Behind every beautiful film you’ve seen lies an unsung hero. Sure, we praise the directors, writers and actors for their brilliant performances onscreen but we often forget to acknowledge the curator of the images themselves: the director of photography. Every pivotal, tear-jerking, awe-inspiring moment seen on film is all made possible by the work of a skilled cinematographer, like Aaron Tucker, whose humble path of local DP and filmmaker is now leading him into a spotlight of his own.
“Working behind the scenes on someone else’s vision helped me to develop my own,” says Tucker, a 29-year-old Maryland native. “My time on set working with directors, practicing my art and learning the craft gave me an understanding and a confidence to express myself in my own way.”
Tucker’s journey to film was an unconventional one. He graduated from the University of Maryland College Park with a bachelor’s in finance and information systems and went on to begin a successful career at Deloitte. But after picking up a camera and teaching himself the art of storytelling through photography, Tucker left a secure job, paid his way through American University’s MA in Film and Media Arts Program and pursued a full-time career in photography direction.
“I was motivated by the fear of failure,” Tucker says. “For me not to make a career transition would be failing to believe I can do the thing I enjoy doing for a living and that’s a failure I can’t live with.”
Since his bold leap into the world of artistry, Tucker has become one of the most sought-after cinematographers in the area. His diverse skill set ranges from music videos, like directing photography for rising local musical artist Mannywellz, to high-fashion, as he curates moving images for the Vogue-featured and locally-created women’s clothing brand Hanifa. Tucker’s narrative film and documentary work has been featured in multiple film festivals across the country, including both the D.C. and National Black Film Festival in Houston, Texas. His name work has also garnered him IMDB credits and placed him in a room filming Vice President Kamala Harris for NASA’s Youtube Series “Get Curious.”
If there’s a story to be told, chances are, Tucker can capture it.
“With my images, I like to present real people going through normal, everyday human challenges,” Tucker says of the work that energizes him most. “I want to create environments where my subjects can be transparent and honest, that way the project serves as an emotional release for them and, in a way, for me as well.”
In a short documentary he directed for Shea Moisture titled “Reimagining Community,” Tucker captures intimate live interactions between local business owners, restaurant keepers, barbershop managers and their daily customers highlighting the redeeming impact they have on their community, especially during the economically-challenging pandemic.
Recently, Tucker collaborated on a short film titled “Too Many” with local filmmaker and director Samson Binutu of Cruefilms. The filmmakers explored the anxiety in everyday decision making, often resulting in decision fatigue. The five-minute short film follows one protagonist through the stress-inducing events of his day. Containing only one line of dialogue, the film relies heavily on its imagery to convey the emotions of the piece. Ominously darker, more isolated compositions fill the frame as slow push-ins depict impending pressure. Throughout the film, there is an ever-present sliver of light conveying a sense of fleeting hope that continuously evades the main character.
“It’s powerful to capture people in a meditative state where you can see their thoughts,” Tucker says. “I’ve learned that simplicity preserves authenticity so I don’t necessarily need to go into every project with the idea I need to make something happen. Something’s already happening — the question is, how can I amplify what’s happening without distracting from it?”
With a minimalistic approach, Tucker still finds opportunities for bold creative choices that distinguish his work. In a short film for Legacy of Royals, Tucker’s imagery celebrates Black women in opera. He depicts strong, proud images of them dressed in bold patterns symbolic of culture, standing center-screen and contrasting the muted surroundings of a vast field of unrecognition. In the midst, banners of royal cloth wave across the frame, draping its subjects in well-deserved majesty.
Although film has been Tucker’s outlet for sharing the stories of others, the craft has helped him discover intimate nuances about himself.
Film is therapeutic for me,” Tucker says. “It’s revealing because it holds a mirror up to who I am as a person and it forces me to be honest about what I feel, how I feel and why I feel it. I can’t express the honest emotions of my subjects and characters if I’m not honest with myself.”
In exploring and discovering himself through his work, Tucker also uncovered a confidence he believes will propel him to new heights as he begins directing and producing his own projects.
“I don’t look outside of myself for the answers anymore. Whether I’m on set, conducting an interview, making a storyboard or just living my everyday life, I know the answer I need to present this story or solve this problem is already within me. All I have to do is listen.”