I have been lucky enough to have a chat to my good friend Tatum Wulff. Tatum is someone who I admire as an artist and a person, and I think her answers to the questions below show a lot of her bright spirit and soul. I hope you all enjoy learning a little more about Tatum and her approach to photography.
1. Thanks for spending some time talking to me about yourself and your work Tatum. I am really looking forward to this. I think that I have gotten to know you quite well over the last 18 months or so, but can you tell us all a little about yourself?
Thank you Tristan, I'm grateful for the opportunity.
I was born in Calgary, Canada, and currently live on the west coast in Vancouver, B.C. Aside from photography, I paint and have a keen interest in art history, Eastern cultures and most art genres. As you know, I often attribute the beginning of my journey into photography to the period when I was backpacking abroad, but due credit should be given to my dad, who put a camera in my hands when I was 6 years old. We went on photo-walks together at that time, so maybe the sense of peace it gave me then is part of why it has become an important part of my life today. I feel very fortunate to have traveled as much as I did from the age of 19, and for eventually finding a home-base in Japan for approximately 8 years or so, where I became an apprentice for a traditional Japanese artist in Tokyo. She has been my mentor ever since our chance meeting about 15 years ago. In hindsight, I believe my studies in Japanese painting had a direct impact on my first endeavors in photography, in that it taught me some fundamental components of perspective, composition and framing.
When I returned home to Canada, I went through a brief hiatus with photography. I was no longer immersed in foreign culture, navigating my way through chaotic streets, with exotic smells among a sea of fascinating characters. My inspiration temporarily halted being in western surroundings again. My camera was merely collecting dust at this time, and I became acutely aware of what a significant absence there was in my life when I wasn't shooting. I decided to make an effort to start exploring what, at that period of time, I felt were stale streets. It wasn't long before my inspiration returned and I was out shooting again every chance I had. Vancouver is a somewhat small city, but very diverse with numerous ethnic subcultures and neighborhoods, several from the Far East, South East Asia and Europe. I appreciate the diversity, it makes life and photography here more interesting. We have short summers so I am not always able to 'chase the light', but I have come to appreciate the possibilities of uncovering beauty in bad weather! Shooting in rain, wind and if I am lucky, some snow, has it's advantages in creating a good photograph.
2. Simple question… What is it about photography that draws you to the medium?
It really has a lot to do with how it has enriched my life. I have always been an explorer and a free spirit I guess, and very observant of my environment and people's behavior, so photography as a medium allows me a tangible outlet, for what seems inherent in my nature. It has heightened my awareness of light, shadows, shapes and forms, and of people's interaction with others and their environment. Photography lets me show people how I relate to the world.
3. You talk a little about returning home and losing inspiration at the time. I know a lot of people that struggle when at home, but flourish when travelling. What is it that you think made you able to motivate yourself at home again?
I am not one to give up and I didn't want to let go of something that had given me such a spark. I precariously hit the pavement in search of some of the same magic I had first discovered half way around the world. In time, my efforts were rewarded and it wasn't long before I was once again absorbed in the process of photography. It had become clear to me that it is more a matter of being open and using your intuition, than it is about whether you are in a fresh environment or not. Of course we can easily find ourselves in an elevated state of mind while traveling, our senses are heightened, we are drawn to new, charming people, streets and stories. I can't live without travel in my life, just as much as I can't live without a camera. But as soon as I learned to re-examine my own surroundings at home did I begin to live in the present, spending less time reminiscing on past opportunities and adventures. In hindsight, it was a good life lesson in learning how to find inspiration again after losing it. I realized how fruitless it is to dwell on an inspirational lull, focusing on that only creates a greater path of resistance to creativity. Photography is all about making the 'ordinary extraordinary' so we need to learn that we don't always need to be in what we feel are extraordinary environments to create exciting photographs.
4. Being a small city are there many others that shoot photos on the street in Vancouver?
From what I gather, there are a number of us around, trying to discreetly camouflage ourselves on our urban streets while out hunting for curious moments. I can recollect a number of instances where I am quite certain I was photographed by what I assumed to have been other street photographers, and I have seen some recording the same rallies and local protests I have attended. I have a few friends on photo sharing sites online who are also in Vancouver, but we have yet to meet in person. For the most part, I have always regarded taking street photos as a solo art, but I recently went on a photo-walk with a small group and enjoyed the experience a lot more than I expected so I am warming to the idea of meeting other street photographers here in person. I do enjoy browsing the work of others who shoot street photos in Vancouver, to see their unique interpretation and experience of the same city.
