“When I meet new people, or see strangers, I often photograph them in mid sentence. I see a photo in my mind, and cannot settle until I capture it. New people and places inspire me.” – Tara Smith
If you’ve been to a James Street North Art Crawl in the past couple of years, there’s a good chance you’ve been to the gallery Studio on James, located on the third floor just beside the AGH Annex. With the art always changing, there’s always different photography to see and enjoy each month. One of the co-owners and photographers at the studio is Tara Smith, a Hamilton-based photographer and entrepreneur.
Tara’s interest in photography began when she was 16, when she learned to process her own film. She enjoyed spending hours upon hours in the darkroom and she hasn’t looked back since. A freelance photographer for over 14 years, Tara doesn’t specialize in one type, but enjoys a variety of work, from infant photography, to professional headshots, to urban landscapes. She’s inspired by people and places that are new to her – an alley, an unfamiliar face.
Exploring the city itself plays a big part in Tara’s life. Her studio is a 10 minute walk from her home, and her company Prop Haus (more about it below) is just a seven minute drive away. Even in these short commutes, she grows more immersed in the city and her creativity is sparked by what she sees and experiences along the way.
Owning three companies definitely qualifies Tara as a seasoned entrepreneur. Growing up and seeing her parents run their own businesses made it a natural fit. While it’s a role that doesn’t come with scheduled breaks, Tara can’t imagine not being her own boss with the freedom to create her own schedule. As someone who’s self-motivated and dedicated to always do her best work, self-employment is incredibly rewarding. That said, entrepreneurship is not without its challenges. And in Tara’s case, with three businesses, she works hard to ensure each is given the attention it needs.
A little more from Tara:
I started renting space at what’s now called, Studio On James almost two years ago. We decided to brand the studio, each running our own businesses within. At first, it was simply going to be my shooting space, but it quickly evolved into so much more; offering kids classes, with the other photographer I share the space with, Deborah Kanfer. We have also just added Adult Classes to our roster. Things have grown very organically for us. We also run the studio as a Gallery, and offer up wall space to other photographers. Our goal is to have our walls filled with new work every month for Art Crawl. This invites new energy and people into the space, which we love. Studio on James will also be rolling out something very exciting this spring, so stay tuned.
What lessons have you learned being a co-owner at Studio on James?
My studio mate and I are very strong minded women. Working together and allowing each other to bring ideas to the table has helped me grow and develop my business. I welcome the opportunity to be better and do a better job. Two minds are definitely better than one. Although when either of us firmly believes something, it can be a battle of wills, but it’s all for the greater good, and we always come to an agreement.
How did Prop Haus come about? Was this always something you wanted to start?
I have worked off and on in Film as a Set Decorator and Art Buyer. Always having to go to Toronto for everything, and with a growing Film Industry in Hamilton, it seemed like a no brainer to open up a Prop House here. I wouldn’t say it was something I always wanted to start, but anyone who knows me, knows I love to shop, and thrift and am obsessed with Design. So, it was a natural next step for me.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business in a creative field?
There’s a saying “the downfall of most artists is their lack of business sense”. You will not automatically be good at all aspects of business; seek out help, educate yourself, out-source the things you’re not great at. Use your community for support. There are a lot of free programs out there (including one at Hamilton’s City Hall). Take them, or a small business course. Learn the business side of things, know your brand, get a handle on your SM. Have fun and GO for it!
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Find Tara online to learn more about her current projects (including original photography) and businesses, follow her on social media or check out her websites: