Tanner Almon is a Baltimore born photographer who attributes much of his creative success to his parents encouragement. Having graduated film school at The University of Maryland at Baltimore County, where he had made several “rather imaginative, albeit confusing” student films, and finding it hard to organize film shoots with little money and/or equipment, he began to tell some of his stories through photography - a much more “budget friendly” medium.
Most of these photographic tales, usually shot on 35mm slide film, involve Tanner and his lovely wife, Vicki, driving out to abandoned places and taking pictures of themselves dressed up as whimsical characters caught up rather peculiar situations. Tanner views these rather quirky narratives as a way to always ensure that his imagination remains “close at hand”, his ultimate goal being to figure out a way to make a living traveling around forgotten America taking photographs with Vicki.
Q. Can you explain what triggered your interest in photography?
A. Hmm, that’s a tough one. My first experience using a non-disposable camera was an Intro to Photography course I took during my sophomore year of college. Unfortunately all I really remember about that class was being a nervous wreck trying to load the plastic film reel. What did eventually get me going was a visit to a thrift store a few years later when I was home visiting my family for Thanksgiving. I found a pair of matching adult outfits that reminded me a Cub Scout uniform I wore as a kid (I never did make it all the way to Boy Scout). Anyway, every Thanksgiving we have a family reunion of sorts in Ocean City, Maryland and our hotel is right across from the Jolly Roger Amusement Park. I thought it would be awesome to hop the fence with my wife and take some photos of us in the scout uniforms exploring the various water slides and roller coasters. So I dusted off my trusty Nikon FM-10 and we hopped the fence and ran around the park posing with walkie talkies and canteens in what I like to call “high pressure situations”. After about seven or eight shots a security guard kicked us out, which was a bummer, but I knew I had found my “new thing”, so to speak.
Q. What do you consider to be your greatest achievements?
A. Honestly my greatest achievement is just finishing any of my photo and/or film projects. I’ve never really had a crew, so from start to finish I’m not only the photographer and/or filmmaker, but I’m also the art director, the prop guy, the wardrobe guy, the sound guy, and the craft service guy. Fortunately, my awesome wife Vicki usually helps with most of these and has made sure that I never have to be the “make-up” guy or the “hair” guy. Oh, and more often than not I also play a character in these shoots, so it’s quite a bit of a) set up the shot, b) hit the timer, and c) run like hell. Words cannot adequately describe how emotionally draining some of these shoots have been, especially the film shoots. One film in particular, Soda Pop Cough Drop, was especially challenging as it involved my wife and I driving blindly into the Mojave Desert to shoot a film in which we both played multiple characters. Logistically it was a complete nightmare: it was at least 110 degrees out, several of our live goldfish didn’t look too alive once we set up our first shot, our script literally blew away, neither of us could figure out how to work the helium tank, and we didn’t think to bring any food. As incoherent as Soda Pop Cough Drop may be, I’m extremely proud that we stuck it out and saw it through to the bitter, bitter end. I’d say that’s probably my greatest achievement. As a side note, those cub scout uniforms I mentioned earlier are what we are wearing in Soda Pop Cough Drop.
In terms of awards type achievements, I haven’t really gotten too many of those, although I’m proud to say that our version of Hiphopopatamus Vs. Rhymenoceros was a finalist in a Flight of the Conchords lip sync contest. HBO actually aired a portion of our video on actual HBO, which I thought was pretty cool. Unfortunately I don’t have HBO so I never actually saw it on HBO, but several of my friends who do have HBO assure me that it did in fact play on HBO.
