top of page
The suspended moment.jpg



on her exhibition represented by Michael Reid - Sydney + Berlin

The Suspended Moment

"The Suspended Moment"
from The Suspended Moment, 2023

From a young age, Photographer Tamara Dean  has gravitated toward spots her senses can swim in - spilling streams, sundrenched stones satiated in river spray, splitting silence of unsheathed trees spinning for warmth, sweet-scented cypress and honeyed gum leaves. She is a collector of objects she considers to be “reminders of the beauty and magic in nature, the cycles of life and time.” As humans, we’re no different than Australia’s Satin Bowerbirds, gathering their cerulean streamers and blue buds to lay in shaded woods. They keep them for beauty - for attraction and ornament. No one can truly disconnect themselves from nature.  We are tied to it, swathed in string. We crave ownership and control, yet nothing can truly be kept. Everything slips like a stream through shaking fingers. 

This loss of control is one that supports Tamara’s recent work, The Suspended Moment. The series is inspired by Dutch ‘vanitas’, which is an art form closely related to memento mori still life paintings, compositions meant to evoke the notion, remember, you must die. Snuffed out candles, spilling wine, skulls, silver, and citrus are just some objects classic to vanitas, meant to symbolize the shortness and fragility of life - the passing of time. In her underwater studio, she captures  suspended vanitas - sumptuous scarlet apples floating up in sun-sparkled bubbles, plum chiffon spread under sliced oranges, a basket spilling carrots sinking against a sun-striped navy backdrop, pears positioned with perfume and a pistachio-green lamp, silver spoons and silk, a brass kettle and peeled bananas, oranges bathed in rainbow reflected light. 

I imagine the woody perfume sprayed in cold water, floating to the surface with the perfumed pears. I imagine the tea kettle pouring out boiling hot water that merely brushes the blond bananas as they sink away below the buoyant heat. The fruits are bountiful and bright, yet as most float up toward the sultry sun-soaked layer of water, they get closer to their own expiration in the air’s exposure. This tension is present in all of Tamara’s work. The Suspended Moment was open to public viewing at the Michael Reid Gallery in Sydney at the beginning of September. According to the exhibition’s description, “The symbolism in The Suspended Moment alludes to debates concerning the climate emergency as well as the omnipresent threat of increasing natural disasters.” The rivers that pull her are running dry, everything erodes. In creating the series, submerging her own personal possessions, she explores this impermanence. 

I asked Tamara our signature scent question, “If you could bottle (keep) three scents closely associated with memories of your own, what would you choose?” Two of her responses express her desire to access lost memories of her dad through scent. Those bottled scents would be “mementos,” physical keepsakes associated with intangible memory. “Mementos,” while being “keepsakes,” are also reminders that nothing can be kept. The word “keep” can’t exist without “until…” The phantom that swirls in the “...” looms in much of Tamara’s work. It’s also a phantom of your own that you might find looking back at you when you view her photography. 
Read our full conversation about sensory memories, The Suspended Moment, and creation.

Going bananas.jpg
"Going Bananas"
from The Suspended Moment, 2023

"The surprising manner in which the bananas ascended like sea creatures."

Your photography so often covers a distinctly Australian landscape. If you were to describe one of your favorite places in Australia, in terms of the senses, how would you describe it? The scents, the texture, the sounds?

I live not so far from one of my favourite places in Australia. I used to spend time exploring a property in Kangaroo Valley as a teenager (now less than a 20 minute drive from where I live) and through my sensory experience of the landscape I feel deeply and intimately connected to this place. I would visit across all seasons, but the sensations of summer sit the most deeply in my memory.

In Summer, I would arrive at the property, met by scrubby bushland. Dry, hot, sweet-scented fallen gum leaves underfoot. A noisy cacophony of bird calls and rounds of deafening cicadas ebb and flow.  

As I would walk deeper into the bushland my awareness of ticks in the trees would have my skin hyper-aware, prickling in anticipation of the sensation of the tick nestling its way into my skin. Sometimes I would hear a sudden thumping sound moving near me, a wallaby or kangaroo startled by my presence. My heart would race for a moment in an instinctual rush of adrenaline until my mind made sense of the sound. 

The land then drops steeply downwards through the rough sandstone texture of gorges and mossy rock walls, entering the cold, wet cave walls on the descent. The smell of humus deep inside the earth would encourage me to breathe deeply, the earthy, cool, ancient scents of the caves. I would breathe in almost as though drinking. Taking the coolness deep into my lungs.

Then the pungent, sweaty smell of bat dropping as we approached their roosting areas in the caves. The odd flash of a tiny bat and their tiny screechy noises. The coolness of the caves in stark contrast to the heavy heat outside.

