This venture, undertaken with her father, aims to raise awareness about his health condition and memory loss while celebrating their family’s passion for food. From intimate shoots with creatives to larger-scale campaigns, Tami’s work speaks of resilience, creativity, and the power of imagery in storytelling.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work…
I am a fashion and portrait photographer, living and working in London. My work is often themed around subjects such as family, memory, intimacy, and play.

Can you tell us about your journey into photography? What sparked your interest, and how did you get started?
I feel very lucky as I started photography as a teenager during my GCSEs. From there I knew it was what I wanted to do, which I’m very grateful for. So I’ve been working towards it for 12-13 years now.

Could you describe your creative process? How do you approach a new project or photo shoot?
I’m definitely someone that plans my shoots ahead. A lot of my work is performative and playful too. So whether it is a personal or editorial or commercial job, I’ll always start thinking about what I want to shoot beforehand. Most of the processes across all three of those are also collaborative. Whether that’s collaborating with my dad, a group of creatives for an editorial or a client, I love to come together and discuss ideas before I start shooting.

“My process is collaborative…Whether that’s collaborating with my dad, a group of creatives for an editorial or a client, I love to come together and discuss ideas before I start shooting.”

Your portfolio showcases a diverse range of subjects and styles. How do you approach branching out into new areas or experimenting with different techniques in your photography?
I think that’s where editorial is so great. When I choose to do it, it’s always a way to do something I haven’t done before. Whether that’s shooting in a studio or working with different models, or trying out a new technique, editorial is the space where I get to experiment.

However, I still feel I get to experiment the most in my personal projects, including the work I do with my dad. When we travelled to Pakistan for our project, that was the first time I’d ever photographed in a new country, even. It was a new way of shooting and I captured things I wasn’t expecting.

What inspires your work? Are there any specific photographers, artists, or experiences that have influenced you?
I’m actually not someone that likes to pull from people. I think, actually for me, it’s important not to. It’s so easy to pull from Instagram and spaces where things are very current but I’m really trying to get references from other places, such as photo books and older projects. I never want to be creating the exact same thing everyone else is creating. I want to offer new perspectives.

“I still feel I get to experiment the most in my personal projects, such as the work I do with my dad. When we travelled to Pakistan for our project, that was the first time I’d ever photographed in a new country, even.”

We’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with you on various projects, ranging from intimate shoots with creatives for interview features to larger-scale Kids campaigns. Could you please share your perspective and what you took away from these projects?
I love doing intimate shoots with creatives and it’s always a window into someone else’s life. I think it’s really special and one of the great things about photography is that it can connect you with strangers. You can be somewhere with someone new and get to know a lot about them in just a few hours, whilst capturing their essence.

For the larger Whistles Kids campaigns, we had so much fun. That was my first time working with kids. My work revolves around play a lot of the time anyway but this was the first time I’ve done something where it’s true essence came to the forefront – to the point I couldn’t control them. We had to let them explore and allow that to influence the shoot, rather than the other way around but it worked so well.

Your new book ‘The Rice is on the Hob’ beautifully intertwines photography capturing the essence of Lahore, Pakistan, with handwritten recipes; a collaborative effort between you and your father. What inspired the concept for this project and how did it come to fruition?
My dad and I have been working together for six years now. Our original project was called ‘The Dog’s In The Car.’ Since then, we’ve never put a full stop on it and we’ve allowed it to be something that keeps continuing, growing and changing. I really wanted to make something physical though, as everything had lived online up until now.

My dad is a passionate chef. Although it’s not his full time job, he started doing kitchen takeovers and markets in 2018, the same year we started taking pictures together. I thought as this marked his sixth year of cooking and me working with him, it’d be the perfect opportunity to make something new. We also decided it would be an amazing chance to go back to Lahore, which was where my dad lived before he lost his memory, to explore memories of his childhood and the dishes he enjoyed.

Could you tell us more about your Dad’s illness and elaborate on the significance of food and cooking within your family? How has this aspect shaped your personal and familial experiences?
My dad has hydrocephalus which is a condition that creates a build-up of cerebral fluid in the brain. It can cause migraines, blackouts, and disorientation. He got diagnosed with this when he was fairly new to being in England, but he lost his memory during an accident that happened in operation for his hydrocephalus. This happened a few years before I was born, so throughout my whole life my dad has had this condition.

Cooking is a real coping mechanism for my dad. It’s something that is part of his long term memory and whilst he’s cooking, he doesn’t have to think about his health because it’s almost like relying on muscle memory. Alongside that, it’s also his biggest connection to home. He moved to England at 19. So as a teenager on his own, cooking was his way of connecting with home and feeling less homesick. It is also a way for me to connect with my culture that I never grew up in.

