Todd Anthony Tyler
If you have read our latest issue of the magazine, Issue 9, you know that we interviewed Todd Anthony Tyler for our Spotlight for Inspiration featured in print. The interview, however, is so in depth that we could not possibly fit the entire thing in the publication! That is why there, we let you know that the second half of the interview would be published here, on our website! We are so delighted to have been able to interview him the first place. He is a renown photographer and has even been named one of the top 10 photographers in the world (look him up)! Secondly, we couldn't be more thrilled that our questions created so many wonderful, in depth answers from Todd! This conversation is one of the most interesting and educative yet. There is so much to learn from experience and Todd certainly has it! So, if you have the issue and want to finish reading or if you just stumbled upon the interview on our website... you are invited to read on! If you are just now reading about Todd for the first time, then we refer you to our latest issue where you can begin to read about this wonderful Talent!
CM: Why did you move on from Next Top Model and transition into Fit for Fashion? What was that transition like?
TAT: I touched on this earlier, but I learned a lot about TV since my relatively naïve start. There was a number of elements of Top Model that I would have liked to change. Some of those elements, I think exist in Fit for Fashion, primarily where it is a show that has some level of goal to elevate people. There is a strong transition component to the show. I really enjoy by supporting something that has people experience personal growth both mentally and physically. For example, in Top Model we tend to use photo shoot challenges to demonstrate to a degree why the contestant can’t be a top model. Now, I really understand much better how you need to blend entertainment with reality and I still struggle with trying to put the two together in a, what I feel like is, balanced way. I get why we need to make a level of drama - people like to slow down for car accidents; reality TV is a little in this line of thinking. What I like though about Fit for Fashion is that even though you can catch a load of hell on the judging panel on your performance in the fashion challenge, the main aim still is that the person comes out of the experience feeling more confident. Like they have faced a fear and become stronger for it. I like this a lot about Fit for Fashion and no doubt fashion and fitness are two core parts of my life. That makes a pretty natural pairing of myself with the show. The transition was not very hard. I do like that I am able to mentor more on Fit for Fashion, where on Top Model I was more so the industry expert that was pointing out all of an individuals short comings as a potential top model. Shooting none model people is also a difference, but in my overall photography career, I am quite used to this.
CM: Have you been in any other shows? If so, which ones?
TAT: I made an appearance on Mega Fashion Crew - it is a show out of the Philippines - I am good friends with the creative director Suki Salvator. I, also, appeared on Ep 7 of Season 5 of China’s Next Top Model, which I can say was one of the TV shoot fashion challenges that I really liked how the photos turned out.
CM: Let’s talk about your photography again. What is your client roster?
TAT: After 15 years, I have had the pleasure to work with quite a number of great clients. Some stand out names are Vogue, GQ, Bazaar, Numero, Ports International and 1961, Ritz Carlton Hotel and one of my longest term and dearest client and friend, fashion designer Uma Wang (to name a few).
CM: What special projects have you worked on that make you feel profoundly proud?