Q. Are there any particular artists you admire and why?
A. Most of my inspirations are film directors, namely Jean-Pierre Juenet, Wes Anderson, and early Tim Burton (recent Tim Burton, unfortunately, not so much). All three have such a beautifully whimsical visual language, and that’s what really attracts me to them. If lightning struck me tomorrow and I lost my hearing, I’d still be able to enjoy each and every film by these guys (minus a few recent adaptations by Mr. Burton). Aside from these big name directors I’m mostly inspired by several lesser known artists I’ve found on Tumblr, Flickr, and Vimeo. It’s really inspiring to see folks such as myself, most of whom also work “real” jobs, still somehow finding the time and energy to make their “art” happen. Finally, in the early 90’s there was an absolutely brilliant show on Nickelodeon called The Adventures of Pete and Pete. It’s creativity and quirkiness was way ahead of it’s time and it definitely had some sort of effect on the way my brain works.
Q. What does photography mean to you?
A. For me photography is a way to escape from reality and keep my imagination going strong. I just turned 32 but I like to think that photography has helped me to maintain the same level of imagination I had when I was seven. I really love just packing up my car with some funny outfits and props, heading out to some forgotten location, and creating a story with my wife. For me the experience leading up to the photograph is much more rewarding than the resulting photograph itself, although it is really nice when the pictures turn out as well. But really it’s the process that I love, as frustrating as it can be sometimes.
Q. Is there a narrative behind your work?
A. Haha! If you ask me the answer is “Absolutely, without a doubt, yes, it’s all about telling a story”. But if you asked my mom the same question, she’d probably say “All I see is Tanner dressed up like a goofball doing stupid things, and poor Vicki, I can’t believe she puts up with him. I wish he’d just take a normal picture for once!” So I guess it’s really up to the viewer as to the presence of a “narrative”. However, I will say this… for me the first part of “the process” is creating interesting characters to put into some sort of “story”, so yes, I always have some sort of narrative tale in mind when embarking on a project. Whether that narrative comes across through the final product, however, is really beyond my control.
Q. What projects are you currently working on?
A. I’ll be honest, right now my primary weekend project is trying to learn Adobe After Effects, as I’m hoping it may lead to some sort of job that is better than my current job. That being said, I have two short films that I shot over two years ago that I’d very much like to start cutting together. Both were shot at an amazing hotel called The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California. The first is a whimsically morbid tale inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and the second is a rather eerie ghost story involving a traveling salesman. I feel sick to my stomach every time I think about these films as it’s literally been two years now and I haven’t had a chance to touch either. I also have several other photo projects that Vicki and I shot at the Salton Sea around three years ago that I’ve never had a chance to scan. So unfortunately it seems as if most of the projects I’m working on right now are actually very old projects.
Q. Split between still narrative and documentary, you also have a body of work on Pelime spanning Music Videos, Commercials and Short Films… How do you divide your time?
A. Haha, that’s just the thing, there’s NEVER enough time! I basically gave up exercise last year and gained a bunch of weight because I literally convinced myself that I needed that extra hour each day to work on finishing old projects so that I could actually get some content on my website. Now that I just turned 32 I had a change of heart and decided to start exercising again, which of course means I’m back to having even less time to work on personal projects. I’m pretty sure when I’m eighty years old I’ll still be scanning negatives of film I shot in 2007, assuming my negative scanner still works. All that being said, it’s more or less random what project I pick to work on at a particular time. Scanning negatives and playing with them a bit in Adobe Lightroom is definitely way less daunting and stressful that trying to cut a film together, so lately I’ve been working more on the photo side of things, but I really do want to get started editing those two films I mentioned sooner rather than later, so, we’ll see how that goes I guess. It’s quite overwhelming and really bums me out that there’s never enough time!
Q. What are your inspirations?
A. I’m not quite sure why, but i have a really strong affinity to certain objects that I grew up around such as typewriters, hula hoops, and etch-a-sketches. All those old toys and gizmos really inspire me. One of my most vivid recurring childhood memories is of me sitting at the kitchen table drawing pictures of robots on my etch-a-sketch while listening to the beautiful sound of my mom punching away at her typewriter. I’m a rather nostalgic person and thus I think it makes sense that these items influence quite a bit of my “work”. This affinity to obsolete objects extends to places as well. My favorite places to shoot are empty deserts, abandoned trailers, old motel rooms, and unkempt backyards - all of which are places that, at least to me, seem to be from a much more “pure” era. I guess you could say that I’m most inspired by old, worn-out, forgotten things and places.
