In a way, Vincent Tullo’s photography career began before he started college. “I used to bring a little camera around to photograph my friends and me skateboarding,” he told me in an email, “and over time I noticed I was skateboarding less and taking pictures more.” His documentary instincts have served him well in his work for the New York Times, and his skateboarding background certainly helped him in his work for Thrasher Magazine.
But, if anything, Tullo’s identity as a photographer is defined by his enthusiasm for the art and craft of it. That, too, was anticipated early on by his childhood love of the visual arts, specifically painting and drawing. Today, he says he’ll shoot anything as long as the subject is interesting, and stresses the importance of “[spreading] the love in the photo community.”
Tullo studied photography at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, not far from his native Long Island. He admits he sometimes wonders whether or not he should have dropped out to pursue professional work full-time, but he believes he ultimately made the right decision in staying. It allowed him “time to experiment and make work with no pressure,” he said, which he found to be invaluable. He graduated in May 2016 and started taking commissions soon after.
Today, Tullo’s biggest client is the Times. A typical assignment begins the night before or the morning of his deadline with a phone call from an editor. After that, Tullo goes out with his digital camera — at F.I.T., he exclusively shot film; today he uses digital for all of his paid work — and a variety of lenses, though he typically finds himself using a 24-70mm or 70-200mm zoom. The images are due by the end of the day.
Tullo says it can get hectic — he mentioned, in a somewhat alarmingly offhand manner, that he hadn’t slept in six days — but he doesn’t mind it. “They really are one of my dream clients to work for,” he said, “and the staff there is incredible.” And Tullo’s recent résumé shows how much he loves working with them: when I first contacted him to arrange our interview, he had just shot the last performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus; when I wrote this paragraph, his work had accompanied two more stories, and he was working on a third.
Instagram came earlier, around 2014. One might expect someone regularly employed by a print newspaper to have a somewhat reluctant attitude towards a mobile app as a platform photography, but Tullo wrote that he found it to occupy “a perfect area between a blog and a formal website.” He continued, “It allows you some room to show images that you love on a daily basis, experiment with layout and sequencing, and connect with a large audience very easily.”
Indeed, Instagram was how I came across his work. It was early last May and the Times had just featured his work on the expansion of NYC Ferry service routes on their own page. Looking back his photographs for that story, I recalled what initially drew me to his work. Tullo is unafraid of shadow: in fact, he embraces it, an embrace that draws the viewer’s attention even closer to his firm, transparent compositions. His photographs may be intended for a newspaper page, but they would work just as well hanging on a gallery wall.
Throughout our interview, Tullo offered advice for other photographers who might be reading this: start with digital; teaching yourself is always a viable option if you’re determined; Instagram is powerful if used right. But his most important artistic piece of advice, I believe, came after I asked him about inspiration. He mentioned that he looked at others’ work for inspiration, and named some of his favorite current photographers, but emphasized the importance of trusting one’s own artistic instincts in developing style.
He wrote, pleasantly succinctly: “Sometimes, it’s good to just do what feels right to you and not give a fuck what people think.”
All photographs copyright Vincent Tullo and used with his permission. Though I’ve focused on his work for the Times, you can see links to more of his photojournalism here. His website, which includes some of his personal work, is vincenttullo.com, and his Instagram is @vincenttullo.