I do not believe in the “machine gun technique” – shooting aimlessly – where you might come up with a few worthwhile shots.… It is necessary that you familiarize yourself with the event in advance, find out what, how and where it will happen. Be informed about your subject and be alive to what is happening. Above all, learn to “feel” with the event and learn to observe and to see.
– Sam Tata, “On Assignment,” Foto-Canada, vol. 1, no. 1, 1967, page 42.
Son of the successful Parsee entrepreneur Bejan Dadabhoy Tata, Sam Bejan Tata was an important cultural figure in Canadian photography. He assumed many photographic roles: pictorialist, street photographer, photojournalist and documenter. He produced numerous portraits of personalities, first in Shanghai, and later in Montreal, as well as records of pivotal historical events, such as the entry of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into Shanghai in 1949.
Tata took his first photographs with a box camera in Shanghai when he was 24. Early influences include portraitist Oscar Seepol, Australian photographer Julian Smith and Chinese photographers Chin-San Long (with whom he exhibited) and Liu Shu Chong. In 1947, noted Indian pictorialist Jehanghir Unwalla secured Tata’s first solo show in Bombay. Several months later, he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, who would become a lifelong friend and mentor. In 1956, Tata settled in Montreal. He first earned a living doing portrait work, taking photographs of Canadian literary and artistic figures such as Michel Tremblay, Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, Donald Sutherland, Alice Munro and Gilles Vigneault. He later freelanced for the National Film Board of Canada, corporate publications and magazines such as Macleans, Weekend, Chatelaine and Time.
The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography and National Gallery of Canada collections hold important works by Tata, including portraits taken in Shanghai, the entry of the PLA into Shanghai, his photographs of India (1955), as well as his many portraits of cultural figures in Canada, Japan, England and India. In 1983, Tata was granted an honorary degree from Concordia University and in 1988, a major exhibition, The Tata Era/L’Epoque Tata was assembled by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography and toured the country. Two years later, Tata received the prestigious lifetime achievement award from the The Canadian Association of Professional Image Creators (CAPIC).