Q&A with Tara Parekh, TSA Public Affairs and AGCA Judge

Tell us about yourself. What government agencies have you worked for?

I’ve been in a creative role in the Federal Government for over 13 years.

Right after I graduated from college, I was hired to work for the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO). I took some time off to get my Master in Arts degree in Digital Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and eventually ended up coming back to the D.C. area to work for the National Defense University (NDU), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA).

Currently I work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and have been here for just about 5 years.

What kind of work have you done?

I have always worked in a creative capacity. My job title varied by agency, but my role was one of a Visual Information Specialist, or graphic designer. Because of my background in photography, I was often able to incorporate that skill into my projects.

I have fun working on a variety of projects, and especially enjoy all of the behind-the-scenes experiences that are unique to being a government employee.
I had the opportunity to see and sometimes photograph parts of federal buildings not everyone could access. I also met high-ranking government and military officials (sometimes getting the chance to take their portraits or design their books).

One of my absolute favorite projects was producing a magazine for the Department of Defense. It was such a fun project that combined all of my skills. Part of the production included selecting photos taken from photographers all over the world and then adding them into the layout to illustrate the magazine articles.

On the side, I also own a photography business in Alexandria, Virginia, called Tara Parekh Photography, LLC. I specialize in family portraits, weddings, headshots, events, maternity, pets, and more. You can follow me on Instagram (@taraparekhphotography) and view my website www.taraparekh.com.

What’s been your all-time favorite creative project in government so far?

One of my all-time favorite projects has been photographing the TSA canines. It’s how I got connected to the Adobe Government Creativity Awards (AGCA).

I have been speaking about my canine photos at various Adobe events, including Adobe Day for DHS and Adobe Gov Max (part of the Adobe Max conference in Los Angeles, CA).

Can you tell us more about your approach to this project?

My photographs of the TSA canines and their handlers focus on lighting, emotion, interaction and relationships, personality, and action. When approaching a project of this nature, it requires planning ahead, coordination, logistical considerations, and most importantly, getting the “models” excited and involved.

People love photos of dogs, and the best part is they show a fun, refreshing, and positive perspective of TSA.

What type of creative tools do you use?

I shoot with Canon cameras and flashes, and use a MacBook Pro for my editing platform.

For post-processing, I primarily work in Adobe Lightroom, but if my images require further editing, I use Adobe Photoshop. Sometimes, I add in an additional step to my process and create contact sheets of my images using Adobe Bridge.

As a judge for the Adobe Government Creativity Awards (AGCA), what advice do you have for creatives submitting photography projects?

For a photograph to stand out, I look for something that causes me to pause. That something may be the quality of the image, the skills behind creating a vision, the feeling the image portrays, the emotion or the power it makes one feel, the story it creates, or even just incredibly beautiful light.

I am honored to be able to view all of your work. It takes time and effort to learn your craft and you should be proud of your submissions.

Any advice you want to leave your fellow government creative workers with?

Being a creative in a government environment can have its challenges. You may be limited by security standards when it comes to your hardware and software, and you may be limited by a budget with your creative tools.

Don’t give up. Push to make it known that creatives are important assets, and our jobs are integral to the public. Keep your agency’s mission in mind and strive to do the best you can with what you have but also with obtaining what you need.

If you are working on a creative project and you see a better way of developing it, make sure you make your ideas known. Search for that project that drives you and follow your passion. Know that being creative is a special and unique trait that should always be valued in your working environment. You may come up with creative ways of solving problems that no one else thought of.

What’s next for you?

I’m transitioning into a new role as an Account Services Manager for the Strategic Communications and Public Affairs office at TSA. I’m excited to be an operational and creative problem solver, and liaison between different departments and public affairs.

As for my side business, I’m looking forward to continuing my photography, developing my clientele, and becoming more involved in the community.

Learn more about Tara and her work on her website and follow her at @taraparekhphotography on Instagram.

Visit the TSA website.