Treasures from the Vault: Tim Tadder

Katy Thompson, Children’s Education Associate

There is a rather omnipresent misconception that artists are tortured souls who work alone in dark, secluded attics in their attempt to reveal “true genius”. In reality, artists often have a team or collaborate with one another, bringing impactful visions that start conversations or remix old stories with new ideas. One such artist is commercial and editorial photographer Tim Tadder, who collaborated with sculptor Krisztianna to create the Las Muertas photo series.

This photo shows a woman in orange dress and orange shawl draped over her shoulders. Her face is painted white to look like a skeleton and her hair, which is also covered by the shawl, is covered too by a floral headband. The floral headband includes antlers from a deer.
Tim Tadder, American, b. 1972. Fall 1. Archival pigment print, 2015. Museum Purchase, SC26.2015.6. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Born in Baltimore in 1972, Tadder learned photography from his father, who had both a black-and-white and color darkroom. Inspired by the idea that you could create life from a camera and paper, Tadder continued to explore photography while earning a BS in Mathematics. Following graduation, he moved to Costa Rica to teach but continued photographing his mountaineering adventures. When he realized how much people enjoyed the photographs, and because he wasn’t finding as much fulfillment teaching as he thought he would, he took that positive feedback as incentive to pursue a career as a photographer. Thanks to his father, he had some photography connections in Baltimore and moved back to his hometown where he pursued photojournalism for multiple magazines as a way to hone his craft. His MA in Photojournalism from the Ohio University School of Visual Communication imbued in him the importance of creating images capable of telling stories. His move from taking images that looked interesting to producing images that capture stories was key to finding his voice in photography. The photographer, according to Tadder, is made by the communicative value of an image. The tools, or camera, don’t make or break the photographer; instead, it is the concept, thought, and/or idea that does. Keeping this in mind, we look to his Las Muertas series as our Day of the Dead celebration here at FWMoA approaches.

A self-titled “personal project”, Tadder was intrigued by the Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, festivities that began popping up around his new hometown in Southern California. He wanted to make a great set of images to pay homage to this cultural event that is celebrated in various countries around the world. Shot on location and in the studio, the images convey the tradition and beauty of the celebration. Death, something every human eventually succumbs too, is shown in two forms: outside, the burned-out landscapes represent the dead’s return for the day while the indoor studio images allow viewers to inspect the minutiae of the backgrounds, wardrobes, and face paints. Despite the detail, these images were all shot in a day!

Artists use series’ as a way to explore and delve deeper into a concept, fleshing it out over multiple works. Tadder’s focus on communicating stories, not just showcasing pretty images, lends itself to a serial approach; it allows him the space to explore a concept fully. The Las Muertas series are the human embodiment of the Day of the Dead festivities, each model featuring a different skeletal facial design. La Catrina, the skeleton print made famous by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada in 1910, satirized Mexican natives who Posada felt were adopting European traditions. Now an icon of the celebration, Tadder’s models pay homage to her with their skeletal face masks. Each woman includes other allusions to, if not outright symbols of, the celebrations such as marigolds and monarch butterflies.

Set so that each of the four women represent one of the seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall; their portraits also include allusions to each season. Bringing Krisztianna’s sculptures to life, each scene utilizes symbolism to aid the viewer in determining the season. Try figuring it out for yourself before you the read the label text underneath the photos! Examine the colors, the models’ headdresses, and the visuals in the backgrounds–how do they help you determine the season?

Tadder created a series with two sets: one landscape and one portrait. How do the two compositions help tell the story of the Day of the Dead? As noted before, the barren landscape recalls the dead travelling back to the world of the living. The women appear caught in their crossing, their colored costumes popping in the dark background and allowing the viewer to take in their full appearance. The zoomed-in portraits, on the other hand, permit closer inspection of their skeletal masks, floral headdresses, and other smaller details that are encompassed by the outdoor landscape. How does each environment play a role in helping the sculptures come to life, embodying a celebration that is focused on the dead?

A woman in a pink dress and white shawl walks through a fire-burned landscape. Her headdress of flowers is bright against the cloudy, overcast sky.
Tim Tadder, American, b. 1972. Spring II. Archival pigment print, 2015. Museum Purchase, SC26.2015.4. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Renowned for his high-action sports photography and portraits, his images became more editorial in 2005 and since then he has received multiple awards, including his ranking in the Top 200 Photographers worldwide by the prestigious Luezer Archive Magazine 8 years running. In 2015, the same year as the Las Muertas series, he was honored by Epson as one of the top influential photographers. We can see his craftsmanship in Las Muertas as well as his drive to tell stories in his initial quest to create a set of images that show the meaning of this significant cultural event. Has he succeeded?

Interested in learning more about the artwork associated with the Day of the Dead? Visit FWMoA between November 23rd, 2019 and February 8, 2020 to see our Day of the Dead exhibitions. Don’t forget to join us for celebrations on Sunday, November 24th!

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