When it comes to photography, Tate Tullier has always been able to turn a blind eye to his deafness.
For Tullier, Louisiana, known for its scenic rural areas and ghostly swamps, was the perfect place for an aspiring photographer to grow up. Living a silent life, his eyes were able to take in more than those of his hearing companions.
However, Tullier’s inspiration for his career came not from his home state’s beauty, but from magazines. After coming across a copy of “Vogue Paris” as a child, Tullier became enthralled with the glossy glamour shots of entertainment and fashion publications.
He describes his knowledge as “self-taught,” having worked on his school’s yearbook staff as an opportunity to take his own pictures. By the time Tullier headed off to college, he was sure of his future. After attending LSU, Baton Rouge Community College and Southeastern Louisiana University over several years, Tullier decided to enroll at Gallaudet University, the only American university for the Deaf and hard of hearing, located in Washington, D.C.
Since graduating in 2003, Tullier has found his place as a successful artist and photographer, working out of his studio in Gonzales, Louisiana. Being deaf does have its difficulties when communicating with hearing subjects and clients, he said. However, Tullier sees the biggest difficulty in actually starting the conversation.
“I’m so used to being the minority subject,” Tullier said. “I always have to keep in mind that so many people just pretty much have never met a Deaf person. It’s crazy to see how so many people just kind of shut down or get nervous.”
Tullier has fewer problems working with hearing people now. A comfortable relationship is important to him. Ease before the picture equals ease in the picture, and Tullier can tell when things aren’t working.
Natasha Aymami, assistant director of Disability Services is a child of Deaf parents, which has allowed her to better relate to Tullier’s experience as a Deaf person working in the hearing world. A friend of Tullier since high school, Aymami turned to him for her wedding photos.
“I think that [Tullier] brings awareness to hearing people about the capabilities of deaf people,” Aymami said. “I think he’s broken down a lot of those barriers, those preconceived perceptions of people with disabilities in general. He really tries his hardest to communicate with people.”
Tullier makes a living photographing weddings, families and fashion magazines. When he isn’t out on the road snapping shots of brides or babies, he’s in his studio working on his own art. Tullier’s main work is a long-running project he calls “Tub Time With Tate,” and he said it’s his favorite thing to shoot.
The series consists of nude subjects, male and female, in varying positions in bathtubs. Tullier said he’s always loved the idea of bathing. Even as a deaf person who isn’t bombarded with all the noises of modern life, he still finds bathing a meditative escape. Fittingly, Tullier thought of the project while trying to get away from his long hours of work.
“I grew up in a bathtub,” Tullier said. “[I’ve] always loved the idea of bathtubs: You sit down, you escape your problems, you can let go and just think about everything. [I’ve] always loved bathtubs in photography too. It’s so sexy. Even when it’s not intended to be.”
When it comes to his photography as a whole, Tullier enjoys shooting people most of all. His interests lie in the photographs’ lights and darknesses. Always the busy thinker, Tullier is constantly planning his shoots as they go, hoping to maintain a candid atmosphere, which suits the subject of “Tub Time.”
Through their personal relationship and Aymami’s work environment involving people with disabilities, she has been able to watch Tullier grow as a photographer. Aymami also has purchased some of Tullier’s work from his “Tub Time” series.
“The one [piece] I have is more abstract,” Aymami said. “I think that he captures people’s ... internal beauty. A lot of people are insecure because they’re naked, but he’s able to capture people in such beautiful ways.”
Tullier doesn’t focus on his deafness in his photography. If anyone ever sees elements relating to deafness or disabilities in general, he said it’s only by chance.
As a member of the deaf community, Tullier received great encouragement in his early years as a photographer. He acknowledged the small number of Deaf people in the art world, specifically photography.
“I think in everything I create, there’s me in it,” Tullier said. “Specifically my deafness, I’m not sure. I think … the Deaf community is happy to have a Deaf person break communication barriers and speak up for the community when I can.”
Tullier is a self-proclaimed “art whore.” His admiration for others’ art makes him a sponge for creativity. Citing director Ellen von Unwerth and photographer David LaChapelle as some of early influences, Tullier has long appreciated art, almost more than he enjoys creating it.
“It’s just all so euphoric,” Tullier said. “Being around so many people’s creative work. I always tell people I could easily give up doing my whole photography thing if someone hired me to buy art.”
With Tullier’s career gaining speed, he hopes to move his art forward. His search for progression has resulted in some significant personal developments, specifically buying an apartment in New York City to move his art and name across the country.
Since “Tub Time” is his own work, Tullier makes little income from it, hence his daytime job of shooting weddings and portraits. Tullier has aspirations of tying the project back to a cause near and dear to him: charity.
“I love giving back to whatever when I can,” Tullier said. “I think the more attention [‘Tub Time’] gets, the more I can do with it. Make a living off of my fine art, and at the same time use it for a good cause.”
His future plans include both advancing his own art into three-dimensional formats as well as opening various enterprises such as a hotel or bookstore. Tullier’s 20-year-long collection of tear sheets, pictures torn from magazines, lay in waiting for his next big project.
“I have 100 million ideas,” Tullier said. “My main focus is ‘Tub Time’ right now. I’m always in dire need of subjects. I’m looking for various body types, personalities and anyone who will get naked for the sake of art.”