Tia Gemmell, snapping Sac’s suits

PHOTO by lisa baetz

See Tia Gemmel’s photography at www.phototia.com.

If you ever find yourself schmoozing at one of Sacramento’s many hors d’oeuvre-laden events, chances are tiny bites won’t be the only thing shoved in your face. For the last decade, Tia Gemmel has run around the Sacramento area, camera in hand, snapping photos for the Sacramento Business Journal, Comstock’s magazine, N Magazine and others. During her busiest months, Tia will snap more than 20,000 photos of Sacramento handshakes, smiles and tipsy politicians. I sat down with her to find out just what the lady behind the camera has learned watching Sacramento’s suits mingle.

You’re probably Sacramento’s leading party girl.

I used to be when I was in my 30s.

What are the best hors d’oeuvres you’ve had?

That’s a good one. The Sacramento Business Journal just had their Book of Lists function and they were serving lobster and shrimp hors d’oeuvres.

Lobster and shrimp hors d’oeuvres?

It wasn’t like big pieces. But yeah, I thought that was pretty grand. The other one I can think of is MeriStem, the school. They had their grand opening outside and I have never seen so much pageantry for hors d’oeuvres in my life. They had stations where you had steak on sticks and lobster on sticks. It was—whoa.

So you’re a lobster girl?

Not really. I don’t even like crab. But for someone who was starting a nonprofit type organization, the who’s who were there. You were there, weren’t you?

No, I missed that one.

It was outside at the school. You walked down these long paths and there were all kinds of hors d’oeuvres.

What advice would you give to someone who is putting on a mixer?

Ambiance, the location. I’ve been to some that are so boring. And the lighting is terrible for a photographer. But I would say the location is one of them.

What are your favorite venues?

I was just over at Lion’s Gate for the Asian Chamber Biz Talks Series and I thought that was pretty nice. I like that inside part, that was nice. It was in the hotel and the chef prepared really beautiful food for luncheon. I don’t really have an answer to that, because usually they are in small venues.

What are some of the funnier things you encounter?

I’ll tell you, when you do these events you know there are probably politicians there. I’m not going to say names but I know them and they know me—most of them. They see me and the first thing they do is put their wine down. They don’t want a photo with a glass of wine in their hand. … I’ve had a phone call once or twice, when somebody said, “Please don’t use that photo. I’m going through a divorce. I really don’t want to have that out there yet.” But I don’t get those too often. Or I’ll have someone tell me right there at the event, “This is not my wife. I better not have this taken.”


(Laughs.) Yeah, that happened just recently. He was polite, he was laughing, like you’re laughing, but he says, “I just don’t think she would be happy.”

Do you do very many political fundraisers?

I’m doing a lot of more political stuff now. I really kind of have to refocus a little bit, think about how I want to grow my business in a different direction. I’m getting away from so much of these nonprofits. I’m just kind of burned out by them. I need to grow myself.

Are the Republican events more fun or the Democrat events?

I don’t know how to say one is better than the other because I don’t look at it that way. I just go to these events. I don’t go because it’s Democratic or Republican.

Which ones drink more?

I don’t know.

Do you recommend that people smile or should they keep a straight face? Which makes a better photo?

Oh, I would say smile! I say, “OK. I’m ready! Smile!” Click, click.

I’m never sure what to do with my hands in these photos. Should people embrace the person next to them?

It depends on the situation, of course. Most of the time I let it go because you’re not doing anything for a magazine front page. You’re just doing casual reception gala-type photos. Sometimes if it’s a couple, I say get a little closer in together. … Sometimes I’ll tell them to put their hands in their pockets, but that’s not too often. Usually, you just kind of flow with it.