TAT: Oh, good question! My mind is flooded with quite a few thoughts. Overall, shooting across Asia we are often faced with a number of logistical problems and I think anyone who has shot or worked out in Asia for a bit of time can really fill in the blanks here. My point being is that these challenges make me proud of the work that we have been able to create and the level we have been able to achieve. I say we here because as much as for me, I tend to art/creative direct most of my work. Nothing is truly done on your own as a photographer. You work with a team and everyone on that team needs to give it their best to achieve quality results. We already touched on the TV work, which I enjoy and I am proud of. For fashion photography, I am proud of the work done for Uma Wang as I think the international direction of the imagery we produced from the start was helpful in growing the international presence of the brand. I am proud of the 4 years of work we did with suit brand Indochino. Though I might like shooting women’s fashion more, the 4 years of exploring how the imagery reflects the DNA of the brand was very interesting and photographically fulfilling. Also, I'm happy to feel the imagery we produced lent to the success of the brand. As a photographer, I am most proud of my editorial work. Editorial fashion photography is very much at the heart of how I feel and see as a photographer. If I could just shoot editorial all the time and produce interesting and creative imagery solely, that would be ideal for me. The truth of the job is that photography as a career is a business, so you find yourself executing quite a bit of commercial work. In that respect, two of my more commercial/advertisement shoots I did that I feel proud of are from the Chef series for Ritz Carlton, because I was brought on to drive the creativity on that. The first meeting I had with the people at Ritz Carlton, they told me that they read in my bio that I was creative. So, then they said, "let's see what you can do". They pretty much gave a fish and a chef and said go for it. Then, it developed into a quite animated series of images we did for them over a couple of years. This was also copied a lot afterwards, which is the highest form of flattery for sure. I am, also, proud of the Adidas work I did early on. It was at the start of a little more raw fitness imagery. I followed around the Chinese women Olympic volleyball team for a couple of days; shooting in Beijing - shooting film at the time and shot them throughout their practice and basic day. Memorable story from that shoot is that as I was laying under the net to get an action shot of the girls spiking, I got the ball right on the face and had a black eye for about a week due to the camera smashing into my socket. Another series I am proud of is a series of shots we did for the Drink Magazine cover. What I like about this is that we came up with a catch mission statement of sorts to use liquid in each cover shoot and in an interesting way. I think we came up with quite a nice series of covers from that. The last project I am proud of is having written an article for over 4 years for Asian Photography magazine. I am taking those articles now and expanding them to a new blog/website that we plan to launch soon on www.thetoddanthonytyler.com .
CM: You have your own studio, have given lectures and written columns about fashion and photography. Can you tell us about that?
TAT: Yes! I used to keep my own large studio. Now, I have created an office studio space for overall work and whenever we have big shoots, I rent the studio. Couple reasons for this. One and perhaps the most important is that you end up having to focus a lot of attention on running a studio. It was never my intention to become a studio manager. I want to be able to focus on my photography and fashion related projects, not be taking care of the day to day maintenance of a studio. Secondly, I travel a lot with my work. I might be shooting in Bangkok or Singapore or Manila or back up to Shanghai or over to Paris or New York... so in all these cases we are not shooting in “my” studio. I speak about photography fairly often. I just really enjoy sharing knowledge and in my experience, a lot of people are interested in photography or would like to improve their photography It gives me great satisfaction if I can help people achieve the images they want to create by imparting a bit of knowledge. I teach classes a few times a year at the Conde Nast college in Shanghai. I teach both advanced classes for those who are, basically, already photographers but looking to up their game. We are launching a new boot camp intro to photography with a curriculum that I created to get people moving from shooting everything in auto to actually understanding how to use their camera. In regards to the photo column I was writing for over 4 years for Asian Photography, I really enjoyed doing that column. I slowed down with it, because as much as I enjoy it, I sometimes find it a challenge to monthly produce the content in between photo shoots, shooting the TV show, and now a few blogs I am developing.
CM: You also have a modeling agency, clothing lines, and run a fashion blog! We want to know about all of that too!
TAT: Ah, yes! Once again, I should read ahead on the questions - interestingly, we seem to have a very nice natural flow to the questions and my answers here - for any reading, totally not planned but working out wonderfully. The modeling agency is born out of wanting to help models overall. I don’t make any money out of that, at least to date and in fact, I am looking for someone to partner on it to keep operations flowing smoothly. I am asked by a number of models about agencies in certain markets and so, I started to put together a small scouting agency just to keep everything a little more organized and hopefully, help models with their careers and with people I know in the industry. The agency also came from my Top Model days. I felt that unfortunately, after the show, the girls were not given a chance to develop or grow from the events that occurred with the show. I wanted to use the studio as platform to maybe help the girls find more work as a model. My clothing line www.TATbyTAT.com is one of my little babies! ha ha The whole idea started from a number of years ago. I was doing some promo T’s for my photography, where I was putting my images on a T shirt and giving away. I would do like a 100 each year. From there, it was suggested that I do something more with that and it has been a long haul but the current manifestation of TAT by Todd Anthony Tyler, I think, most closely resembles my vision for the brand. The brand is also an amazing outlet for me creatively as I really enjoy doing some basic designing. My fashion blog is www.theperfectchemical.com For the fashion blog, the idea stems from a combo of my past experience as a model, my TV work - where I am seen often on screen wearing a suit, and by my genuine interest in styling and the history of mens’ fashion. The blog is another knowledge sharing platform, which I find very gratifying and I hope people find value in it and credibility as it is not like I don’t actually dress the way I speak about. In addition, I will say that the blog is increasingly focused on presenting quality imagery. I think that a number of men's blogs are visually not that stimulating and let’s face it, the general info is a google inquiry away so I think people will want to see pleasing imagery as well as learn something about dressing their best.