5. You mention that being a free spirit has a lot to do with drawing you to the medium. Its an interesting point. I have another good friend that I have had conversations with about photographers often being ‘lost people’ in a way. People who have lived in many places and had diverse life experiences, this seems to apply to you as well. Why do you think this helps?
I approach a day of shooting photos on the street in the same manner I approach a day of traveling in a new country, with a sense of excitement and anticipation in not knowing what to expect or what will be revealed, and in both circumstances I ultimately let my intuition guide me. People who live 'off the grid' a little, have a different set of survival skills, and some of these skills help in what is needed to predict arising moments that can possibly make for a meaningful photograph. Traveling through places where society mingles differently than back home, one learns to pay close attention to the slight nuances and patterns of behavior of that society, so our observation skills become sharpened. And as much as we love immersing ourselves into unknown territories, we also need to be acutely aware of our surroundings, to protect ourselves, so this also sharpens our intuition and ability to read people and situations. All of these traits only help to improve our photographic skills. Moreover, free spirited people are natural risk-takers, a quality vital to the art of street photography.
6. You mention in one of the answers that you get absorbed in the ‘process of photography’. That’s a really interesting term and would like you to talk a little more about it and how it works for you.
It's more a state of mind than it is a mechanical practice. With any aspiration I have had in life, I have never reached my goals without putting all of my heart into my work. There has to exist a genuine intention and ambition in practicing photography, or in that of any art. Perseverance, hard work, patience, sacrifice and study are needed to make worthwhile photos. Nothing great is born out of anything but true passion, in any medium. Essentially, you have to be led by your heart and mind, this precedes any fancy and expensive gear one may invest in. I believe many can relate to how it feels when we experience that magical moment when everything falls into place and our fictional ideas materialize into tangible results. I feel through hard work and perseverance we are rewarded at times with this experience in life, and this experience is part of what I am chasing in photography. I enjoy this challenge. It's also an interesting phenomena that sometimes occurs, that once we 'get in the zone' we tend to hit our marks one after the other.
7. You have said you try and camouflage yourself on the street. I don’t find this works for me often. I find trying to hide makes me stick out even more. Have you got any tricks or secrets you can share?
Indeed, trying to hide ironically only brings more attention to oneself. By camouflaging myself on the street in essence I allow myself to become a part of the crowd. Showing a good degree of comfort and purpose is important. I try to show gratitude and respect and will often smile and wave or thank the person I photographed if they make eye contact with me. I am always upfront, positive and open to answering people's questions if they ask me why I have taken their photo. When I have been approached and asked I usually reply honestly, that I love taking photographs of beautiful and interesting people on the street. Some even seem to enjoy that I saw something charming in them that drew me to photograph them. On occasion people have asked to see their photo so I have offered to email it to them. I always carry business cards with me. I think it's important not to leave your humanity at home when you walk out the door to photograph candid images of people. With that said, I do prefer to keep the momentum going without too many interruptions so there are times I will simply try to give the impression I was trying to photograph something other than my subject. I might do this by continuing to press the shutter after they have walked by me. Just pretend you are just a curious tourist, wanting to capture everything around you. I would also suggest never rushing away after photographing someone, always walk away slowly. It's very important to shoot a lot, as much as you can. The more frames you shoot the higher probability you will capture something worthwhile and the more you shoot the more comfortable you will become with shooting photos on the street.
8. You are one of the founding members of the APF Collective. What is it you hope to gain from being a member of a group of like minded artist?
One of the many things I love about the members of the APF Collective, is that all of us have distinct styles. This diversity is very stimulating for me and helpful in that I can learn about various approaches to street photography. I have already gained so much from being a member as I now have resolute motivation for polishing my skills and setting the bar higher for myself and my own style. I really look forward to seeing the Collective grow as a whole while each of us continues to learn and evolve individually.
9. We will be interviewing the members of the group to introduce them in this format, of all the members of the collective who would you like to hear from next? Please select one of their images that you admire, and please list one question you would like to ask them.
Image credit to Tatsuo Suzuki
As I value and admire each member I would love to ask all of them a number of questions. For today I will forward a question to one of my biggest contemporary inspirations, Tatsuo Suzuki, of Tokyo, Japan. I selected this compelling image of Tatsuo's as it immediately struck me as having a rather dystopian mood, the subjects almost appearing to be in a trance, emotionally detached whilst complying with their daily routine. Tatsuo is such a highly talented and prolific photographer, consistently sharing excellent work. I would like to ask him approximately how many photos he typically shoots in one day.