Just the other day, Tim Tadder and I were talking about the importance of having that first conversation he has creatives about a project be about craft. We talked some too about how much his work is evolving and that it is important to be able to share that new vision with the community. In true Tim Tadder fashion, not wanting to brag or talk about himself too much, he told me that Digital Photo Pro just published an article about him and in it they discuss how he is “…in this place in his career right now that’s about discovering and looking for something that he loves again in photography.”
My favorite quote from the article is:
With a new focus on collaboration, Tim Tadder is actively developing a new aesthetic that pushes boundaries
Gritty dirty, for me, is dead,” says commercial and sports photographer Tim Tadder. “If a client hires me to do gritty dirty, I talk them out of it. I’m like, ‘I know what you want, but I don’t think you’re going to be happy with this,’ and I show them stuff that I’m working on and, more times than not, they get excited about that.”
Tadder has developed a reputation for his distinct “gritty dirty” look, but now he has a hunger for something new. Despite his busy schedule, he found some time to talk on a Saturday night immediately after stepping off a plane from Mexico City and right before a studio party in Burbank, Calif. We have a front-row seat for margarita-blending and bar shenanigans at a favorite local Mexican restaurant, but Tadder is calm and focused. His frustrating search for a new visual aesthetic is palpable.
Tim Tadder has taken a departure from this aesthetic, working for a more refined look. One example of this new direction is his “Beauty” series , which is still underway.
“I’m just in this place in my career right now that’s about discovering and looking for something that I love again in photography. And I’m not sure what that is, but I’m shooting lots of different things,” says Tadder. “Obviously, I still have my clients, and I’m known for a certain thing. I get hired for that, and I enjoy doing it. But, at the same time, at the core of me, I feel like there’s something else that…there’s something else I want to say. And I’m exploring all sorts of projects in order to find that and to see what that resonance is.”
Tadder learned about photography and how to develop film at an early age, as his father was a professional photographer. But Tadder wasn’t interested in the profession, and instead became a math and computer science teacher. While teaching in Ecuador in his mid-20s, he began taking mountain-climbing trips in the Andes, camera in tow, and discovered his love for photography. In 1999, he decided to make the jump from teacher to photojournalist and attended Ohio University with the desire to develop his storytelling.
In his search for something new, Tadder has also entered a period of experimentation and collaboration. His “Sculpture Athletes” series was inspired by a desire to work with Paris-based fashion skin retoucher Cristian Girotto.
After school, Tadder moved to California with his wife and shot sports stories for the newspaper circuit, but when the couple was expecting their first child, Tadder decided to switch genres to something more lucrative.
His experimental “Water Wigs” project (above, and below) wasn’t initially planned for publication, but Tadder has been happily surprised with the overwhelmingly positive public response.
“I started looking around at who made the most money in photography, and it seemed like the advertising guys did pretty well, so I kind of changed my focus to more of a produced image and more of a crafted moment instead of a captured moment,” says Tadder.
A high-school All-American and college football player, Tadder has an intuitive understanding of sports and timing, which made action-based companies like Adidas, Gatorade and Under Armour organic client matches.
“You have to understand what you photograph. Otherwise, it just feels very inauthentic,” says Tadder.
And this understanding allows him to look at the decisive moment in different ways. “In our business, I can get a hundred shots out of [athletes] if I need to, so I’m able to really think about and craft it,” he explains. “But, to be honest, I’ve been doing less and less of sports photos just because I’ve been doing it so much. I’m interested in telling other stories and exploring different things. I feel like a lot of the stuff that I’m doing is sometimes repeating myself. It just ends up being…I’m not inspired by it sometimes.”
Tadder believes this restlessness and need to push his own visual boundaries come from his father. “If there’s one thing that I’ll never forget from my father, it’s that he never ever, ever let me do something like somebody else. I would go to him with my pictures, looking for some type of praise, and he would rip me to shreds and be like, ‘You have to do it differently.’ So maybe that’s what’s ingrained in me to this day, and maybe it’s something I owe him more than I ever realized. Maybe as I get older, I realize more that those words have inspired me to push in the direction I am.”
During his “Explosive Color” project, Tadder worked with professional dancers, including Stephen “tWitch” Boss of So You Think You Can Dance fame. Each single-capture image features a dancer getting blasted with colored cornstarch. While Tadder walked away with eye-catching images, he also left with a huge mess! “Never have I been so dirty in all my life,” says Tadder of the shoot day. “It was one of the most trying days of my life.”
And he’s getting a positive response from his Facebook audience for his new work. “I have a good Facebook following. I share what we’re doing and images we’re releasing. I can see right away what people are resonating to and what people aren’t resonating to by how they’re responding and how they’re sharing. I ask them for feedback,” says Tadder.
But he has taken a different approach to Instagram. “I’ve just discovered Instagram and have been enjoying that. I don’t post my commercial work on it. I just post snapshots from my iPhone. I use it more to motivate me to see visually, to think visually more. You find yourself losing that because it’s your job, so you end up shooting when you’re working, but are you shooting when you’re not working? Are you thinking visually when you’re not working?
Recently, Tadder worked on a Samsung Galaxy S5-LifeProof campaign and his “In The Corner” series. Both sets of images show a new take on standard sports subjects. “The ‘Corner’ series we did, that’s super-unique and something different than my normal work. In a similar sense, it’s athletics, but it has a heavy fashion bend to it,” says Tadder.
“On Instagram, I follow a creative director in Chicago, Jason Peterson. I’ve been to Chicago a million times, but I’ve never seen Chicago like that! It’s a beautiful way of seeing. He’s inspired me to look at things a little more closely.” Tadder continues, “It’s fun for me when I go out with my dog, and I photograph my neighborhood over and over again. It forces me to look at my neighborhood differently.”