CM: Tell us about your photographic style.
TAT: My photographic style, if I was given complete freedom, is a bit on the dark side, I like shadows, mood and a touch of sexual energy. I tend to like my images to be not too static with the real clincher being the optimal moment being captured. I spend a considerable amount of time observing the model and timing the shutter release with some anticipation of the movement and expression. I think, for style, it really depends how you are first introduced to a photographer. If you first see my commercial work, then you would feel my style is more clean which tends to be the truth about my catalog work (though I would say there is a certain influence in a photographer's body of work by what clients he is working with). Advertisement work also tends to be clean but me as a person, as an artist, as a photographer is more on the raw side. I don’t particularity like highly photoshopped imagery and I like that mood created by shadows (which doesn’t always work in catalog or advertisement work as clients generally want a clear shot of the product). Also, I towards a certain level of sexual energy or eroticism in images, which I feel is really a reflection of base humanity. A core vibration in all of us doesn’t always play out appropriately in different markets or across broad audiences. My point is there is me and what I would want to shoot all the time and then there is my body of work to date.
CM: How do you plan for your shoots? What are you inspired by? What is your workflow like?
TAT: Planning shootings really depends on the initial objective of the shoot. Are we doing a fashion editorial? If so, then which magazine? What is the style of the magazine? Are we doing a fashion catalog? Then similar questions with... what is the brand about? What message is the brand sending with their imagery? Is the brand trying to shift direction with their presentation or is there a strong visual style already established that they wish to continue and if anything elevate? For advertisement, it can be a little more straight forward if you are brought in on something that a creative industry has already hashed out with the client - there you are more so executing what visuals they have strongly detailed. For me, I tend to like to come into advertisement where they are interested in my creative ideas. This is generally not big brands as big brands typically have a long standing agreement with creative agencies. Once we have established the initial direction of the shoot, we can carry on to post shoot work, which really depends on my overall level of involvement in production. It can be everything from creating mood boards, casting models, scouting locations to just coming into meetings to give some feedback on these elements of post shoot already established. For myself, I have a huge file of past and current fashion images pulled from a wide range of fashion photography sources. I find I get myself into a really good place before a shoot when I just spend some time looking though images - even having the images flash rather quickly on the screen really primes me for getting out there to create and shoot. I am inspired by quite a bit. Everyone can have a different approach on this as I think naturally, inspiration is highly subjective in a creative field and thus, a personal preference in what the sources are. For me, I feel like I am like a sponge and I am seeing and absorbing ideas and inspiration daily from a wide variety of sources. Of course, the internet is a big one these days as you can quickly access so much information and imagery but I am still pretty old school in liking to travel and in particular, walk cities. I try to walk everywhere I can - within being safe of course - my walking habit ended up opening me up to being mugged in Mexico but that is another story. So, I take a lot of inspiration from walking the streets of New York, Paris, Shanghai, London as so on. I always find a lot of inspiration in the old masters work, in painting and sculpture that you can find in world class museums. I also find inspiration in young artists and more contemporary work. For everyday type of sources, I find inspiration in movies, music videos, dance, and observing people and their mannerisms and actions. I could say I also take inspiration from nature. Looking at light, the light's direction, characteristics and then simply the meditative state I find being by out in nature and just absorbing the energy that exists in a natural environment. Workflow on a shoot is a little in line with what I mentioned at the top. As in it depends on the purpose of the shoot. Overall, my assistants know me quite well and what I like and how I would like things to be done, so that is very helpful. In studio, the process tends to be a little more structured than on location as location has a number of variables that are less controllable then the studio. One constant for sure in my work and work flow is that I always factor in the organic. In fact, I count on this. In my opinion, you can’t manufacture those organic moments. You need to set it up to happen, then keep yourself sharp to capture them because those are the moments that make the best images. My post shoot workflow also depends on client needs. Clients are very impatient with the immediate nature of digital. If I had it my way, I would take some time to let the images sit and then look at them with fresh eyes in a day or so, do a first select, then sit again and do a final select. I find that this process has you selecting the best shots but everyone wants everything yesterday. Usually, I shoot and often will spend the time immediately after the shoot selecting images. From here, we have the basic process of me converting the files as I always shoot RAW, then the basic retouch is done in house by a retoucher (my years of retouching have numbered enough that cleaning skin and stray hairs, I feel, can be done by someone else by this point). Then, I decide and put on the final treatment, which can be based on my feeling or the brief. Usually, for really commercial catalog work, there is no treatment as we want the look of the garments to be as true as possible.
