Jose “Tutes” Tutiven is a Bronx-based photographer whose work is known for its warmth and energy. Tutes captures the everyday and the extraordinary, making it all exciting, whether he is working with a Fortune 500 company or his local neighborhood. Space for Arts was fortunate to pick his brain on career insights, the ideal studio space, and creating community in the photography industry.
What have been some of your career highlights so far?
I think the one that stands out the most is being commissioned to work with Oprah Winfrey. It was at the cusp of social media becoming a major digital marketing platform. The Oprah Winfrey marketing team wanted to create this whole new style for social media. They saw my images, and loved what I was producing as an authentic and organic look. They wanted the same type of vibe for their social media at O. For the span of a year, I was able to fly out to California and be at her shows. If anything, that’s what made me realize that I was being hired to use my photography skills and when I realized that I am a photographer. That was my epiphany.
Do you have any favorite images from that time and is there a moment that stands out to you during that year?
The first time I was able to ask for a portrait and took a picture of her in her backyard. You know, she was very candid about it while I was so nervous. I like to observe a lot before I approach anything, and kind of get a feel of what is a comfortable setting. Because I had such a short time and it was my first time traveling to her home, I was put into the situation, so I had to adapt. I decided to approach her and say, “Hey”, I would love to take your portrait right now. I took three shots and those three shots were used for a special campaign. I didn’t know they were going to use those shots until months later when I saw one was used for the landing page. That was one of my favorite pictures. A second picture is one of her and President Jimmy Carter. She’s holding President Carter’s arm and they are very casually walking through her garden. It’s just a candid shot and a moment of two iconic people.
Everybody has a sense of that project or that image that keeps them pushing, or reminds them of why they keep doing what they’re doing and why they’re in it. Shots don’t have to be of celebrities. They just have to be images that really put you in a place where you feel like you know that you belong here, that you have something to produce and create and put into the world and only you can do it.
What have been some challenges in your career?
One that comes to mind a lot has to be how to value yourself financially. There are really no forums or formulas nowadays that you can use as a foundation to see how much you should charge or how an image is going to be valued. It took me a long time to understand the concept of valuing my time, my images and what that can mean on a bigger scale. I think that’s always a constant battle especially now because the industry is changing so much. With everything being digital, people are not printing billboards anymore. But you can really value yourself and your images the same way you would value them when you go to print something. I think that’s been the biggest learning curve for me. Understanding where the business is going, not only as far as technology, but also as far as what the industry needs now, instead of what they needed last year. What do you think next year can evolve into?
How have you learned to do that? Are you paying attention to trends? Are you just focusing on what’s out there?
I think it takes a lot of research, part of it is failing a lot, and also communicating with your peers. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that. It’s okay to talk to your peers to understand what they expect or how they’ve managed to deal with certain situations similar to yours. When I come to a situation where I have no idea how to do this, the first approach is obviously to go on the web, but also communicate with your network. I always felt like people are afraid to ask because they don’t want to feel like they’re dumb. But it’s great to just ask the question, ‘Hey, I’m being approached for a certain campaign or project and I have no idea how to go for it whether it’s the right camera equipment, or just asking for help. I want to be comfortable in the situation. So that way, you can get the best out of me.
What are some of the ways that you think photography can really make a difference?
One of the things that comes to mind is meeting people in the industry that are also as passionate as you are. I don’t mean just photography, I’m talking about creators, entrepreneurs, people that are just artistic and are so driven by what they feel like they want to do. When I meet people that are as intensely passionate about what they do, it creates this community and this sense of partnership in creating art. The fact that we can sit together, communicate, discuss our ideas together, create something beautiful together, and at the end of the day, be so proud of how much we’ve accomplished. You feel so productive, you feel purposeful. It doesn’t even have to be work related. It just has to be something where you meet your community or your peers, and you just talk about it. And that can evolve into something not driven by money but by passion or mission. The experience and the process of making it happen is more valuable than money.
What have been your means of creating this community? Is it being open and looking for them or were there resources you had?
Initially, I would have to go to Brooklyn and New York where you can find massive numbers of entrepreneurs or just freelancers, right. But I live in the Bronx and that was such an inconvenience for me. So, what I did last summer, I ended up connecting with a coffee shop near my community. It’s a nice coffee shop and I wanted to create a happy hour event catered towards just artists. I wanted to spread the word that I wanted to meet local Bronx artists. I wanted to centralize it, I wanted to let people know that there is a community here to meet and reach out to, to create beautiful things, if you need them. The turnout was more than I expected. I ended up meeting graphic designers, models, other photographers, artists, and all these types of people. There are local people here that I can work with and that create a whole new purpose of having a community or a hub. And to this day, I’m still close to all of them. We still talk almost every day, either through social media or at the coffee shop that I still go to. I’ve also been connecting with a lot of local establishments in the Bronx to create more of these types of events.
How did you begin to engage with Space for Arts?
Well, I was approached to do a panel talk about my personal experiences turning photography into a full-time career. Space for Arts was one of the events hosts, so I heard all about their mission and that’s when I realized, oh my god, this is a cool platform. Photographers are not just photographers, but they wear a lot of hats. You literally have to be a creative director, a scouting agent and that involves looking for the right space. Looking for spaces that provided the equipment or resources for a great atmosphere. So, when I heard about Space for Arts, it was great. It was created for productions, and spaces were vetted so you could find the right aesthetic with the right equipment. You didn’t have to worry about anything else, everything was taken care of. Space for Arts is also catering to and giving back to the community of creators.
What is your ideal studio space or location?
For me, the ideal location is raw. I love spaces that can evolve with me, that aren’t catered just to one style. I love a space that can change as you change or as a project changes. It’s a raw space where you can make anything happen. Often that includes a lot of windows, natural light, high ceilings – almost like a warehouse, if anything. I want a space that gives me the freedom to do anything I want.