Q. What are your aspirations?
A. My only real aspiration, creatively speaking, is to be able to work on photos and/or make film projects seven days a week, 365 days a year. On a smaller scale I’d simply like to finish all of my unfinished projects before I turn 33. On a more personal level I’d really love to learn how to play a musical instrument, I don’t even care which one, I’d just love to be able to “jam out” every now and then.
Q. Have you ever collaborated with some other artists?
A. Yes, but not as much as I probably should seeing as I like to make films, which is probably the most collaborative art form there is. That being said, my wife is always a big part of whatever I’m working on, I couldn’t do it without her, that’s for sure. I also have a core group of friends back in Maryland who I work with whenever I get a chance. I lived for a few years in LA and met some really cool actors who helped me with a few projects, and hopefully I’ll continue to work with in the future. But unfortunately nine times out of ten it’s just been my wife and I, primarily because all of my projects require a big time commitment and I’ve never had any kind of budget to pay for help. Most of the time if it’s not me or Vicki in my pictures it’s either a family member or a very close friend who I consider to be “family”. My mom has actually been in several of my films, and while she may not be considered to be an “artist”, she’s a hell of a lot of fun to collaborate with.
Q. What equipment & techniques do you use?
A. In terms of my personal photography projects, thus far my primary camera has been a Nikon FM10 35mm camera. I wish I could say that I particularly love the “look” that the FM10 offers, but really I’ve only used it because in college it was a “pretty good” beginner camera according to the guy at the camera shop at the mall. Not that I have any complaints, it takes nice pictures, but I did absolutely no research before purchasing that camera. I typically shoot with slide film and process it as normal, I’m not really sure why, but I did it once, liked it, and figured “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Once I get the negatives back I scan them with my Nikon SuperCoolScan 9000. In terms of post I primarily use Adobe Lightroom to tweak color balance and contrast.
I also spent most of 2010 shooting one “furball” photo a day on Fuji Instax Mini for a Tumblr blog I was doing called My Mom Reviews My Photos (www.mymomreviewsmyphotos.com). And finally, in December my wife and I invested in a Canon 5D Mark ii so that we’d have a nice digital camera to take on our belated honeymoon to Japan. Deep down I’ll always probably prefer film to digital, primarily because I like the “surprise” aspect of film, but I’ve got nothing against digital. As I mentioned earlier, for me the most exciting part of the process is the experience leading up to clicking the shutter button, I’m not too worried about what camera’s being used. A camera’s a camera.
In terms of film I really love shooting on Super 8, it’s pure magic and I’m so thrilled that small format film is still being made. I feel like I’m a cool seventies dude every time I’m shooting off a roll of Super 8. Of course the Super 8 “look” only works for certain projects. Most of my more traditional film projects have been shot with the Panasonic DVX100 or HVX200. I hope to start shooting some video with the 5D very soon. And finally, I edit everything in Apple’s Final Cut Pro and usually grade using Apple Color.
Q. What are your professional ambitions and your projects for 2011/12?
A. I think I’ve probably answered this already, but my only professional ambition at the moment is to figure out a way to get paid to do what I love so that I can do it all the time (not just on late nights and weekends). In a dream world I could somehow figure out a way to make a living driving around forgotten America taking photos and making films with my wife. Obviously I realize that every married couple probably shares this same dream, but still, it’s a good dream and I’m stickin’ to it!
Q. How do you think Pelime can help with this?
A. My hope is that Pelime can put me in touch with folks who share a similar creative sensibility. Once I get that networking ball rolling on Pelime only good things will happen, I’m sure. And hopefully, one day, those connections I make through Pelime will lead me to place in my life where I’m doing what I love 365 days a year!