CM: Are you inspired or influenced by any other artists?
TAT: I use to be more inspired by other photographers in my initial years, which I think is common and I encourage my own students to do. I am into Terry Richardson, more so for his raw nature of imagery, David Lachapelle for his colors, Helmut Newton for the erotic nature of his work and some of the best black an whites ever and for catalog type style work, I like Patrick Demarchelier. I can go on and on as I can really appreciate Nick Knight for being so ahead of the curve on what he has done and find great enjoyment looking through the work of Steven Klien, Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber. For artists, I draw, as I mentioned earlier, from a wide range. I like just going into galleries and museums and open my mind and absorb - I also find quite a bit of inspiration from fashion designers and graphic designers.
CM: Talk to us about your social media. You have 10.4K followers on Twitter, over 20K on Instagram, and over 300K on FB! You now even started a YouTube channel! How do you use social media and how important do you think it is for your career and honestly, anyone else’s career?
TAT: I am actually going to be part of a talk the last week of March 2017) on self branding and the power of social media. I was invited to talk based on my overall embracing of social media. Social media is not something super new, of course but it I find it is still pretty new to a lot of established people as they are generally passed their 30’s and haven’t grown up with social media. Initially, I had no interest in social media myself. Why the hell do I need Instagram? Why do I want to put my photos up for use on Instagram? Who the hell wants to read a blog? Isn’t that like some kind of open source diary where you just talk crap all day long? Facebook?! Ok maybe I get that as another kind of website to show my work and when I had 2000 fans/followers on there, I felt like a rock star! I think it is open to debate - a very long one - on whether social media is a good thing but like it or not, it is a very powerful tool for reaching people and growing a much larger community than you could in the past. I think most importantly, social media has broken down some walls and gates and you no longer need to be connected, introduced, liked, favoured by the gate keepers to go to the next level. I came into the social media as a valuable marketing tool a bit late in some ways. To grow organically is quite hard now with the level of saturation of content, but I think that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have social media because it is not going away and will just become increasingly important. I do think it is a bit sad that now people are being judged on how many followers they have. Really, there are so many ways to manipulate this if you want, especially if you are going put money into it and in my current experience - to steal a comparison I read in another source - being famous on Instagram is still comparable to being rich in Monopoly. You still need to get out from your social media world and actually interact with fashion magazine editors and creatives and clients and have the social and business skills to do that. I would say that in my field of fashion and entertainment there is no doubt people who are looking at the numbers and looking for “influencers”. Is this fair? Hard to say. If you create good content you are generally liked and followed and if you create constantly good content, then this should be a great indicator to prospective clients that you are talent at your job. Overall, the popularity contest of social media is exciting and disturbing at the same time. Especially, for talents like models or the work I do with TV. Because you have a lot of followers on social media doesn’t really mean you are actually a good model. It might mean you had some good shout outs and the right people (seems like you can’t truly get away from gate keepers) let people know about you and you are showing the right amount of beauty and booty to keep people's attention. It doesn’t mean you can really move in front of the camera or work as a professional all day long - who knows even how much work was put into the Instagram post? Same for TV work - because a lot people think you are cool doesn’t mean you can be a pro on all the details that go into making a show or being able to get out in front of the camera and speak. To date, I think we have seen a few disasters of casting people based on their social media and not their overall talent. So yes, you need social media - people/clients are looking at it. Social media is a lot of work to maintain and do well and it is tough to develop that organic following but I would suggest, it is better to start sooner than later.
