“A lasting impression”… meet Bob Tullis

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It was fortunate on this evening for the cloud cover. I've happened by here since, carefully set it up, and it's not yet come close to the atmosphere this imparts.

New York City-based photographer, Bob Tullis, spends his days as the resident manager of a 150 unit cooperative residence on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  Fortunately for 2 Guys Photo readers, Bob also finds the time to roam around The City (do a Google search on nicknames for New York… I found 98 of them) with a discerning eye and camera.  We had a chance to catch up with Bob recently and he graciously allowed us to share some of his work here, much of it taken around The City That Never Sleeps, Gotham, The Big Apple (you get the picture)…

Though we’re not exactly a gear site here at 2 Guys Photo, would you mind describing the equipment you used to capture these beautiful images?

For over a year now I’ve mainly worked with the Olympus E-P2, but have recently acquired the E-PL2 and the Panasonic GH2.  I’ve collected a good focal length range in µ4/3 mount AF lenses, and several Voigtlander RF primes.  I’ve considered it a personal challenge to create  compelling expressions without the refined fidelity the full frame DSLR had provided.

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Rut-breaker. Wasn't in the mood for strolling the city, nor for a woodland hike. Passing a cemetery, I turned in on a whim. It inspired a series "Immortality and Entropy". I've not finished it.

How did you first become interested in photography?

I’ve always been attracted to it, starting at about the age of 10 or 12, going through my Dad’s Popular Photography magazines.  The high ISO night street work, with its mood or touch of drama for some reason made a lasting impression.  I’ve come to appreciate it all, in time, from the early pioneering work in the realm and onward.

Please describe your evolution as a photographer.

Only as a young adult did I obtain a camera.  Actually, my wife expressed an interest in photography, and I saved up for a Pentax ME Super for her birthday.   Within a few months her interest in it waned, while mine grew.   I wasn’t able to set up a home dark room, so dealt with having color print film developed locally.  That got to be a burden while raising a young family, and after about two years that camera just remained on the shelf.

Fast forward to 20 years or so later, and cameras became digital.   Spending a lot of time hiking, I started with some early digital cameras for documenting the fascination with the ordinary that’s often overlooked.  Eventually that led to wanting more out of it, wanting control over it all of it.  When the Canon EOS 1D was announced, I figured with that I’d have no excuse except for my own skills if the photography failed – and that’s when the journey really began.  I play music, draw and sketch, but I’d only get to a certain level with any of them – photography became the medium of expression to pursue.  And it’s become the exclusive form of expression.

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I hadn't been to the Haden Planetarium in years, but with a new Olympus E-P2 in hand I figured there should be something of interest inside to frame. What I found MOST interesting was the support structure for the glass envelope of the building, standing in a corner looking straight up.

The next 10 years was mainly spent chasing landscapes with wildlife on the side. It was a good subject to attempt to master, eking every last drop of resolution and detail from an exposure.  It was also convenient subject matter to seek while decompressing from the week, being a loner at heart.    But I needed a change of pace, so when I recently turned to a smaller camera, it allowed a more comfortable way to approach the subjects I wasn’t as comfortable taking on.

Your gallery reveals a wonderful eye for subtle variations in light, with strikingly simple compositions as well as larger, more complex themes.  You shoot traditional landscapes, night cityscapes and abstractions.  How would you describe your style and what do you most like shooting?

Given my druthers, I tend to choose locations where I can be quite alone.  Something about leaving “it” all behind, and getting into a zone of concentration.  But this conflicts with urban interests, and the subject that hooked me as a boy.  So I chip away at usual habits and hesitancy as much as I can.

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About that 'best vantage' - you have to climb down the edge of the Palisades for the most complete view of the GWB. (The 'purple' lights were set for Breast Cancer Awareness month)

I guess the best summary of what I want to present is emotive.  The subject itself can be anything, but I tend to want to impart a more personal connection for what attracts.  After being somewhat exclusive, subject-wise, I’ve just been trying to be open to anything in the urban environment.  I find it hardest to point at a person in their private moment – probably a reflection of how I regard my own space.  Reservations such as these I’d like to get past, and I’m working on that.  Still, the city is rich in intimate scenes of every nature, just waiting to be discovered.

How do you overcome a “dry spell”?

The primary plan would be to force myself into a location that has no anticipated potential, or just an area completely different than I’m used to visiting.  As contrary to what I’ve been doing as possible.  With no expectations, it allows the mind to see without bias, to be open to whatever is about.   Another technique is to chose the lens least utilized.   That least utilized lens doesn’t suit my general style or styles, but in choosing it as a forced restriction it encourages a bit of creativity to extrude something worthwhile through it, the more inappropriate the better.  The results of such actions can often produce a new sort of subject to file and return to when that rut strikes again.

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There was distant lighting occurring which I wanted to capture while it wasn't raining yet on the porch. This was a fortunate surprise, but not one I'd want to chance an experience with again.

How and where do you display your work?

