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Daily Inspiration: Meet Tyler Cunningham

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tyler Cunningham.

Hi Tyler, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
My journey has been a bit circuitous that all seems to make perfect sense in hindsight. I am the daughter of an artist and grew up with an appreciation for the visual impact of light, perspective and composition. I appreciated all mediums I was exposed to but was particularly drawn to photography in my college years and my focus was always on telling people’s stories. I was drawn to the “real” rather than the “perfect”. As I became increasingly more aware of socioeconomic disparities, creating change for those who were underserved and overlooked was a priority for me.

This drive for equanimity drew me to study Psychology and launched me into a career in social service non-profits. My role was in development, charged with raising support of the organizations’ missions. This was a relational job, reading people, listening to what they cared about and what they believed the world could be. I translated this into creating opportunities for them to make an impact in their communities. Photography at this time was a joyful hobby. It was how I made sense of the world around me and as life became more layered and complex, I needed my camera more and more. In 2006, while still working in the nonprofit world, I launched my photography company offering portraiture with a more candid style. In those first few years, I photographed beautiful families from precious newborns and precocious toddlers to anxious teens and excited brides. I shot shiny corporate executives and milestone events.

While I enjoyed the dichotomoy in my two careers, I felt a pull to being more aligned. I began to consider whether or not there was a way to use my camera as a tool to shine a light on and serve others. This questioning led me to spearhead a photography project called Through Our Eyes – Raleigh where we gave more than 100 people experiencing homelessness cameras to capture their lives and share their stories. The project’s purpose was to engage our community in a pervasive problem that was being ignored and enlist their support after learning how best to love and serve our neighbors. This project was a pivotal moment in my life, aligning my desire to be a part of our world’s solutions and my need to flex my creative muscle.

Today, I am a visual storyteller, a photographer who believes everyone has a story and I work to make sense of the paradoxes between the bright, shiny moments of brilliance and the moments of doubt, pain and insecurity. I seek out authenticity; those moments that are perfectly imperfect. I welcome the mess and believe there’s beauty in the blur. This holds true for any client I photograph, from an engagement session to a magazine editorial to a nonprofit narrative. I connect by listening, observing, and paying attention to the details and capturing it all through the lens.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
None of us are guaranteed a smooth road. And while it seems very cliche to write, I have learned far more from my failures than any of my successes. One of the greatest hurdles I’ve faced is with infrastructure. Learning how to run a business has been an uphill battle. Anything from creating an LLC to setting up a client management system to learning editing techniques and finding a trusted printer. And this is an ever-evolving process with new technology and an expanding client base. I believe our struggles build our resilience though and I’ve learned to break down each one into manageable pieces that I can tackle one step at a time. That’s probably a life lesson too!

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I hope my work has depth. I believe this is achieved by caring so deeply about the client and what he/she contributes to the world. Several years ago, I adopted a practice of saying a prayer on the way to every single session. While there are many iterations, its basic tone is this: “Please allow me to really see (client’s) light and tell their story with love and authenticity. Allow me to get out of the way”. My sessions fundamentally changed from this moment on. They aren’t flawless of course, far from it, but they are grounded and centered on what’s most important and that guides me to produce my best work and hopefully provide the best experience.

What are your plans for the future?
Some of the beauty in what lies ahead is the possibility of it all, the not knowing. But I hope to spend more time in the nonprofit space. I have learned that most people genuinely want to lift others up, to rise to the occasion, but they lack the knowledge or the tools. When we can take the time to listen and share stories, it compels people to act. And I hope to have the opportunity to pair these images with my own words, to write. I have recently had the opportunity to photograph and write for a local magazine, WALTER, and it opened a new door for me creatively.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Tyler Cunningham Jed Gammon

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