Tajette O’Halloran confronts her difficult memories through photography

Returning to her childhood home, Tajette O’Halloran confronts her difficult memories through photography, finding beauty and value where once was tragedy.

Photographs by Tajette O’Halloran
Text by Justin Herfst

Photography is at its best when the artist speaks from the heart. A wise man once said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”, and photography, most assuredly being its own language, speaks for the heart in images of beauty and truth. In Tajette O’Halloran’s In Australia, the artist finds liberation and connection in revisiting her memories of a difficult past. The photographs, made from “a nostalgic longing driven by grief”, reveal a heart in search of catharsis.

O’Halloran grew up in a hippie commune near the town of Lismore, New South Wales. Her early years living in a rural setting were a stark contrast to the suburban environment of her early teens. At the time, the hippie movement was at its most ideal, and conversely, its most sinister. “Part of this story is the fallout in the next generation from the hippie movement,” she says. “There was so much freedom during my parents’ era. It was all about one love and marijuana and sustainability and all these wonderful ideals.” This freedom came at a cost for the following generation. “The marijuana turned into heroin,” she says. “The excessive freedom given to the children was not always so healthy. There was neglect, there was a lot of drug use, crime and violence,” she adds.

When O’Halloran left Lismore, she left in desperation “rejecting everything from back then”. She travelled, studied photography, and generally tried to put Lismore out of her mind. It wasn’t until she had a child of her own that the thought of returning became more appealing. “I spent my whole 20s running from family and then I have my own family and realized how important those connections are.”

In Australia presents O’Halloran’s catharsis from a difficult past. The photographers are constructed from her memory, her subjects cast to reflect and reenact her adolescent years in Lismore. O’Halloran approaches each image with a deliberate emotional intent. “I’ll scout the location, then take photos of the location, print them out then draw over the photo how I think the scene is going to play out,” she says. In each image, a different abstraction from a past experience is staged, then photographed. “What I am trying to evoke is a feeling of intimacy and connection, along with boredom and listlessness that all come into play.”

With In Australia, O’Halloran returns home to find beauty and value in a place she tried so hard to get away from. “I found that everything I was pushing away has become the foundation of my photographic work,” she says. “This work has been me finding myself as a photographer. It’s the truest work I’ve ever made.”

Editor’s note: Tajette O’Halloran was a juror’s pick in the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2021. Be sure to check out the rest of the winners for more striking portraits!