Leaving the caves I would feel momentarily blinded by the daylight, then the lush greens of ferns would take over my field of view as I entered the ferny, damp bushland leading eventually to my favourite place, the river. Brushing shins and ankles through rough wet bracken, getting slightly scratched but somehow not hating the sensation. Keeping a keen eye to my lower limbs as I pass through the wet, leechy habitat. Leeches love me so I am hyper vigilant, flicking them off in a panic as they try to suck and hold on.

The ground softens to sand and is wonderful underfoot. Eyes to the ground though, the path smattered with stinging nettles, my eyes honed to recognise and avoid the bright green jagged leaf edges. My bare feet would be loving the soft earth but then intermittently stepping on painful rocks and jutting roots. Though, despite the odd bruise and cut, worth it.

Then a drop to the rocky riverbank. I remember the rounded river rocks under foot, hot and smooth, and slightly painful as I’d clumsily make my way over them to the river's edge. 

The river, my happy place. I tentatively step around the warmed shallows. The pleasure of my feet in the water, and the sandy patches I could find amidst the rocks. Then the frigid shock of immersion, the cold deep water, and surprise warmth in the top sun warmed layer of water. I float to be in the warmth. The faint scent of dirt in the water, a happy healthy dirt. The sweet trickle of the river water into my mouth as I swim around.

This is my favourite place.

By Feel.jpg
"By Feel"
from The Edge, 2015
The Signal, Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata), Winter, 2017.jpg
"The Signal, Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus-serrulata)"
from In Our Nature, 2017

"The smell of humus deep inside the earth would encourage me to breathe deeply, the earthy, cool, ancient scents of the caves. I would breathe in almost as though drinking."

If you could create an imaginary space that best suits your personality, how would you describe it? 

It would be a space with rich, deep, luminous colours. 

There would be sweet, woody smells - Australian native gum leaves, fig, sandalwood, patchouli. 

Texturally there would be many and varied surfaces - soft, coolness of moss, the smoothness of a rounded river rock, the soft warmth of fine sand.

There would be bodies of water, running rivers and streams. 

Nooks to sit in and smooth branches to climb.

"Tumbling Through the Treetops"
from High Jinks in the Hydrangeas, 2020
"Wandering Mind" 
from High Jinks in the Hydrangeas, 2020

Congratulations on the exhibit opening for The Suspended Moment. When people viewed the exhibit, what was the commentary like? 

[They expressed] a sense of wonder around how I created these images. And in how the organic objects behaved - the surprising manner in which the bananas ascended like sea creatures. The contrast of the root vegetables (carrots) sinking, with most of the fruit floating and how this makes sense in terms of the physical direction of their growth, although still a genuinely surprising discovery.

You took a lot of inspiration from Dutch ‘vanitas.’ Before we get into the work itself, I want to ask you a personal question related to that. There’s an element of personal possession to vanitas. So, what are some personal possessions you think best represent you? 

Interesting question. I am a collector of many things…river stones, antiques, chairs, sticks, beautiful material, hand crafted furniture, artworks, coloured powders. An old set of spectacles, an old whistle. Antique musical instruments.

In considering why these objects are significant to me I would have to say that they are aesthetic objects of inspiration. Reminders of the beauty and magic in nature, the cycles of life and time.  

It’s difficult to choose objects that best represent me, but if I had to, it would be the rounded river stones and the flowing material. Objects which are shaped by the elements, the pull of the water and thrust of the wind. Enlivened and shaped by the world around them.

In your life, what have been moments that felt suspended, or you wish you could have suspended? 

I feel suspended a lot of the time, to tell you the truth. I live with anxiety, and the way I would describe this feeling is one of feeling suspended, unearthed, floating, untethered. It’s not a comfortable feeling to sit in, so I keep myself busy. I feel like early motherhood was a suspension of sorts. My daughter is now 17 and my son 16. I am still having to remember and rediscover certain parts of my life that I put aside or on hold until my children became more independent. 

Vanitas are all about detail – what details in the series are you most proud of? 

I’m proud of the wine bottle with wine visible in it as it defies the logic of submersion.

The colours, tones and lighting are my proudest elements/details. These took significant time and specificity in terms of blocking out light and shooting in a particularly challenging environment. 

You’ve said in past interviews that you are always looking for a moment that isn’t resolved so the viewer knows there is a bigger story. What details in this series feel least resolved to you? 

The people are the elements which are unresolved as they are missing from the scenes in this series. It’s up to the viewer to imagine the character/s behind the objects they are seeing. The objects and their relationships to each other are clues to the narrative or personality of the characters…

The fallen/spilt wine glass, the cut fruit, the story that came before and after the moment depicted.

from Ritualism, 2009
from High Jinks in the Hydrangeas, 2020

"I live with anxiety, and the way I would describe this feeling is one of feeling suspended, unearthed, floating, untethered."

