Tim Tadder: Southern California’s Avant-Garde Maverick

Mon 04th May, 2015

By Staff in San Diego

Interview by Jain Lemos. Home page cover photo © Tim Tadder

He loves warm weather and believes in commitment—to his work and his family. His portfolio bursts with intense shots of celebs, pols and pro athletes alongside marvelous concepts and the occasional tasteful nude. His bio is sprinkled with mega promotions for global brands and creative powerhouses. Yet Tim Tadder—the newspaper-shooting straightforward Baltimore native turned Southern California advertising photographer—is ever evolving. As one of the country’s most sought out campaign shooters, he’s determined not to become pigeonholed as an artist.

Tadder’s personal undertakings are often bundled into a category he calls Cool Projects. WaterWigs, a wild affair using lasers, microphones and high-speed strobes, caught a lot of attention in 2012 including critiques in Wired and the Huffington Post. For APA’s Inspiration series, he talks about two recent personal studies, Couture Children and Las Muretas, the dichotomies of social media and how self-assignments preserve his creative prowess.

You live in Encinitas (that’s in San Diego County). What do you see when you look out your front door in the morning?

Green. I have a big back yard that is very tropical. I live on the coast so it coastal tropical with palms, birds of paradise and olive trees. It’s very, very private and peaceful. Like me, I need space and quiet.

That term edgy has been used about your style, are you sick of it?

I don’t think you can call my work edgy at this point. I don’t like the term and I think that was applied to my work years ago. As a person I am not edgy nor do I try to be. I am an artist that tries to create images that inspire people to think about the craft.

So are you mellow?

I try to be different than the pack. I like swimming upstream and not following trends (although some could say that my early work was a trend in and of itself). For me, that older work was innovative and different and then it became common, so I moved on.

I am now exploring lots of things, and having fun creating unique image sets that make people think. I am doing lots of video and having fun with that as well so exploring a different medium is exciting. I am not mellow. I am focused and passionate and care deeply about creating interesting work.

© Tim Tadder

Tell us how your idea for The Couture Children came about.

The Couture Children series was something that I wanted to try after seeing a catalog for couture children's clothing that showed up at my house. The kids look so old and adult-like. I figured I could create interesting scenes using a similar approach. I am working with a great stylist who approached a boutique specializing in this type of clothing. We pulled really interesting items and shot for one day in my studio.

Before the shoot, I matched and/or shot backgrounds, where the colors and tones could match the wardrobe. It was important that these environments look very much like the tone and texture of the wardrobe. It makes the entire image more visually appealing and provided interesting symmetry between the subjects and their space.

How far did are you taking it?

I have not taken it as far as I should and I feel it is a little incomplete. More needs to be done. I think I could shoot the backgrounds better. It’s missing something and I want to explore this again as soon as I can escape my schedule and revisit my ideas.

For your Las Muertas series with Krisztianna of her Dia De Los Muertos sculptures, how did your collaboration with her come about?

This was another personal project. The project started in November 2014 when the Day of the Dead celebrations took over Southern California. I wanted to see if anyone had truly made a great set of images that paid homage to this significant cultural event. While researching the holiday, I came across Krisztianna’s work and thought that together we could make a significant set of images that humanistically conveyed the beauty and tradition of the Dia De Los Muertos.

© Tim Tadder

How long did the project take? Did you start with a storyboard?

We shot on location and in the studio so we could tell two stories. The purgatory aspect of the dead’s return for the day, which are represented by the burned-out landscapes, a result of a 2014 wildfire, and studio images that allowed people to inspect the incredible detail put into the backgrounds, wardrobe and face paintings. I feel so blessed to work with great people! They really believe in what we do and they work so hard to make it happen. In this case Krisztianna, Julia Reeser and Dahlia Synder, my producer, all did such a great job on the project. It just came out so well. I am really happy with the images.

The project only took a day and it was not really story boarded, but I did scout locations and planned to shoot a landscape shot and a portrait of each character.

© Tim Tadder

Why is taking on personal projects so important to you, especially when you are so busy and raising a family?

I do personal projects because I enjoy making images. I think if I’m only doing work that people assign me to do, I’m not really being the creative person that I started out in photography trying to be. If I lose that prospective—the need to make images—then I lose the desire to be a photographer. If I don’t create then how can I call myself creative? If I’m always executing someone else’s creative, then am I really being creative? I don’t want to just be an executioner. Personal work helps me grow as an artist and I’m thankful that people appreciate my personal projects because I’m somebody who wants to make cool and interesting imagery.

Some of your personal projects have had wide exposure online. Do you feel rewarded by the impact social media has had on your work?

It’s been a blessing and a curse. I have mixed feelings about social media. It’s great to have my work spread around where lots of people see it. But it’s also very frustrating that people feel they have a right or ability to use the work for their own agenda. On one hand, they are promoting my work but on the other hand they are driving traffic to their site and selling ads and making money without any benefit to me. I’d just like to see the creators benefit in a more concrete way. Some of my projects went viral and had something like seven million views. I didn’t make a penny but a lot of other people did. I want the promotional benefits but I wish photo associations like APA and ASMP would do more to protect and support content creators because so much of the time our hard-crafted work is being shared without attribution or compensation.

Is there a photo you’ve been trying to make for a long time but it hasn’t happened yet?

I’ve been trying to go away with just one camera and one lens for a long time and just turn everything off and fall in love with life through the viewfinder again like I did when I was starting out. With two kids and a wife, I find that just disappearing for a few weeks would be very unsettling to them. So that’s been something I want to do but my commitment to my family and children is overriding such desires.

Have you been on the road much this year? Any travel plans coming up?

The first quarter of this year has been busy. I have been to New York City three times, Salt Lake twice, San Francisco, Las Vegas… I am not a big fan of planes or airports. I’d rather pass on the entire concept!

Family permitting, where would you like to set up camp and shoot for a month or so?

I would really like to head over to Iceland more than any place else right now and spend time shooting. I would love to get away, but again I feel it’s really important for me to be a good father and husband first. My family means everything to me and being on the road as much as I am, I have to keep a balance, and heading out to make images in Iceland is not really possible right now.

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