The Tutu Project™ began in 2003 as a lark. I mean, really, think of it. Me photographing myself in a pink tutu, how crazy is that?
But ten years ago my wife, Linda, and I moved to the East Coast and, as odd as it may sound it, the self-portraits proved to be a perfect way of expressing myself. Why? Because even though the move was exciting, exhilarating, and inspiring, it was 180 degrees from what I knew. So I took the old, mixed it in with the new, and kept the tutu handy.
Six months after the move, Linda, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat it, only to have it recur in 2006. During these past nine years, I’ve been in awe of her power, her beauty, and her spirit. Oddly enough, her cancer has taught us that life is good, dealing with it can be hard, and sometimes the very best thing—no, the only thing—we can do to face another day is to laugh at ourselves, and share a laugh with others.
Join us as Bob Carey talks about his incredibly inspiring project, The Tutu Project, which has helped 1000’s and 1000’s of woman, men, and children, laugh and smile during an extremely hard time. Many lifes have been touched by this incredible project.
How did you become interested in photography?
My neighbour was going to Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara and that’s when my interest began. I was 17 and I had broken my arm skateboarding. On the way home from the hospital, with my father’s “suggestion” to get a different hobby, we stopped by a camera shop and I bought my first camera. I started taking classes after high school, and began falling in love with photography when I saw my first print come up in the developer.
Can you tell us about your photography before the tutu project, for example the series of self portraits you completed that “exposed a man in both physical and emotional distress?”
I’m a commercial photographer by trade. One day in my studio I was photographing children on a seamless background and was using monofilament to rig something on set. I was a bit frustrated so I stepped into the bathroom and started wrapping my head with it. It felt oddly comforting and led to my first black and white self-portrait, “Pineapple”. Looking at myself differently, transformed to something unrecognizable as myself, was like an emotional escape. From there I began experimenting with silver makeup, using different sculptural forms to further my transformation. It became a form of self-therapy.
Can you tell us about the tutu project? How did it begin?
I was asked by Arizona Ballet to shoot a pro bono campaign translating what ballet meant to me. I was still shooting B&W self-portraits and decided to shoot in that same style, dressed in a tutu. My stepmom made that tutu. I choose pink because it was the correct tone I was looking for in B&W. It had nothing to do with breast cancer. I told Linda that I was going to keep the tutu, maybe use it in my next project of self-portraits. When we moved to NYC six months later I packed it in our van in case we had time to shoot on the way across the US. I did one shot, it put us behind and back under the seat it went. I didn’t take many photos, a few in the summer. Linda was diagnosed that December and I started shooting more. It was a form of self-therapy and it made Linda laugh.
What were people’s reactions about the project when you initially started? (before it went viral)
They thought it was funny and amusing but they also related to the emotions that the images conveyed.
Over time, the tutu project went viral! What was it like to watch this happen? To see the views on your website go from 5000 to 50,000?
It was life changing and never imagined that it would have grown so fast and so far. Linda and I launched The Tutu Project website on March 4th, a week later it was picked up my NY Daily News, a few days later it was on the front page of Yahoo which crashed the website.
Can you tell us about Ballerina, the book?
When Linda’s cancer came back she began taking the images with her to chemotherapy treatments. She’d share them with the other women, they loved and laughed at them; it gave them a bit of a break as crazy chemicals were pumped into their bodies. I decided then that I wanted to publish a book and try to get them in cancer centers across the US hoping to share a smile during a difficult moment.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome while publishing the Ballerina book?
We tried the traditional means of getting a book published, including getting an agent to shop the book. Unfortunately, the economy had just taken a downturn and publishers were interested in a topic that was almost guaranteed to make money, they didn’t consider me in a pink tutu to be it. So, Linda and I had to come with a means to raise the money to get the book designed and printed. We sold prints and once the project went viral we were able to raise the funds to accomplish this.
What photo in the tutu series was the most challenging to take? (due to distance, lighting, etc)
The ones with extreme weather, hot or cold, added a challenge to take the photo, especially if I was alone. There were several that the police became involved and although it wasn’t a stop, it added an element of difficulty.
What’s on your gear list? And what software do you use for editing?
My gear list: Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D700 are my cameras of choice. I use the Nikon in low light situations and use two PocketWizard Plus III transceivers for my wireless remotes. My tripod is a Manfrotto carbon fiber. As far as lighting, any flash fill for example, I use a Quantum q-flash or a Profoto 7B pack and head. I use Lightroom to edit.
What inspires you?
My inspiration for The Tutu Project could be the location graphics and colour and the challenge of how impossible it may be to take the photo.
Can you tell us about your partnership with Bloomingdale’s?