I mainly host at www.bobtullis.com on Smugmug now.  Most of the DSLR evolution can be found here..   I have a few LCD frames at home, and many prints hung about.  What I show in the online galleries is in part for forum discussions, both the good and the ugly.  I’ve been meaning to make more sense with a reorganization, but that’s work, and the day job supplies enough of that for a lifetime.  But it’s time to do more with the amassed collection, and I aim to start putting some time in that direction.  Recently I’ve just sold five prints for a 5th Ave. building’s residential hallway, donated an image for the Central Park Conservancy donor holiday mailing, and have supplied images for a display in the Belvedere Castle in Central Park.

What’s next for Bob Tullis?

I sort of feel like the past ten years has been the apprenticeship, and now I’m discovering what’s possible to make of that training.  Now that winter’s over I’m looking forward to spending more nights in the city, and when in the country working in the woods with artificial light – time to do a little more than just ‘natural light studies.  But mainly, just to get out there and immersed in the viewfinder, and see where this next stage of this journey leads.

What advice do you have for someone who is either just starting out in photography and/or anyone wanting to improve their photographic skills?

What worked for me was first to make sure I had a good grasp of the three elements of control for an exposure – shutter, aperture, and ISO.  The biggest revelation following that was appreciating how the sensor captures the tonal range of an exposure, and how to make the most of that data without corrupting it.  How to delicately raise shadows, or spread a range of tones for more definition.  Bruce Frasier’s “Real World Adobe Camera RAW” was an eye opener in that regard.  It helped to understand the finer nuances of post processing – such as the difference between using the Exposure slider and the Brightness slider to raise an exposure.

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This fascinating sculpture is by Frederick Shrady, Peter The Fisherman, at the Fordham University Campus across from Lincoln Center. My first encounter with it, because the garden was empty I was able to work the area without being self-conscious. I had left and returned moments later, knowing I wasn't satisfied with the 2 dozen or so perspectives taken already. High key seemed the only way to take it, since the dynamic range was unmanageable.

For compositions, I’ve found introductory sketching and drawing lessons to be most valuable, and I return to them now and again.  Going back to previous works taken weeks or months earlier is also useful.  The distance of time helps to be more impartial while one tries to appreciate why some compositions work better than others.

When approaching a compelling popular scene, one should take that immediate shot.  But one might also linger and contemplate other possible perspectives that might be different but equally as, if not more so, compelling.  Figure that many stop to take the same scene – how many kneel, or shoot from off to the side?  How many do that well? How many potential pictures might be had of this scene?  What closer interests are there to isolate or feature?  What would the place look like at a different time of day?

The hardest part of the journey might be how to appreciate the difference between what one enjoys expressing as opposed to how the general public takes to the presentations.   Constant practice not only is advisable for the technical side of learning the craft, but also for the ability to understand ourselves better in regard to what we’re trying to convey.

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On the evening of the recent Super Moon, everyone was gathered at the south side of the George Washington Bridge for the best vantage. When the moon rose higher I moved to the north side on the Palisades while the others remained. Less opportunity for the overgrowth on this side, but I just wanted to see if something different might be had. The shadow created by the moon at this time was only visible where the moon was reflecting off the water, and only visible within a few feet of this position. I've shot this bridge many times, but this opportunity was unique among them.

Is there anything else that readers should know about you to better understand your work? 

I’m not sure I understand it myself.   I’m moody, a lazy perfectionist, with a penchant to figure out how and why things work.  I’ve always had the call to dabble, in some fashion, in creative mediums but I don’t have a clue as to why.  The only thing I know now is, if could do it all over again I’d pursue architecture, engineering, or photography as a career.

Posted by Rey

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9 Responses to “A lasting impression”… meet Bob Tullis

  1. Ann says:

    Great article. So glad to see Bob get some notice. His work is wonderful.

  2. Prentis Drew says:

    Wonderful stuff. Being in a bit of the photographic doldrums myself I particularly liked the notion of grabbing the least used lens and heading out to see what the different point of view can inspire. Thanks for the tip.

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Prentis – my reaction precisely. In fact, this weekend, I’m going to drop a 70/2.4 on my DSLR and head out to see what happens.

      Rey

  3. Mark says:

    Good stuff. Liked the questions and the answers. Some awesome shots as well.

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Thanks, Mark. I’ve been wondering whether there are other questions we should be asking our featured photographers as well. Interested in any feedback you or any of our readers may have. Thanks,

      Rey

      • Mark James says:

        Bob does a good job of verbalizing his thought process so you were able to get very insightful responses to your questions. I’m sure it’s not always that simple for you as an interviewer. He has a thought process similar to you. This shows in your other articles which are thorough yet easy to understand for us new to photography.

        I’ve been learning a lot over the last 6 months or so and I think it’s starting to show in my work. At least I hope it is…

  4. I enjoyed getting to know Bob and really enjoyed the images that you included in the post.

  5. Ed Spadoni says:

    Great interview and amazing shots. Bob’s work is enough to convince me of the merits of a M4/3 system. Ed

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