The community lost a special light this holiday season. Our community’s beloved Tara Lessard lost her hard-fought battle against cancer on Dec. 26. She was 47.
A friend asked me how so many people seemed to know Tara, and I guess it was in part because of her devotion to the community and the fact that through her company, Freedom G Photography, Tara was there to chronicle so many people and events in the community. That and her indomitable spirit, along with a kind and upbeat personality. As a celebration of that spirit, we’ve decided to reprint, with some edits, the interview PGN did with Tara back in 2013.
In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Tara Lessard may be made in support of ovarian cancer research to The Clearity Foundation. Please make checks payable to The Clearity Foundation and mail to The Clearity Foundation, 434 West Cedar Street, Suite 300, San Diego, CA 92101, or donate online using the online donation form.
A private Mass and interment will be held for family. A warm and wild celebration honoring her rich legacy will be planned for the new year.
Tell me about yourself.
I was born in Jamaica, New York and lived a few years in South Carolina when my dad was in college before moving to Pennsylvania. I’ve never actually lived in Philadelphia. I still live in Bucks County, near where I grew up.
Really? All these years, I’ve seen you at every function in town, and I just assumed you lived here or near. That’s one heck of a commute.
I know! I’m in Philly four to six days a week. I put a lot of mileage on my car. My full-time job is with the family business; my dad’s a chiropractor, and my brother and I both work in the office, where I’ve been working since I was 14 years old. I put in 40-plus hours a week in Bucks County, and then I come into the city and work some more!
That’s crazy! Do you do chiropractic work?
I do everything but adjustments. In the office, I do all the marketing; I run the front desk and all the insurance admissions and all the office stuff. Out of the office, I do lectures and spinal screenings in the community a few days a week.
Something you did for fun with the family?
Honest to god, we worked. We had a 100-percent work ethic all the time. As far as family vacations were concerned, we didn’t take weeks off. We’re all really hard workers, and we weren’t about accruing vacation memories, we were about being professional and doing good work. It’s the reason I can’t stop working. I definitely have that same driving force and work ethic in me.
And your mom?
She’s an interior designer. She was just doing it for fun, including changing around the office interior every six weeks, and then in 2010, she opened her own business right around the time I started the photography business.
Any other siblings?
I have a sister, too, who is an artist married to another artist living in New York. I’m the oldest of the three.
There seems to be a lot of creativity in the family. Which parent do you get it from?
I think from both, but the crazy thing is, I recently found out that my biological father is a photographer! So I guess it’s both nature and nurture. He lives in Canada, and I just met him for the first time a few years ago. It turns out I’m the oldest of three on that side of the family too.
Were you adopted, or was he from a previous relationship with your mom?
She was married to him, but I never knew that side of the family growing up. I adopted my dad — the one I work with — and he’s pretty awesome. What’s funny is that I’m more like him than my brother and sister, who are biologically his.
What was your favorite class as a kid?
English. I wasn’t so much into the grammar aspect, conjugations and dangling participles, etc., but I loved writing.
What were your extracurricular activities in school?
I was into two things: dance and drumming. I took dance classes and did recitals and performances for seven years. I played sports like racquetball, and I also was totally into music and loved playing the drums. I went on to be in the music industry in an electro/industrial band for a while.
I read about it! You guys were rather well-known. I had no idea you had that past life!
Yeah, Brainclaw, we did pretty well. We toured quite a bit in the tri-state area, released two albums and even had two songs: “Insekt/Angel” and “When The Dark Rains Come,” which were used on the DVD releases for the movies “The Matrix Revolutions,” “The Matrix Box Set” and “Spider-Man Collectors Edition.”
As in Toby Maguire’s “Spider-Man” and Keanu Reeves’ “The Matrix”? Pretty cool!
Yeah, it was. It didn’t earn us any money but gave us some serious street cred. We were also on a Depeche Mode tribute CD, “Bright Lights, Dark Room.”
When people see you at functions, you are so affable and personable, so I was surprised to read that your music was so … [laughs]. I saw it described as “electro-violence.” One person described your voice as ranging from “whispery, scary little girl to screaming banshee.”
