Tawny Chatmon of Annapolis uses photography to create precious art with a purpose – Baltimore Sun

Tawny Chatmon of Annapolis uses photography to create precious art with a purpose – Baltimore Sun


Each time she completes a piece of art, Tawny Chatmon performs a quiet rite.

“I say a prayer over the work before sending it out into the world, so that it does what I intended — to positively impact everyone who views it,” said Chatmon, a photography-based artist in Annapolis.

Public reaction suggests that her prayers are answered. Chatmon’s art has appeared in museums and festivals from New York to Vienna. Her works grace the homes of celebrities like Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, and have sold for as much as $55,000.

Chatmon’s best efforts — multilayered fusions of photographs and paint — portray confident young Black girls, with exaggerated hairstyles, wearing resplendent garb with intricate designs. She paints their gowns, flecked with 24K gold leaf, onto the photos, a painstaking process that can take months.

Her creations, she said, are both a nod to Black heritage and a retort to those critical of the embellished coiffures trending among Black girls today.

“I want to portray that Black children are precious, Black hair is beautiful and the Black family is strong,” said Chatmon, 43, who is married and the mother of three.

Tawny Chatmon, photographer and mixed media artist, with "Remnants/Peace and Joy Are Birthrights of All Beings,” 2021-2022, at the Banneker-Douglass Museum.  Chatmon, of Annapolis, created the work with 24-karat gold leaf, paper and acrylic on archival pigment print.

It’s not the career she envisioned, growing up in Prince George’s County. Then, acting came first.

“I told my high school teacher that I would thank him [on camera] for the first Oscar that I received,” she said. When the stage fancy cooled, Chatmon’s parents bought her a 35 mm camera that she used to begin doing small commercial photography jobs for $50 apiece.

“Photography just grew on me,” she said. “At first, it was something that put food on the table. That changed in 2004, when my son was born. Now, my camera had a purpose; it was in his face every day. I could capture every amazing little thing that he was doing.”

Friends and family liked her work and had her chronicle their kids. Chatmon’s reputation grew. Businesses took note; both the YMCA and National Education Association sought her savvy. Motherhood, she said, had lit the fire:

The Morning Sun


Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.

“I went from not even thinking of photographing children to [knowing] that was all I wanted to do.”

If a brand-new life gave her art meaning, a tragic death gave it soul. In 2010, Chatmon’s father, James, succumbed to prostate cancer.

“He wasn’t afraid to die, but of his grandchildren not remembering him,” she said. “I photographed [the upbeat times of] my dad’s nine-month battle, from him and my mom singing to him playing ‘Barbies’ with my daughter — thinking we’d have a story to encourage Black men to take prostate cancer seriously. I never assumed the worst would occur.”

His passing helped sharpen Chatmon’s focus.

“Death became real for me; I thought, ‘My life has to have some kind of purpose.’ I told my husband that I couldn’t do commercial photography anymore.”

Now her art celebrates all of Black culture, through the lens of its children and their proud ethnic roots.

“I feel I am contributing to the world my kids are living in,” Chatmon said. “And when I die, I am leaving something important behind.”