Annie Tritt Makes Soulful, Empathetic Portraits

Annie Tritt makes photographs you can feel. Deeply. In your heart, in your gut, joints, and soul. A portrait of Forrest Whitaker captures him mid-thought, caught off guard, a gateway to a complex inner monologue. Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury faces the camera with eyes closed and a similar reveal. In everything Annie shoots, there is a sometimes playful, sometimes contemplative vulnerability.

Whether it’s photographing trans youth for personal project Transcending Self, candidly capturing Neil Patrick Harris and David Burka spending time with their children, or adding empathetic energy to portraits of CEOs, Tritt helps viewers care about the people in front of their lens.

Vice Photo editor and Luupe photographer Elizabeth Renstrom spoke with Annie to learn more.

Transcending Self © Annie Tritt

Elizabeth Renstrom: What made you want to pursue photography at a time, as you’ve mentioned previously, would seem late in the game to some people? Also, more importantly, what were the steps/building blocks leading up to this decision?

Annie Tritt: Good question. I had decided to pursue photography earlier. Still later than most people but in my late twenties. I studied art in college, so I had some experience with photography and with the art world. I also had friends from college that were photographers; as such, I had some sense of the business. I was trying to learn photography at the same time I was teaching high school, and I decided to make a shift. Around the same time, I met my ex, and pretty soon I had the pleasant surprise of my two daughters coming to live with us, and I unexpectedly became a stay at home parent for a few years. This curtailed my career for another five years. 

Neil Patrick Harris, David Burka and their Children © Annie Tritt
Jackie Sibblies Drury for The New York Times © Annie Tritt

Renstrom: How did your career get started again? 

Tritt: I ended up starting when I was about 36. The initial decision came when I was traveling. Traveling had been something I wanted to do my whole life, and I finally had saved up enough money to do it. I was somewhere, I don’t know where, and I was taking photos. And then it occurred to me the three things that were most important to me social justice travel and art could all be combined into one job.

Of course, I had no idea how to make this happen even how even to take a photo. But at that moment I was sure what I wanted to do.  I had almost given up. I thought it was not possible, especially after my ex and I separated. But some caring people around me convinced me that I needed to pursue what was in my heart and I’m so glad I did. It still took a lot longer than I wish.

Transcending Self © Annie Tritt
Transcending Self © Annie Tritt

Renstrom: What’s been your most meaningful shoot? 

Tritt: The most meaningful personal project has been Transcending Self. It has changed my life completely. The most apparent way might seem that I realized I was non-binary and trans as well. But I don’t think that’s it. It turned my life around. I have met the most amazing people and developed a community around the world through this project. I learned that I can have an impact and that people can have an impact on me. I felt pretty isolated before this project. Now I feel part of a global community. I also feel like I honed in my style for better or worse when doing this project.

Transcending Self © Annie Tritt

Renstrom: How did you become a part of the photo community? I know you recently had top surgery –  I would love to hear about the process of fundraising and your experience taking time for yourself while freelancing?

Tritt:  I feel like this just sort of happened. The community before felt staggered and competitive. I didn’t like that. Now I feel a part of a supportive, loving – God that’s so cheesy – caring community.

Women Photograph and Danielle Zalecman had a lot to do with it. It brought us all together and did it away with some of the competition. I had a group of women photographers in San Francisco that I still stay touch.  I was completely shocked about the fundraising. It was unbelievable — three photographers were responsible for it. I’m am and was completely overwhelmed. Taking time for myself was fantastic. It changed my perspective. Before this, I rarely was home at all. It taught me to slow down. To just be. I discovered things in my community that I didn’t know was there. And it helps put in perspective what’s important.

Renstrom: We all have creative block sometimes. What do you do to get yourself out of one when it happens?

Tritt: I feel like I’m so busy that I don’t even have time for a creative block. I often have more ideas than I know how to execute. I actually for me is finding time to work on my own stuff, to work on one thing and trust that is enough

DJ Khaled © Annie Tritt
© Annie Tritt
Jill Soloway – Director, Writer. © Annie Tritt

Renstrom: How do you feel about representation vs. freelancing solo?

Tritt: It would be great to be represented but I think it has to be the perfect match. I also know that people can find you now without someone having to tell them about you. Although doing everything myself is really exhausting and a good rep creates a good team. You both do what you are good at.

Renstrom: Do you have suggestions for connecting with subjects? Advice for a photographer’s first assignment?

Tritt: I think the answer to this is to be yourself. We connect by being honest, and that answer is different for everyone. Never forget that you are meeting a person and this person is a being, and they’re nervous as well. If it’s your first assignment, you’re going to be nervous, and that’s good. I don’t get nervous much anymore, and I think that is not good. Know that you don’t have to do the greatest job in the world. You have to show up and do the absolute best you can do. Be you. 

Renstrom: Why do you prefer East to West Coast ^_~ ?

Tritt: Oy….  this might start a fight. I’m actually wondering if I would enjoy the West Coast now. Since my surgery, I’ve chilled out a lot. I do enjoy the energy and creativity of New York and probably the East Coast. There is an aliveness that I love. I also love the intermingling of people from all different races and class in ages that doesn’t happen in California. I like the ambition and drive here and certainly the museums and theater Etc. I also love honesty the realness. The nature on the West coast is pretty awesome.