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Exclusive – Tim Tadder’s ‘Black is a Color’ challenges binary perceptions of race

Internationally acclaimed photographer and conceptual fine artist Tim Tadder believes he has an innate duty to create social awareness through his work. His latest collection of portraits called ‘Black is a Color’ is a masterclass in tonality and form which looks beyond the binary view of race.

If you’re not much of an art aficionado you may not know Tim Tadder by name, but you will definitely have seen his work.

Heading up photography and commercial directing responsibilities for global brand campaigns over the last 20 years – with a clientele including Ninja, Aaron Gordon, Anthony Davis, and Ice Cube, to name but a few – the Californian creative has also earned his chops in the world of fine art since 2012.

By its very nature, photography intends to encapsulate one poignant moment in time and engender deeper thought about its superseding message. In that sense, Tadder’s practiced ease has translated beautifully into his independent art. Focusing on the complexities of the ‘human experience’ regarding systemic socio-political issues such as civil rights, free speech, equality, and race, Tadder’s abstract portraits are as thought provoking as they are visually striking.

With an intent to show humanity in its truest and most basic form, Tadder strips away what he defines as ‘differentiators’ and ‘identifiers’ – unique features like hair, skin colour, and clothing – to show what we all share beyond our superficial differences ‘at the core.’

Awash with mesmerising colours, his two previous works ‘Nothing to See’ and ‘United States of Purple’ have a mannequinistic quality that has become his trademark style.

Candid as the expressions of his models often are, Tadder aims to leave an artistic stamp on periods of ‘strife and anxiety,’ and felt compelled to pay homage to the Black Lives Matter movement as it reached a fever pitch of momentum in 2020. In my recent conversation with the man himself, Tadder revealed, ‘I wanted to explore a non-literal and unconventional way to share with people a different point of view. A view that boldly illustrates a slice of what is missed by a binary approach to race.’

Referencing legendary singer/songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone, Tadder continued, ‘You can’t help it, an artist’s duty is to reflect the times.’ And it’s from this unceasing desire that the collection ‘Black is a Color’ was born.

Described by Tadder as an ‘unintentional trilogy’ to his two prior collections, ‘Black is a Color’ is a stunning series of head profile shots showing black models covered in myriad blends of primary and secondary colours. Initially covered in black paint around a quarter inch thick, vivid marbling mixtures of different hues were poured over the top of the head to create this otherworldly dripping effect. Take it from me, once you see the images, you find yourself returning time and time again.

‘We used well over 40 gallons of non-toxic paint to create a variety of paint viscosities,’ said Tadder when asked about the logistics of the shoot.

‘This process took several days to fully perfect. The images capture the beauty of simplicity and the way the paint dripped off the subjects heads was impeccable and created an unexpected, yet incredible tonality.’

While the photos are certainly hypnotic to look at, Tadder had revealed early on in our conversation that the incentive behind this collection goes far beyond merely catching the eye.

‘On one end, art should be amazing to look at, and on the other end it should help people question their now.’ Having just navigated a tumultuous year plagued with prejudice and division, the artist is determined to spread a message of unity for millions to see.

When probed on the societal undercurrent of systemic racism and what ‘Black is a Color’ has to say on the subject, Tadder stated, ‘When primary colours are mixed at equal parts, black is ultimately the precipitating colour. When we think about race, we think of black or white. We have a stereotypical notion of black or white. However, individuals are more complex than that. As a society, we are missing that infinite display of colour.’ He rounded off by emphasising, ‘This collection is representative of the infinite complexity of an individual.’

Engendering a sense of uniqueness and personality, over pigeonholing and tired stereotypes, the unique blend of colours in each image intends to highlight the fact that under the surface nobody is binary and we’re all irreplaceable. Again, Tadder’s emphasis on the good of humanity is on full display here.

Given the underlying nature of the concept, and in lieu of promoting an equal opportunity society, Tadder decided to put together a team of black subjects for the collection – sourced through social media and casting agencies across Los Angeles.

As you’d probably gathered already, sitting for shoots without being able to open your eyes or breathe through your mouth isn’t the most comfortable process ever, but the models were said to have executed the challenge with ‘real professionalism.’ The team also cultivated a strong relationship with all models before and after shooting.

Thinking outside the box, I questioned whether this level of discomfort in the models helped to further reflect the conflict and struggle for complete racial equality.

Tadder specified that while causing any distress was ‘not intentional’ and that the team had to push to achieve a ‘neutral feeling,’ the natural tension within the models did provide ‘an unqualifiable quality’ he hadn’t expected.

Quite honestly, we at Thred are blown away by ‘Black is a Color.’ A year after the tragic death of George Floyd, BLM remains the biggest activist movement in US history and has even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. The way people have banded together across the globe to raise awareness and uproot racial injustice has been incredibly touching, and Tadder’s work perfectly captures the celebratory nature of what we’ve achieved since then. Not that we’re close to being done anytime soon.

Eager to learn about what Tadder has in the pipeline, I tried to get a sneak peek into any upcoming projects, or plans to tackle other prominent social causes down the line. ‘At the moment, my anxiety level is not very high on any other issues,’ he answered.

‘When something inspires me to use my voice, I will. As an artist, I have this innate responsibility to create and help those platforms by elevating their message in an artistic form.’

When it comes to elevating a cause within mainstream culture ‘Black is a Colour’ has certainly achieved that. Now excuse me while I return to staring at the collection.

~ Due to travel restrictions, the collection is on view simultaneously at all Avant Gallery locations, at Hudson Yards, NYC, Brickell City Centre in Miami, & Aventura Mall in South Florida. To inquire about Tadder’s work visit: work: [email protected] ~