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.
“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.
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.