CM: What have you learned in your career that you wish you knew when you began?
TAT: Would have started and given much more time to social medias way earlier on. I think social media is like growing money, you can’t trump the compounding of time. If I would have known how relatively quickly social medias have become important, I would have been way out in front of where I am now. I would have also got into digital way sooner - lost some time and money with the whole film set up, though I really do cherish those days and I think starting out in film made me a better photographer. Perhaps, a few business decisions where I put money would be different but overall, I am quite happy with my career path and where I am and where I see myself going.
CM: What is the biggest advice that you give to models, photographers, and other people in the fashion industry that want to make it big but are just beginning their journey?
TAT: These are all different careers really and hard to blanket all with the same advice. Models careers tend to be shorter than photographers or other fields in the fashion industry that people are establishing themselves in and that have more of a progression element built in. More generic advice is firstly, don’t listen to anyone who tells you you can’t do it. Yes, it may ultimately be true that it didn’t work out the way that you thought or wanted but that might also be because you found out that it is not what you want. My point here being that not going for something you feel you want to do because other people told you is stupid and a big mistake. You need to experience that for yourself as everyone's journey is going to be different. That said, when you are looking at going into these careers, don’t be delusional. Ask yourself the hard questions like - am I truly talented at this? In particular with modeling - the industry, for a variety of reasons favours a certain height range. If you are 5’4”, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, it is going to be pretty hard to get over the fact that you are 5’4’. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a range of model work for you to do - like say beauty work or TV commercials. It does mean, however, being the first 5’4” supermodel to take over New York and Paris might not be the right goal for you. So, just be honest with yourself. Something that I read recently is the “hell ya” moment or response to something. Do you feel an overwhelming desire and fire inside you to do something? Then do it. It might just be a passing idea and then find your “hell ya” subject or thing you want to do. Another tip that I get a lot of questions on is that if you want to be in this biz, then you need to go to the market. Especially in the beginning of your career, to explore any of this happening for you. Despite the connectivity that we have via the Internet, you cannot really obtain the level of success you are after in these fields by being way outside the main markets. So, you are going to, most likely, have to move to New York or LA or London and so on - to take a real shot at the career you are after. The final two bits of advice, being creative and attractive, tall enough what you have is only half the deal. Awesome that you won the genetic roll of the dice but after that, success depends on having some business senses, an entrepreneurial drive and most importantly, tenacity to maintain the level of persistence that you will need to be successful.
CM: There are so many questions that we could ask you because your career is so interesting but we would never end this interview if we keep asking. Is there anything else that you would like our audience to know about you?
TAT: Thank you for great questions! I really enjoyed answering them! Of course, I would love if everyone took a moment to checkout my work on my social media and follow me there. I really strive for my media to be a place of interaction. Seems like you can’t get away from the occasional selfie and the "hey here is a new product we came out with" post. However, I really want to have people communicating and interacting, asking questions, posting their own thoughts - yup even the haters - trolls not so much ha ha! Also, more than happy for people to repost stuff - a little tip of the hat where it came from is nice - but all of the content across my social media is to be shared if there is any value in it for someone else!