Tim Tadder: The Crafted Moment

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.

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 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."

Tadder has been surprised that some of his new aesthetic experiments have resonated so deeply with his audience. "Water Wigs" is one such personal project. "The reality of that project is that it wasn’t this over-thought idea," he says. "It was like, ‘Let’s fuck around with this and see what happens.’ I had no idea it would receive the response that it did. I remember I didn’t even want to publish it. I was like, ‘Eh? It’s kind of cheesy.’ But I was at a stage where I just didn’t care. I had no idea it would receive the kind of attention it has."

But Tadder has been more enthusiastic about his more recent projects. "The project I just got back on from Mexico, we shot this calendar for Tecate beer. I’ve never worked so hard on a project in my life. Hopefully, everyone will be blown away, and there will just be another level of my imagery. The ‘Corner’ series we did, that’s super-unique and something different from my normal work. It’s more beautiful than gritty dirty. At this point, I want to be known more for my thinking, and for my beautiful use of light and color, and for my crafted moments."

At this point, I want to be known more for my thinking, and for my beautiful use of light and color, and for my crafted moments.

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." Tadder has had more time for his neighborhood exploration recently, as he moved his studio into his home to have more time with his wife and two daughters. I ask if he has been teaching his kids photography the way his dad taught him, but it seems the teaching goes the other way. "My daughter taught me how to use iMovie the other day. Wait, my 7-year-old daughter taught me how to use iMovie. She was doing an iMovie on my phone, and I was like, ‘What?!’ I’ve edited three projects on my phone now ’cause she taught me how to do it.

"They live in such a more visual world than we ever did. They walk around the house with the iPads and make movies of their pets and toys. They really use the visual arts more than we ever did as kids. So am I teaching them? I’m watching them, and learning from them. It’s the world we live in," says Tadder.

Meanwhile, Tadder is also trying to disconnect from the computer and focus on in-person professional collaborations. He now works with CGI specialists and can spend less time doing post work. "I want to think more and be less confined," he says. "I want to spend my time talking, collaborating with artists on the next project and about the things we can do on the production side of it to make something really great happen opposed to ‘We’ll just shoot it on greenscreen and build it all in post.’ I try to gather as many people as I can that will try to make a project come to life. Two artists together are going to be stronger than either individually."

Tim Tadder’s Gear
Phase One 645 AFD with IQ260 back
Schneider Kreuznach LS 55mm ƒ/2.8, LS 80mm ƒ/2.8, LS 110mm ƒ/2.8
Nikon D810
AF-S Nikkor 24mm ƒ/1.4G ED, 50mm ƒ/1.4G, 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR II
Profoto packs, bi-tube heads with various modifiers
Paul C. Buff Einsteins with various modifiers
Apple computers, from a 17-inch laptop to three towers around the studio
SanDisk cards
Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Describing himself as a visual consumer, Tadder is constantly pulling from different areas of inspiration, including a David Alfaro Siqueiros mural on the wall of the Castillo de Chapultepec that Tadder visited while in Mexico City. Part of the Social Realism movement, Siqueiros’ mural entitled "From the Dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz to the Revolution—The People in Arms" depicts former Mexican President Porfirio Díaz circled by wealthy businessmen.

"His use of color and his sort of exaggerated scale is something that I’m inspired by," explains Tadder. "I could see myself doing something like this photographically. These are images that depict the Mexican revolution. This might piss off some audience here, but I feel like this is the head of the GOP, with all kinds of thieves and scoundrels and corruption around him. I want to take something that was done in 1957, something that was made 50 years ago as an oil painting mural, and try to take the general thematics and apply them to today’s problems in society."

This is just a sneak peek into the potential of Tadder’s future work, taking on not just new looks, but also a deeper meaning. "The things that are inspiring me now are more complex, and when you see my new work, hopefully, you’re just blown away by it," says Tadder. "You might not like it, and I don’t care if you like it. I want you to be inspired by it in some way that makes you realize you can push the boundaries of photography."

You can see more of Tim Tadder’s work at www.timtadder.com.

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