Using photography to improve the lives of foster children and at risk animals

Image of kittens by Tamara Lackey
(Image credit: Tamara Lackey)

Not all photographers can claim they use their skills for as much good as Tamara Lackey does. In 2014, she and her husband started Beautiful Together - a charity that aims to improve the lives of children in foster care, orphanage and group housing. Six years later, they expanded their charitable work and opened the Beautiful Together Animal Sanctuary for at-risk animals and those living in inhumane conditions. 

We’ve all had that feeling we could and should be doing more to help others. Whether that’s by donating to a particular cause, volunteering at your local homeless shelter or raising money through a sponsored run/swim/skydive. There are so many ways to help but North Carolina-based photographer and Nikon Ambassador Tamara wanted to take things one step further and start her own charity.

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(Image credit: Tamara Lackey)

“We started Beautiful Together in 2014 and we formally became as I’m 501(c) organization in 2015. We were strongly motivated to help improves the lives of children waiting for families after spending a lot of time in orphanages in Etiopia and Ecuador over the years”

Up until 2020, most of the work Tamara did was in Ethiopia. Over the course of six years, more than 20 projects were completed including building a kitchen, improving the interior and exterior of the orphanage and creating opportunities for women to gain employment is Addis Ababa. 

One of the most powerful projects Tamara took part in was with Make Your Mark - an organization based in Ethiopia that works hard to get children off the street by gaining their trust and giving them opportunities to change their lives. Tamara documented the trip, capturing the harsh reality of life on the streets for young people living in poverty. 

Through donations and volunteering efforts, Beautiful Together has also helped young adults living on the street have access to showers, hot meals, toiletries and even job opportunities through the project “Safe Showers” and on 7 May, Beautiful Together will launch the first pilot program with elementary school-aged children who are at-risk or in foster care. 

(Image credit: Tamara Lackey)

With a background in broadcast journalism and art history, Tamara has been able to use powerful visuals to promote the important, life-changing work Beautiful Together does. Tamara explains how her photography “has always been and still very much is a major driver in my work with Beautiful Together” and how she “would not have been able to make such progress as a non-profit without being able to the power of photography to effect change”.

Clearly driven to help other people, when the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, it became Tamara’s mission to not just help children but animals too and so the Beautiful Together Animal Sanctuary was born. Tamara and her husband purchased 83 acres of land in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and began to build an animal sanctuary that would not only house animals but connects them to children living in crisis through a pet therapy initiative. 

“Our programming will offer kids an opportunity to help care for the animals while also receiving creative education, academic enrichment and empathy-building activities that are tied into animal care”

With so much energy put into building rescue shelters, improving the life of vulnerable children and giving animals a new home, it’s anyone's guess how Tamara still find the time to do photography jobs outside of Beautiful Together. To date, Tamara has written eight books on photography, the latest being The Posing Playbook for Photographing Kids

Tamara has also recently started to teach destination photography workshops again alongside renowned photojournalist, Joe McNally. Just last month she traveled to the Amazon Rainforest with her fellow Nikon Ambassador and next year she will be heading to Norway to teach another workshop.

(Image credit: Tamara Lackey)

Over the next five years, Tamara hopes that “both charities become so intertwined that there is no distinction between them”. They are already on track to have a fully-built refuge for animals as well as youth programming facilities and a photography/video studio that will be used daily. 

Beautiful Together and the Beautiful Together Animal Sanctuary rely on donations and more often than not it receives small amounts from lots of people. In 2021, the charity was lucky enough to receive a large, matching donation from an anonymous donor which enabled Tamara to start building the sanctuary. If you're interested in the work Tamara does and would like to contribute, head to the Beautiful Together website and as Tamara said, "every single dollar really does help". 

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.