Immediately upon returning from our Today Show interview, Linda received a call from the SVP of PR at Bloomingdales. They were very interested in forming a partnership, promoting the project and supporting our non-profit organization, The Carey Foundation (www.careyfoundation.org). Our goal was to have a plan in place for October. They gave me access to the flagship store in NYC and I took three images, which they printed as postcards and sold in a pack of six, the proceeds were donated to our non-profit organization. They scheduled news coverage and an in-store book signing as well as creating an amazing window display for my book, Ballerina. We were also guests at their annual charity dinner, all of this was extremely generous and almost unbelievable.
How has social media helped with the success of this project?
Tell us about the tutu walks for breast cancer! How did you start them, and how much money has been raised for breast cancer through the tutu walks?
We had our first annual tutu walk last October and have the 2nd scheduled for this year.
On your website there’s a section titled “the honour wall“, and I think it’s brilliant! Do you have a favourite photo that has been contributed to the wall?
What’s it like to see so many people sporting the pink tutu that you’ve worn all around the world? It’s difficult to choose a favourite because I have family on the wall, so I’ll say; all of them. We took it down for awhile but will launch it again in October.
Please tell us about the pink pocket wizards that you are selling to raise funds for the Carey foundation? They are so cute!
LPA Design PocketWizard sponsored me and had 20 of the Pinks made just for this project. They donated them and we’re auctioning them off one at a time on eBay. The next one up is #6 and we’ve raised almost $2,500.
While shooting these self portraits how do people passing by react?
The reaction varies. Initially, before it went viral, people might smile and wonder what I’m doing, one time a guy passed by called me a name. But generally, people are kind. Now that it’s gone viral people are beginning to recognize me and stop to chat.
What’s a day of shooting a portrait for the tutu project like? Is there a team that comes along with you? Or do you shoot these solo? Also, do you often bring lights on location?
I have many different approaches. I might get in my car and head out on a road trip. I might be alone or Linda may be with me. I’m a commercial photographer and when I travel I pack my tutu. I’m never sure exactly what I’m looking for but I know when I see it. There are times when I take an assistant, for example on Swan Lake I definitely had an assistant. We had five minutes to shoot with the dancers, and I had to make sure that everything went smoothly because there would be no second chance. There have been a few shoots that I’ve invited fans from FB to meet up with me, when I know where I’m going. I don’t take much lighting, I mainly shoot with available light. There was a time when I was still shooting film that I would take more but I’m not shooting film anymore.
What are you currently working on? Is there a new set of tutu photos waiting to be released?
I have one that will be released in a few days. As I mentioned, I’m a commercial shooter. This past year has been crazy, good crazy but crazy all the same. It’s taken taken me away from my assignments and now it’s time to focus on shooting new work. Of course, the tutu is never far.
Newest Released Photo from Bob Carey, the Tutu Project
When do you plan on stopping creating these tutu portraits? Or are you going to continue creating them as long as you can?
I really don’t know.
I have to know, where exactly did you get that tutu? Was it specially made for these photos?
The current tutu was custom made by Rubies Costume Shop in Queens, NY. They’re amazing and wonderful to work with.
This project has been spotlighted in the news many times. How has this helped the exposure of the project?
It certainly broadened the scope of exposure. And of course with more exposure I get more exposure…
What is your favourite tutu portrait that you’ve ever shot?
It changes from time to time but right now, probably Swan Lake.
Do you ever sketch your ideas before you shoot them?
I do for other projects but haven’t for this one.
How much have you raised for breast cancer so far?
Let me check with Linda.
Since going viral, you have a huge fan base of your work. What is the most memorable thing a fan has said or e-mailed to you about the project?
A thirteen-year-old girl emailed us after we were on The Today Show. Her mother had had breast cancer and she wanted to thank us for starting a project that would make people laugh. It was written with such love and was so touching, it was a very humbling moment.
How much editing goes into these photographs?
Varies image to image, I may correct the color, straighten lines and clean the images up but don’t really do that much.
What is the end goal for this project?
To help as many women in their journey with breast cancer as possible.
What is your proudest moment as a photographer?
It makes me feel good to know that I can bring a little laughter or happiness to people in situations that are challenging.
What is Linda’s favourite tutu portrait?
I’d say that hers changes from time to time as well but she seems to go back to “Corn”.
How is Linda doing now?
Linda’s doing great. We work together, she’s my producer and she’s also president of The Carey Foundation. She’s still on medication but she lives as if she isn’t.
What is the biggest thing you’ve taken from this project?
That I’m not alone.
How has this project changed your (and Linda’s) life?
There have been so many changes, it’s difficult to know where to begin. But I’d have to say and I’m sure that Linda would agree, that having an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life has been incredible.
To keep up with Bob Carey and his work you can do so on his Website, Blog, and Facebook Page. To donate to the Carey Foundation which will provide care and support to woman dealing with breast cancer you can donate here.
We hope this interview inspired you, and put a smile on your face.
Interviewed by Angela Butler.