Tristan Willis - Modern Artist ✰
Tristan Willis is a photographer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, CA. Raised in Atlanta, GA, he started making movies of unrepresented communities in the Atlanta area and taking photos of friends & family. He received his B.A. in Film and Television Production from Loyola Marymount University in May of 2020.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Tristan Willis.
Tristan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
From traveling the world while growing up in the suburbs of North Atlanta to later attending Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, living in the city of LA shaped my perspective and defined the stories that I wanted to share through my lens. Attending LMU’s School of Film & Television and majoring in Production allowed me to learn the ins & outs of the entire film industry, from working on full-scale sets every weekend to understanding the amount of planning and logistics that are entailed in producing films. While I served on many productions, primarily as a producer during my time at LMU, I would always find myself taking behind the scene photos which sparked my passion of photography. I’ve always been drawn to the camera and the scenes portrayed on screen through the eyes of the cinematographer. In my second semester of freshman year, I took it upon myself to start shooting outside of class and started taking stills of friends which opened a whole new window of opportunity for me. I utilized all of the skills and tools that I learned from film school to give more context to my photos in bringing them to life.
As I now reflect back to my younger years, I realize this was a passion that I had for some time that brought out my reflective, introspective and intuitive personality. I’ve always seen myself as a visual artist. My great uncle Bill Brown, who recently passed away, was my biggest inspiration. He was a creative director and used to have a profession hand-drawing movie posters. He inspired me from a very young age by giving me a sketchbook and saying, “pick up a pencil and start drawing”. I feel like this was an integral moment that ignited my creative spirit and led me to pursue other visual arts.
I now find that I’m happiest when I’m behind the camera. Through all the different aspects of film and television production, I found my niche in producing and creative direction.
Has it been a smooth road?
I bought my first digital camera before my first year of college and taught myself how to use it without any formal training as producing was my focus at LMU. To me, photography is experimenting and trial and error with the goal of improving and evolving. After shooting with digital cameras, I made the transition to shooting with 35mm film cameras and later taught myself how to properly shoot medium format film (120mm). When shooting with film, you have to be a lot more selective with each shot you take. Going beyond the rules of photography and experimenting, not only has evolved my portraits but has allowed me to find my taste and preference through shooting with film.
I’m very fortunate that my family encouraged me to explore my passions early on. Before going to college, I realised how much excess time and freedom I had to just to try new things. While in college, I realised I had to support myself. I would go to class and work multiple jobs as well as seek out the time to work on developing my craft in photography, even if that meant driving all around the city and shooting for free.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
For me, it’s about the people. My focus is mainly shooting portraits, capturing the essence of my subjects and ensuring that the aesthetic complements who they are. When I shoot, my goal is to capture the true essence of one’s spirit and emotion. I find filling the frame with intense reflective moments is my way of capturing their authenticity. To me, it’s able to see the unsaid and express that through imagery. There’s beauty in simplicity. I’m driven to capture iconic moments. Through the lens of the camera, it’s easy to relate to my subject and bridge the experiences they have with some of my own. It’s more than just looking for different angles, but I’ll say I do get excited when finding a shot that isn’t standard that highlights each subject in their best light. I’m well versed in the film industry with expertise in producing, video & sound editing, video recording, with a special passion for photography.
As a storyteller, I made some of my first films focused on under-represented people with unique stories. While I have a good mix of scenes from all walks of life, I still find myself drawn to capturing diverse communities that are often overlooked. My passion lies in using my expertise to bring their stories to life. I am a visual storyteller! I love to edit and tell stories through still images and I’m drawn and connected to stories that may otherwise go untold.
I’d say the characteristic that pertains most to my success is the heart that I put into creating images that resonate with people. Even with the struggles that I endured early on, what came out of it was my drive, perseverance, resilience and tenacity. I’m always looking forward to telling the next story and to see what unfolds in my next shoot.