"The Journey" 
from Ritualism, 2009

When you were a child, do you remember the nature you gravitated toward? The little details you loved? What felt unresolved to you then? 

Trees, rocks and rivers. I loved the textures and the colours. The way the limbs of the tree would glow in certain light. The reflection of the river on the underside of the rocks.


They were messy and unordered, and beautiful in their messiness. 

You have said in past interviews that when you are photographing people, it is difficult to be sure that they understand your direction. With The Suspended Moment, you obviously don’t have any figures, but I would imagine that animating the objects in just the ‘right way’ would be even harder. Did you find that to be true? 

I find it much more difficult to arrange objects in such a way that they appear “natural” than capturing the balance of objects as they move organically. 

I had complete control over the way the table setting, etc was laid out, so the challenge was in finding the most aesthetically pleasing arrangement in the floating elements.

I believe that for a scene to have a sense of authenticity there needs to be the odd flaw. If everything is too perfect it loses intrigue and begins to appear contrived. By allowing the objects to move naturally in the water, they express their own physical behaviour in that environment and so are believable and appear authentic to the viewer.

"I believe that for a scene to have a sense of authenticity there needs to be the odd flaw." 

from The Suspended Moment, 2023
"Bright Eyes"
from The Suspended Moment, 2023

The buoyancy symbolizes an increasing loss of control. How did the element of control play into creating the series in terms of the way you directed it? 

I love bringing an element of spontaneity into my shoots. I compose the physical ingredients which essentially become the stage, and then it’s what my characters (be them people or objects) bring to the scene that makes the work. My approach is allowing space for unpredictability as this is the element which sits beyond the confines of my imagination. Taking the work further by facilitating the complexity, randomness and beauty of life to enter. This involves handing over an element of control.

What was the planning process before actually shooting? Did you save images of specific vanitas to reference? 

I did a deep dive into still life paintings and saved this as one of the images for reference...

Screen Shot 2023-09-19 at 8.31.40 PM.png
"Still life with cheese" by floris van dijck, c. 1615.

What was the most spontaneous moment when creating this series? 

It would have to be the letting go of the fruit. Everything else was very controlled.

I read in an interview that your mom had said to you once to “figure out the three words that drive you. You decided they were intuition, idealism and tenacity. How do you think these three words are reflected in The Suspended Moment?



Creating the scene and selecting the final image in the edit.



This series gently references the omnipresent threat and anxiety of natural disasters. The formal composition of the everyday is literally flooded. 

I conceptually underpin the series with my environmental concerns.



I would regroup, restage and reshoot if the shoot didn’t work the first time. 

I also tried many more fruits, vegetables, objects and flowers than are visible in the final selection of works in the series. Then narrowing it down to the most successful which were exhibited.

Is there any word you would change or add? 

These three remain true.

A word that pops into my head when I think of this style reference of Dutch Vanitas is  “Individualism.” You had previously described High Jinks in the Hydrangeas as your most personal work, and in it you were the subject being photographed. How or do you relate yourself as an individual to A Suspended Moment? 


I guess this relates back to some of your earlier questions.


The objects in the mise-en-scenes are from my collections. Apart from sitting around for years in my life and my studio, they had a moment to shine. And so they are a small part of my own life which is expressed in the images.


You have long said that you want your work to feel like a sensory experience, almost like you could walk into the photograph. To do this, in the past you collaborated with perfumer, Ainslie Walker. Can you tell me more about creating Forīs, and getting it ‘just right?’ 


Forīs is the first wearable perfume that Ainslie and I have created together.


We collaborated on scents which were imbued into my installation artworks for nine years, and since our first meeting Ainslie has taken notes on my likes and dislikes, interests and directions.


This meant that when we began working on Forīs there was a fair bit of background to draw on.


I wanted Forīs to be a scent which was evocative of nature, whilst also tapping into a more abstract nostalgic scent memory. Drawing on the power of scent memory.


I didn’t want it to have that perfumey smell, rather something more evocative of an essential oil. 


Scent and memory are so closely linked, so if you could bottle three scents related to certain memories of yours, what would you bottle? 


One. The smell of my dad from when I was a young child. The reason I wish I could bottle the smell of my dad from when I was a young child is that I feel as though his scent may be able to unlock my memories of him. I don't remember his smell and if I did perhaps it would take me back to my memory of him when he was in my life as a child. 


Two. The smell of the bush surrounding my home when my dad was still around. 


Three. The scent of night blooming flowers in Roseville, the suburb I grew up in through my teens. This was most potent when I walked back from the station at night to surprise my mum after being overseas for 3 months when I was 21.

How would you describe yourself most accurately? 

Kind, emotionally intelligent, ambitious, sensitive, curious.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

I was taught by my mother to always be financially independent.

bottom of page