Of Sights and Sounds
Local photographer Tate Tullier doesn’t need sound to work a camera
By Jake ClappPosted Jul 11, 2012
Since I’ve never met Tate Tullier before, I’m trying my best to be respectful as we chat and politely ask if there is a term he prefers for his hearing loss.
“For your information, I’m DEAF,” Tullier responded. “None of that hearing impaired sh*t.”
Although he can lip-read and uses American Sign Language as his primary language, Tullier prefers to do long conversations electronically, and so we spend the majority of the week going back and forth via text message, iChat, and email.
From the start, I’m struck by how open and honest this 34-year-old Baton Rouge photographer is. He doesn’t tip-toe, he speaks his mind, and when I point out that he seems to be a little brash at times, he shows his wife, Sarah, and she readily agrees.
“I do watch what I say sometimes, but when it boils down to me really knowing myself, I have to be honest,” Tullier typed. “Nothing fazes me. I want to be adventurous with life, with meeting new people, and with doing new things. But, I’m definitely a big scaredy cat when it comes to crazy physical things such as skydiving, motorcycles, or bungee jumping.”
As a photographer, Tullier has grown a solid following in not only Baton Rouge but also across the nation. He doesn’t call himself a wedding photographer, but Tullier admits it’s his primary money machine while he works on art projects. Whether or not he labels himself, Tullier can’t escape the fact that his wedding photography has flown him multiple times across the country.
Recently though, Tullier began a new art project, Tub Time with Tate. It’s a collection of shots with people in the tub, as Tullier claims a personal obsession with tubs. The photos are intimate but creatively quirky. With enough shots, Tullier hopes to put together a large art show or book.
A St. Amant native, Tullier bounced around LSU, SLU, BRCC, and LSU again before transferring to Gallaudet in Washington, D.C., where he finally graduated in 2003.
Though he was born deaf, Tullier said he quickly overcame his hearing loss and adapted to the world around him.
“It’s not a handicap to me. I live my life like anyone else does, just without hearing sounds,” wrote Tullier. “I do have to work hard, though, to show that I am capable of giving fantastic results to any type of client who comes my way.”
Tullier’s love affair with the camera began when he was twelve, after seeing People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People issue of 1990. He said he loved the different people and their looks, and so he bugged his mom into buying the magazine, along with a copy of French Vogue.
“Being 12, after our family Christmas gathering (with the whole “compound”), I asked my mom if I could take some photos with her Minolta X-700. She said sure, but only four images,” explained Tullier. “Those were the film days! Ann, my cousin, was eight and we did one look per take. It was bad, like really bad, but I remember having so much fun.”
Tullier said he began photographing friends throughout high school and expanded it in college, charging $25 for a photo shoot, including the prints. “It all went to booze,” he adds.
After changing schools five times, and changing majors even more often, Tullier graduated from Gallaudet in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a focus in Photography.
“I was shooting people off and on for party money throughout those years. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a job. I always thought of photography as a hobby. I didn’t think people would get rich off it.”
It was when Tullier started receiving inquiries for weddings a year in advance that he began to realize photography could be a viable career. He said his art career is still on a slow burner, but he wants to take it to the next level.
Tullier said he credits the deaf community at Gallaudet for where he is today. While his customers today are 90 percent hearing, it was the opposite in the beginning and helped Tullier develop his skills.
After college it wasn’t easy, though.
“It was mostly deaf clients I had around the DC Metro area,” wrote Tullier. “When we moved to New York City for Sarah’s internship at a school in Queens, I spent 9 months looking for a steady gig. [I] ended up being turned down ‘because I couldn’t answer the phone. I completely understood that it was fast paced in the art world. Too many said they enjoyed me, but it just wouldn’t work out. I really think they just didn’t give me a chance due to my deafness.”
Tullier finally scored an internship with Mixed Greens, an art gallery in Chelsea. They hired him for three months, and he started expanding into wedding photography. Without a better paying job, though, Tate and Sarah moved back to Louisiana and set up shop in Gonzales.
After starting his own photography business, Tullier is now settled in at home and doing what he loves, though he’s ambitious and wants to expand. Maybe into publishing an arts magazine, he hints.
Tullier lists Ellen Von Unwerth, Helmut Newton and David LaChapelle as his artistic inspirations, and is quick to admit he’s drawn to sexiness, carelessness, and nudity in his photography.
“There’s a fine line appealing it to our state since it’s still very conservative compared to other areas I’ve lived. Still, there are many people around that have told me they love my work and want to see more of it. I have a goal to really define myself as an artist FROM Louisiana. I do have the advantage of being known as the ‘deaf one’—it makes me stand out!”
Tullier said he typically can lip-read and use his voice when communicating with clients, but he still has a batch of close friends who tag along as interpreters for specific events.
“Being deaf doesn’t affect my work. It’s part of who I am and I wouldn’t change it for anything,” Tullier typed. “It affects opportunity sometimes, I think, but that’s solely because many hearing people are ‘nervous.’ People sometimes don’t have to say anything; I can read their body language and all that. All this just drives me to do the best I can.”