Art Producers Speak: Mark Tucker

We emailed Art Buyers and Art Producers around the world asking them to submit names of established photographers who were keeping it fresh and up-and-comers who they are keeping their eye on. If you are an Art Buyer/Producer or an Art Director at an agency and want to submit a photographer anonymously for this column email: Suzanne.sease@verizon.net

Anonymous Art Producer: I nominate Mark Tucker. Mark is quite simply a master story-teller. In a single frame he is able to capture the essence of his subject. His portraits are timeless and evocative. Mark’s keen eye always finds that one-in-a-million face and light it perfectly. The result is always an image comprised equally of candor, soul and emotion.

A recent wet-plate portrait diptych of Abby Kraftowitz, from a workshop in Pittsburgh. We did the event in old lodge, with great light and architectural details.

Ad campaign for Amtrak, highlighting the leisurely pace and nice views outside the trains. Photographed in Florida and southern California. (AD: Bill Cutter; AB: Andrea Ricker; Arnold/Boston).

This was our first commercial project with wet-plate collodion -- a CD package for the band The Mavericks. Here are two of the 8x10” plates from the individual portraits of the band. We shot the five band members over the span of two days, and then a group shot at the end of the second day. Each plate takes about fifteen minutes, start to finish, so we had to allow for this pace, and hope the band would be patient. (CD: Sandi Spika, Big Machine Records).

The tiny town of Leipers Fork is about twenty miles from Nashville. They host a Redneck Christmas Parade each December -- everyone brings their jacked-up car, or outhouse, and they drive it down Main Street. Like Mayberry RFD gone bad, but in a fun way. I was there shooting, and Floyd, a local resident, rode up behind me on his horse, with his permanently-mounted cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He lives with his brother, outside of town, with no electricity or running water, (by choice).

Since moving to New York City, I'm out on the streets, looking for portrait opportunities. This is very recent, from an Israeli parade on Fifth Avenue. This is a newspaper publisher that was involved in the parade. In front of MoMA, on 53rd Street.

I was at PhotoNOLA a few years ago, and went into a diner for a burger. This eccentric couple was sitting in the booth across from mine. I patiently waited for them to pay their tab and leave, and then asked if I could shoot a quick portrait on the sidewalk outside. The whole scene feels like 1969 Haight-Ashbury to me.

We’ve worked on a summer project for Jack Daniels Distillery for a number of years. This is actually our client, Randall Fanning, from the distillery. We drafted him into being a rural weather man, along with his dog. They called this image “Checking the Weather”. This image was a national finalists in the Addy Awards. (CD: Nelson Eddy; AD: Jan Mattix; Dye Van Mol Lawrence).

This diptych was made early in the process of learning the wet-plate collodion process. Wet-plate has been very satisfying, in getting back to the tactile process of creating a physical piece of work, and working in the darkroom again. This was shot on an old Sinar 8x10, and double-exposed in the camera holder -- the model and the roses set up side by side.

I met this Vietnam vet newspaper salesman on the side of the freeway one day, on the way home from a job. Great face. I pulled over and asked him if I could shoot a portrait.

A book cover image for "Wicked Lovely", a novel by Melissa Marr, for Harper Collins Publishers. The first book in a series of three. Shot in NYC, and trying to hit focus -- wide open at f1.8. (CD: Alison Donalty, Harper Collins).

 

 

How many years have you been in business?
I started shooting on my own at age 23, in 1982, after assisting in NYC and LA. I renovated an old loft building in downtown Nashville; I lived downstairs and worked upstairs. My main clients in the beginning were department stores, magazines, and record companies.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I went to college at Western Kentucky University, for photojournalism. After the first couple of years in school, it became apparent that I was headed more toward a commercial style –wanting to prop and light pictures, rather than go with the straight PJ approach. I began to work with the one strobe pack that we had in the cabinet at school, and I’d shoot at night, and then process and print until the wee hours. It was an incredible period of learning and growth. My professor, Mike Morse, gave me constant encouragement even though he knew I was heading in a different direction from the newspaper photographers. I’ll always be thankful to him for that encouragement; I’d bring him a Fixer Tray at 7am, when he came in to start his day, and show him what I’d been printing all night.

Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?
There were many influences: Norman Seeff in Los Angeles was doing great work in the music business. That’s where I wanted to go –toward Music and Editorial. I actually ended up leaving college early, moved to LA to assist, and knocked on his door. His B/W printer, Keith Williamson let me hang out there. That was about 1979. I also followed the fashion work of Guy Bourdin, the inventive work of Moshe Brakha, and the music work of Joel Bernstein. I loved Duane Michals’ work with multi-frame storytelling. Bert Stern and Art Kane were also big influences. But probably the biggest was the work that Annie Leibovitz was doing at Rolling Stone, and then Mark Seliger, later on. My goal was always environmental portraiture.

Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?
Every commercial project has certain parameters. You just know that, going in. You push as much as you can. But in the end, it’s a team project. It also changed, once the business went from Marker Comps to PDF Stock Swipes; the rules got tighter; the boundaries more enforced.

What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?
For years, we were successful with these 6×9 inch, 24-page direct mail booklets for agency work. If I went on a road trip to shoot personal work, I might also mail out a series of eight or ten post cards in an envelope, afterwards. We got away from the 6×9 direct mail for a while, in exchange for email blasts and directories, but my goal is to return to the direct mail format soon. In the end, you still hope it’s ink on paper, so I try to show the work that way.

What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?
It’s tough to give advice to others. It’s a really subjective choice on how to market yourself. I do feel though, in the future, the people really staying in demand will be very narrow specialists, rather than generalists. I think the goal is for your images to have your firm individual thumbprint on them –find a style or technique and really milk that specific look and feel. The glut of photographers has really changed the business. You have to do something bold, or else you simply slip through the cracks. That’s just my own personal opinion.

Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
I try to be always working on a personal project, to keep the spark alive. For many years, I’d go on short international trips, just to get my mindset into a different culture. India; Cuba; Ecuador; Mexico; Germany; Czech Republic –I’d simply go with one body and two lenses, and try to sink into the place. The goal was to immerse myself into a different way of life. When I’d return, I’d prepare a Direct Mail piece that would go to agency art directors.

In addition, about a year ago, I did two workshops to learn the wet-plate collodion process. I was missing the craft of the darkroom and the tactile aspect of creating a physical print. It was probably a bit of a recoil against digital also. I began a series of portraits with a wooden 8×10 camera. It was very satisfying to slow down and really focus on the craft again. I thought it might even dovetail into some commercial projects, but the slow process is not that conducive to this new “six setups per day” mindset.

I also started a little side blog last year called MyDayWith.com, where I’d shoot stills and video of interesting people in my town. It was a good chance to shoot video, and to simply shoot for myself in a loose editorial style.

——–
Mark Tucker
http://www.marktucker.com
Represented by Tricia Scott at MergeLeft Reps
http://www.mergeleftreps.com
212-840-0321

Mark Tucker is a portrait and lifestyle photographer based in Nashville. He works with clients in the pharmaceutical, tourism, publishing, music, banking and health care industries. Clients include Amtrak, Jack Daniels, Eli Lilly, Novartis, PacifiCare, State Farm, Harper Collins, Penguin Books, Little Brown, General Brands, Regions Bank, Alabama Tourism, Colonial Williamsburg, and Vanderbilt Medical Center. He is represented by Tricia Scott at MergeLeft Reps in New York.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information.  Follow her@SuzanneSease.

 

There Are 13 Comments On This Article.

  1. Love this interview! I have been following his blog for awhile and always learn something new and inspiring. Great interview, amazing photographer!

  2. Joe Boris

    I’ve enjoyed visiting Mark’s projects for the past several years online, and agree that he’s an inspirationally cool choice for always producing work that’s ‘fresh & personal’.
    Thanks, Rob/Suzanne!

  3. Excellent work by a skilled artist. It is so refreshing to see Art Buyers recognize the work of a photographer who is not trendy (instagram-ish) but a solid craftsman

    It is inspiring to seeing the work of other portrait photographers whose images show their passion for people.

    Mark, way to go !

  4. Agree with the non-trendy, solid craftsman comment, nice to see some work here with some real substance.

  5. Mark is one of the nicest people in our Industry. I was working as an Assistant in Nashville back in the 90′s but was too busy to try and work with him. His work with Jack Daniels is quite beautiful.