The book is rich with photography, however you decided not to include imagery of the dishes and recipes themselves. Can you talk us through that decision and its significance?
When my dad first moved here and met my Mum, apparently all he could do was fry an egg. He couldn’t cook. However when he got to England he was really missing his Mum’s food, so he learned all of these recipes whilst on the phone to her, not via imagery or videos. I think it really shows the dishes aren’t about how they look. They’re more about the comfort they give you and how they make you feel warmth.

What insights did you gain from collaborating closely with your father throughout the creative process? How did this experience shape your understanding and approach to your work?
We’ve got into a really good flow of how to work together. At the beginning, it was very much my ideas but I’d always take them to my dad to see how they made him feel and ask if he wanted to add anything. I think there’s quite a fine line between mockery and humour when it comes to discussing these elements.

The key thing was making sure that my dad was involved in every part of the process, and that it was coming from him as much as it was coming from me. I think he’s now gained way more confidence and he’s more involved. The intimacy between us as father and daughter has allowed us to get deeper into the subject matter too.

I bet you’ve both seen each other grow too…
Definitely. I feel like I’ve grown up so much in that time and he used to be insecure and shy about talking about his illness because it’s such a hidden disability. However now he’s so confident in saying to people, this is what I have, and this is why I need to do things differently.

That’s amazing to hear. And what do you want readers to take away from ‘The Rice is on the Hob’?
I want people to remember that even though you can be living with something so challenging and it can be so difficult, it doesn’t have to hinder your opportunities. My dad never would have thought he could run a kitchen or create a cookbook or be in a solo exhibition, because his memory loss hindered him in everyday life. Yet here he is and it’s been amazing to see him take these opportunities.

“I want people to remember that even though you can be living with something so challenging and it can be so difficult, it doesn’t have to hinder your opportunities.”

I read that your Dad also is part of a Serfaz Kitchen, a family-run home kitchen start-up which does sell-out kitchen takeovers and markets across London. Can you tell us more about this?
When I was 20, I worked in cafes in Camberwell. In a conversation with a chef, I mentioned my father’s passion for cooking despite his disability preventing him from pursuing it professionally. The chef suggested we come in for a kitchen takeover for him to try it out. We sold out two nights, and since then, my dad has relished sharing his cooking, creating menus, and receiving feedback. While he hasn’t opened a restaurant, he has navigated various new spaces, allowing him to share his love for cooking.

How do you stay motivated and continue to evolve as a photographer?
Taking breaks and not putting pressure on myself to be constantly creating. I allow myself time without the camera too, especially when it comes to spending time with my dad. That space to breathe is so important so that when the ideas start coming again, you have the energy to pursue them.

“Space to breathe is so important so that when the ideas start coming again, you have the energy to pursue them.”

You’ve kindly curated a playlist for us for spring. How important is music to you in staying inspired and what are some of your favourite sounds right now?
Music is so important on set. It can put people in the right energy and really set the tone, especially when you’re photographing someone you don’t know. It can be really special to ask them what their favourite music is and get them in the right mood to make them feel comfortable.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers who are just starting their journey?
Don’t give up too soon, as things don’t always happen immediately. Allow small steps to occur and recognise that they could pave the way for something bigger in the future. For instance, with our work, I never imagined that our initial shoots would lead to this interview and article with me being featured. These connections take time and can open doors to all sorts of opportunities.

Lastly, could you share a favourite photograph of yours and the story behind it?
An image from ‘The Rice Is On The Hob’ which is taken in the heart of Lahore and says ‘we’re at the shops’ with people passing by at the market. It marks an incredible evolution from our work six years ago.

These texts and landscape pictures originated from our work ‘The Dog’s In The Car’ and they come from post-it notes that are written all over the family house. For example, ‘turn the oven off,’ and ‘close the fridge door.’ These are reminders that we’ve written or my Dad has written himself. What I love is how these notes, typically confined within the four walls of our home, are now in the public landscape, inviting interaction, confusion, and amusement. Despite the fact it’s a very difficult illness, there’s obviously subtle humour attached to these everyday reminders.

Second image, Tami’s favourite moment from ‘The Rice is on the Hob’

The Rice is on the Hob‘ is out now and includes a £5 donation to Muslim Hands to rebuild homes destroyed from the 2022 Pakistan floods.

Words: Helena Stocks

Art Direction: Lottie Pewter

Photographer: Serena Brown

Serena Brown draws from her culturally diverse London upbringing to shape her creative vision, centering her subjects to explore themes of identity and representation. Her photography blends social documentary with a fashion lens, conveying honesty and community in every project. Authentic portrayal is central to her aesthetic, evident in recent series like “Back a Yard” and “Class of Covid-19,” which spotlight issues affecting working-class youth in the UK.

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