[Laughs.] Have you heard any tracks? It’s more industrial. Think Nine Inch Nails, more goth than anything. I’d been a huge metalhead in high school. I loved heavy metal and punk rock and then transitioned to goth and industrial during my career.
I was reading that a platoon of soldiers in Iraq used the song “Strike” from your “Dead Monsters” CD as the soundtrack to a video they made of themselves in battle.
Yeah, it was crazy. A lot of people made their own videos of our songs, and they got thousands of hits.
Amazing. And you box too. When did you start that?
I didn’t come out until 2009, and my first relationship ended with some domestic-abuse issues. It happened twice. The second time I left, I was really affected by it. I had been such a positive person all my life, and after that, I became very small and weak and unsure of myself. In order to recover — physically, emotionally, spiritually, all of that — I embraced boxing. It was a lifesaver. I don’t compete; I train and spar at the gym, but the training that I got and the people that I met put me back on the right path. The discipline that it takes to be an athlete is tremendous, and to be surrounded by people who were so focused and driven was monumental for me. There was a lot of drama surrounding me coming out. I was previously married and then got into a bad relationship, and boxing helped me become the person I am now. I’m also a brown belt in Kenpo.
Glad to hear you’re not fighting matches. Although I wouldn’t mind meeting Laila Ali if you took her on.
[Laughs.] No, I respect and love the sport, but I like my nose too much to do a bout.
On to your photography, how did you get started shooting in the LGBT community?
Philly Gay Calendar was the first connection I had to the community when I first came out. I was single at the time, and I wanted a way to be involved and give back, and PGC gave me a purpose. It gave me a reason to go to events even though I was by myself. It was an awesome gift from Steve McCann. I was an OK photographer, not the greatest, but I loved doing it, and he was just like, “Show up and do your best.” I did well with people and turnaround times, and over time, I’ve evolved. I now shoot for Stimulus, Mazzoni Center, LICK. I’m the staff photographer for a production company that produces the films series, “Crazy. Sexy. Cool,” that my girlfriend Shanel was in. I’m on staff for the radio program “Queer to the T.” I shoot on occasion for PGN. There are so many amazing connections that I’ve made in the community over the years. It’s very cool. I do four to six shoots a week and take about 8,000 pictures a month. I don’t take it lightly that I’ve been able to come through hard times and into a position to help others and give some exposure to what we do and who we are.
And you shoot outside the community as well.
Yes, I shoot MMA fighters monthly for “Xtreme Fight Events” at Harrah’s Casino in Chester. It’s awesome because I train with a lot of the guys who are competing. I’ve seen a lot of them grow from amateur to pro over the last four years, and I’ve been able to document their progress.
What’s your favorite MMA picture?
There’s a fighter, Anthony Terrell, who had a kick to the face that caused a knockout, winning him the match. It was a 28-second fight, and I just happened to get the shot perfectly as his foot was making contact!
Let’s do some arbitrary questions. If I could switch places for a day with one person, it would be…
Brian Sims. He’s on a roll right now. He’s beautiful to watch as far as the role he’s taken in the community, politically and through the connections he’s making with and for people. I’m enamored of his position in the community. The support and love, as well as backing that he gets from the people and how he uses it to the best of his ability for the good of the community … I’d love to be in that position to effect change.
Two of your favorite things?
I love hats. I have a huge collection and wear them as often as possible. I am currently in love with my food dehydrator. I was a vegetarian for 10 years, and I love being creative with dehydrating veggies. My fave these days is kale dipped in a creamy mix of raw cashews, lemon, salt and pepper.
Best concert experience?
That would have to be Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” I saw it three times, and each time was a moving journey complete with tears. It is a very powerful show!
You are chosen to make dinner for a very special guest. What will you cook?
Dinner for a special guest is a tough one because I am a foodie and love to experiment. Right now, I would say a Waldorf salad, roasted chicken, mashed sweet potatoes and kale. [Laughs] It’s winter and I happen to be hungry!
You’re making me hungry! Favorite piece of clothing?
Right now, my favorite piece of clothing is a tight black shirt I have that makes my chest look great!
Well, on that happy note, Happy New Year to all!