The face behind the camera, Tamati Smith is a young photographer on the rise.

The proud Yamaji/Wajarri/ Badimaya and Nga Puhi man was born in Port Hedland but is a Geraldton local.

Despite having an established portfolio, Mr Smith only picked up a camera recently, after leaving the Australian Defence Force.

He joined the navy at the age of 23.

“I had a lot of interest in the military growing up and when I was up north in Hedland, I remember seeing the army when they’d come to town — with their tanks and their guns,” he told the National Indigenous Times.

“I thought it was cool, I joined the navy.

“That took me around Australia. Had me living in Melbourne for two years, had me living in Canberra for two years, and Sydney for two years as well.

“It had me at sea for three years visiting Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Hawaii.”

After six years of service, Smith left in April 2021.

During the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Mr Smith was living on Gadigal Country. On the day of Sydney’s rally, he armed himself with a camera, a flag and signs, and went along.

This is where his journey with photography began.

“I took down my little M50 camera along with my kit lens and took heaps of photos,” he said.

 

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After the rally, Mr Smith was deployed again for five months. When he returned, he was stuck in lockdowns.

“I took a lot of time sitting around in Sydney by myself. That is when I got my deployment money and I went and bought myself a real professional camera and lens,” he said.

“I started going to every rally in Sydney, and ran into one fulla, by the name of BalaLuke, (Luke Currie- Richardson). He took an interest in me and helped me develop my skills.”

At a rally, Mr Smith also connected with photography icon Gamilaroi/Gomeroi Murri Yinah, Aunty Barbara McGrady.

“I was doing a rally and she was there with her camera. I went up and had a chat with her,” he said.

“She started talking to me about sports and photography and how important it is to our community.

“She talked about how we should be out there capturing sport, and she was exactly right.”

When the borders opened, Mr Smith returned home and started photographing his local football team.

His talents were noticed by the AFL, and in September the 29-year-old was touring with the AFL Premiership Cup across WA.

“The grand final was in Perth, and so their photographers couldn’t get over here to do the AFL Premiership Cup tour. The editor for photography for the AFL hit me up and asked me to do the tour for two weeks,” Mr Smith said.

 

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 The opportunity sent him across the State, from the Pilbara to the Kimberley and everywhere in between.

“I’d never been as far as the Pilbara before — I used to see that road that goes from Sandfire to Broome. I always wondered what was in Sandfire,” Mr Smith laughed.

He reflected on the first day of tour, starting at Perth Airport at 5am and ending up in a helicopter over the Bungle Bungle Range in Purnululu National Park.

“I started taking photos straight away, it was my first big professional job. The brief was super-open,” he said.

“They said it was to see my ‘creativity shine’.

“As soon as I stepped on the plane, I was taking photos of everything.

“When we landed, I didn’t even have time to get my things. We jumped on a helicopter straight away and started flying around Lake Argyle and taking photos.

“I had so much control, I could tell them to land here and there for photos.

“It was such a great experience to meet other Blackfullas, too. We had yarns about emu oil and stuff, we yarned about who they were, who I am.

“I can always seem to find a connection when I’m working with other Blackfullas.”

Since the tour, Mr Smith has worked with Getty Images.

When talking about what comes next, he remains humble and notes that despite it all, he just “really loves taking photos”.

“Photojournalism is really interesting to me, it’s something I really want to do,” he said.

“There is a lot of Blak stories in Western Australia that are told by whitefullas.

“When it comes to that, I want to be the one that can tell them. I want to be the one to capture our stories, I want to be the one to showcase our stories as well.”

Mr Smith hopes his story could inspire young ones to pick up a camera.

“I want to inspire young ones coming along,” he said.

“There are so many incredibly talented fullas out there.

“I want to inspire people like I was inspired by people over in the east and pushed along by people here in the west.”

By Rachael Knowles