An Interview with Fine Art and Portrait Photographer Ian Tuttle


It’s been a while since his LomoHome was last updated, but it was a pleasant surprise to learn that San Francisco-based photographer Ian Tuttle began his affair with photography via the lomographic route.

Ian Tuttle

Amazed by his work, we published a feature on Ian Tuttle and shared some of the spectacular analogue photographs he’s taken. And boy, are we lucky! He agreed to have an interview, and gallantly answered all our questions.

Please tell us about yourself and what you do. Maybe tell us something not all people know about too.
I live in San Francisco. I wrote a book of short stories that was published in 2011 (it’s called *StretchyHead*). Before that I was a road bike racer. Now I’m a photographer. I have two awesome brothers and good, caring parents. I’m thankful for that. I like to climb mountains. I love ice cream.

When and how did you get started with photography? How has it been so far?
I first started taking pictures about four years ago with a Diana F+ camera. I’d always been intimidated with all the wheels and knobs and whatnot on DSLR’s, and the Diana was an easy intro… all I could do was frame a shot and click! Gradually I desired more control over my images because I’d know what I wanted to capture, but the result would be way different. So next I started using an old Nikon Nikkormat SLR which I could actually focus, and it had a light meter, and I learned what all those knobs and wheels do. It replaced luck with technique. Eventually I got a high-end DSLR, which I use a lot for work, but I still prefer film’s characteristics.

Some of Ian Tuttle’s early photos taken with the Diana F+

When do you shoot on film and on digital? Why?
Pretty much all of my personal work is film. For commercial work I usually shoot digital because of cost constraints, aesthetic requirements from the client, and the need to proof work on site. But anything I’m doing under my own direction will be film. For me there is a certain undeniable veracity about an image physically impregnated in a piece of film. It’s like a time-stamp… like a punch-clock. The frame is there, and sure you can manipulate it in the darkroom or with a digital scan, but there is always the raw and permanent record that you can hold in your hand. That is important to me. It’s like a bar of gold, versus a credit card. You can either have this physical artifact, or you can have these invisible ones and zeros. Which do you trust more?

What inspires you to shoot? What are your preferred subjects?
PEOPLE! You know, people change their behavior for the camera, so I love catching people when they don’t know they’re being photographed. There’s an honesty in their expressions and gestures. But then I’ll also intentionally use the camera to provoke and instigate. When you’re holding a camera you can ask people to pose, to posture, and usually they will. Even complete strangers. Especially complete strangers! It’s like the camera gives them permission to get a little weird. I really like that. And then, I also look for big landscapes with a sense of loneliness to them. The built environment with a little anonymous figure in it… I love that shot.

Any photographers you particularly admire?
*Nan Goldin* just opens the door to her world, wide open, and you look at her pictures and you feel like you’re looking at movie stills, like how can this not have been staged? I really admire her. I like *Noah Kalina’s* work, especially his series Pictures that look like this. *Thomas Prior.* He’s always up to something cool. The guy who curates the If You Leave tumblr, oh man, it’s all different photographers but the style is so tight and consistent. And then, there are other people who guide my attitude towards art. *Bob Lefsetz* writes an email newsletter about music and it translates to any creative endeavor. *Stefan Sagmeister.* He’s a cocky genius. *John Cage* the musician, doled out a lot of wisdom.

What cameras and film do you use?
Most often I’m using my Nikkormat with a 50mm 1.4. I’ll go through phases with film… at the moment it’s mostly black and white (Kodak t-max 400, or P3200). I like shooting at night with the 3200, the light sources—street lights, headlights, candles—are so different than overhead sun, so you get unexpected illuminations. Also, Ektar 100, and old slide film that I’ll cross process and push a bunch of stops. Oh, and I go through a lot of disposables.

Photo by Ian Tuttle

How would you describe your photographic style? Do you follow a set of rules when you shoot?
Yikes…I guess for me a good picture makes the viewer ask questions. Like, it’s a piece of evidence that doesn’t, by itself, tell the whole story, but it does tell part of a story, and your mind is forced to fill in blanks and extrapolate and wonder. You look at it, and you maybe want to be in the scene, or you want to comfort the subject, or you want to know what has just been said, what is about to happen. It’s unresolved. There is longing. There is suspense.

Tell us about a body of work, projects, clients that you’re particularly proud of fond of.
I just got my MBA from Babson College and I thought it would be cool to make a yearbook for my class. So I traveled around the country to take portraits of each one of my 51 classmates wherever they lived. These are people in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and they have impressive titles at global companies, you know, vice president of sales, or chief operating officer, at places like Nike, Microsoft, Oracle, the Federal Reserve, but behind these titles they are amazing, generous, funny, interesting individuals, so I wanted to show that in the portraits.

A photo from Tuttle’s Babson College portrait series

Any cool projects you’re currently working on or exhibits? Any links to promote these? Where can fans admire more of your work?
I have some work in a group show starting September 24th at Photobooth SF (1193 Valencia Street, San Francisco). The whole show is lo-fi film stuff, with a bunch of other awesome local photographers. And I have some work in a show in Portland through October (at Black Box Gallery). Also, my website is and I have a tumblr that I update often:

Do you have a dream project? Could you tell us about it?
I have always wanted to go to outer space. Maybe I’ll score a gig with Space Travel And Leisure in a couple decades.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?
Take your camera everywhere. If you show up somewhere without your camera, your friends should be shocked and ask you, “where is your camera?!” Just make it a fixture, like your glasses, or your house keys. Having a camera on you will make you look at the world as a boundless series of photographic opportunities.

Aside from photography, are there other creative endeavors that you’d like to pursue or are currently pursuing?
I play piano. I write. I make a mean piece of toast.

Any last words?
We’re all going to die eventually and then none of this will really matter. Don’t waste your time being timid.

And there you have it. An interview with a community member who’s now a well-reputed portrait and fine-art photographer, no less. Hopefully, he serves as an inspiration and you’ll heed his advice. Take your camera everywhere, and lomo on.

For more information and to see more of his work, visit

You might also like:

Memories and Visual Tales by Ian Tuttle

An Interview with Ukranian Photographer Alina Rudya

Big City Girl: A Gallery of Images by Alina Rudya

Amber and Ashlie Chavez: A Symbiosis of Talent

Symbiotic: A Series of Photos by Amber and Ashlie Chavez

An Interview with Director and Photographer Leo Berne

Stunning Photographs by Leo Berne

written by Jill Tan Radovan on 2013-10-04 #people #lifestyle #interview #analogue-photography #features #ian-tuttle

More Interesting Articles