The Boston-based Tarantola shoots more than just portraits. Much of her work involves photographing corporate CEOs and the likes of musician Kenny Rogers and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Her corporate clients include Fidelity, Aramark, Tufts Health Plan and Akamai Technology and she’s shot for such magazines as Yankee, Financial Advisor and Entrepreneur.
Ironically, she is not a Yankee-American. Tarantola came to her second home circuitously, via New Jersey and Martha’s Vineyard, having been born and raised in Milltown, N.J. “It’s one square mile,” she says. Her father was a ladies’ hairstylist, having sagely learned a practical trade during the Great Depression, while her mother was a bookkeeper at the Rutgers University Credit Union. Kathy’s brother, one of two siblings, is a musician who graduated from the Berklee College of Music and works as an arranger for the likes of the Boston Pops and the Boston Symphony. Their sister in Virginia didn’t do badly, either: She’s a vice president at the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, a.k.a. Freddie Mac.
Tarantola entered photography, she says, “because I was drawn to making images and wanted to find a career that wasn’t office-based — something where I could work for myself, meet different people, and be creative.” This desire led her to apprentice with a local photographer. “I helped him paint and move when he was redoing his studio,” Tarantola remembers, “and in exchange he let me use his darkroom.” She earned an associate’s degree in photography from Middlesex County College, and got a job assisting a photographer who specialized in corporate annual reports.
After that? Waitressing on Martha’s Vineyard, naturally. That helped pay the bills while she worked as a darkroom technician and general assistant at the Martha’s Vineyard School of Photography. After a year of that, Kathy headed for the mainland. “I thought, ‘Let’s try a city.’ I really didn’t know anybody in Boston, but I called photographers and told them I could assist. And it worked!” Tarantola says with a chuckle. But it was the ’80s, she recalls, “and there was a lot of work, a lot of money flying around, and a lot of photographers needed assistants. The second person I went to see started hiring me on a regular basis as a second assistant. That was my base, and when I could I filled-in for others.”
She gradually began getting assignments of her own, and then packed her film and lenses, bought a Eurail pass, and spent a summer snapping all over France, Italy, Germany, Sweden and, in a side trip, Egypt. “I had a camel ride in the moonlight around the pyramids,” she says, with a bit of a daze still in her voice. That summer proved a crash course for her career. “I learned a lot about shooting and dealing with people,” Tarantola says. “That’s sort of where I ended up — I shoot a lot of corporate portraits, I put people at ease, I make them smile. I like being on that side of the camera.”
Tarantola, who continued her education under the likes of Nicholas Nixon, Abelardo Morell, and Laura McPhee at the Massachusetts College of Art, expanded her creative work. This led to Kathy’s art-photo side as expressed in such alternative processes as cyanotypes, Polaroid transfers, and large-format black-and-white portraits. “Cyanotypes are basically blueprints made into images,” she describes. “To create the multilayered images I wanted you have to make two separate full sized negatives that are sandwiched together, paint the emulsion onto the paper in the dark and make a contact print.” A couple of samples on her website are like cool-blue surrealist dreams. She’s shown her work at such juried art fairs as the Boston Arts Festival, as well as in galleries all over the Northeast.
Tarantola had her own commercial studio in downtown Boston for a while. But after the Big Dig traffic-tunnel project commenced, many firms there were suddenly deluged with noise and dust, and decamped. Now, Tarantola says, “If I need a studio I rent it, but I do almost all location work.”
The challenge in that, she says, is “arriving at a place and trying to find a way to take an interesting photo. Because 99% of the time they say, ‘Hey, we have a board room you can use!’ I shoot in stairways, on the roofs of buildings. One place had a lobby with big glass windows, and outside was this barren tree. So I did a lot of lighting to make it look dramatic and like nighttime even though it was day, and posed the people in front of it, and it ended up looking great.”
Kathy has also volunteered to photograph children with cancer at the New England Floating Hospital for a group called Flashes of Hope. “I believe in giving back as much as possible,” says Tarantola, “and volunteering for Flashes of Hope was a very rewarding experience. The kids were so amazing.” She also just returned from a trip to New Orleans to document some of the home rebuilding projects in the devastated area. If that’s not enough, Kathy also holds the responsibility of being treasurer for the New England Chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP.org). Whoever said you can’t mix beauty and brains?
The goes likewise for Panasonic DMC-TZ3 point-and-shoot she’s been trying out. “It’s a very smart camera,” Tarantola says. “You try and trick it with your settings, and it’s smart enough to balance light and pick the right speeds. But you can also go in and modify it, which is a very nice thing. It also has a setting for shooting black-and-white.”
As it happens, you could be talking about the photographer herself. “Just make it fun,” she says. “There are rules, and you can break them. As long as you know the basics, you can still make a great photograph, perhaps something unexpected.”
Call Digital Photo Academy at 1 877 372 2231. Lots of people seem to hang up if our welcome recording comes on instead of a live voice, but we promise to return your message within a day or two if you leave one with your name and number. It would be even better if you included your e mail address as well as the date and city of the class you are considering. If leaving a voice mail message is not your thing, please email us at DPAbooking@digitalphotoacademy.com or Richard@digitalphotoacademy.com.