Tyler Northrup’s Homage Puts the Spotlight on Raleigh Movers & Shakers.


Local photographer Tyler Northrup focuses his lens on the people who make Raleigh tick.

The names of Raleigh’s movers and shakers are well known—the mayor, the city councilors, the famous chefs and the big-name real estate developers. What is perhaps less well known are the names of the folks who work outside the spotlight to make and maintain the city’s image. These are the carpenters who are renovating homes and building furniture, the bakers who fill pastry cases and hungry bellies, the folks who design the signs that adorn those famous restaurants… in essence, the tradespeople who continue to breathe new life into vocations that have been at the heart of human existence for centuries.

Hoping to turn the spotlight on these very people, Tyler Northrup has begun a new project titled Homage. The Clayton-born photographer, who took inspiration for the project from Irving Penn’s seminal Small Trades series of photos, has so far photographed more than a dozen people from different disciplines across the city. There’s Brian Chiarizia, the woodworker and fabricator behind Rebuild Fabrication Co.; Taylor White, a painter and muralist; and Maria Luna, one of the bakers at Andrew Ullom’s Union Special (Ullom is also part of the series). 

“I’d always wanted to do portraits of prominent Raleigh people,” explains Northrup, “but the way I wanted to do it never really materialized.” Penn’s Small Trades was a longtime favorite of his, and Northrup quickly realized he could do something similar. 

“It just kind of clicked, to combine the two things,” he says. “I love the city of Raleigh and the people that make it what it is.”

Northrup selects subjects who come from historically vital trades and shoots them all against the same backdrop and in the same light and style, equalizing all of his subjects. His dedication to emulating Penn’s original concept included finding a space with the same kind of north-facing windows as Penn’s sixth-floor walk-up studio in Paris. He even custom-ordered a backdrop from a business in Serbia that specializes in Irving Penn reproductions.

Northrup is equally as excited about emulating his idol Penn as he is about working with his local subjects. “These are the people that make everything go round,” he explains. “These are the people you don’t see very much, but who are vital to the fabric of Raleigh.”

He adds, “Ashley Christensen couldn’t do what she does without all the cooks. Raleigh Denim couldn’t do what they do without seamstresses.”

Chiarizia was his first subject—and someone that Northrup immediately had in mind when he began to dream up Homage. “I wanted to include him,” says Northrup, “but the ancillary benefit was getting to meet him and chat with him.”

“I get to meet and talk with all these people, so many of whom I really love what they’re doing. So much of this is a project that I have wanted to do for a long time. It feels right to do it for me, and I hope that other people enjoy it too.”

—Tyler Northrup

Northrup asks his subjects to bring some tools of their trade with them to the photo session. You’ll see Chiarizia holding a wood planer and some pieces of lumber, Ullom with a bench scraper for dough, and interior designer and art director Bryan Costello perched on a midcentury modern chair.

When shooting chef Jake Wood of Lawrence Barbecue, Northrup says he expected Wood to show up with a knife or cleaver. Instead, Wood showed up with an ax. 

“He explained that he chops wood every day for the smokers with that ax,” says Northrup. Without that ax, without the wood, there is no barbecue.

As it stands, Homage has an open-ended timetable, and Northrup is not exactly sure what the final project will look like—be it book or exhibition or just letting it exist in the digital atmosphere. For now, he is content to keep photographing and featuring the people that he sees as the beating heart of Raleigh.

“I get to meet and talk with all these people, so many of whom I really love what they’re doing,” says Northrup. “So much of this is a project that I have wanted to do for a long time. It feels right to do it for me, and I hope that other people enjoy it too.”

For now, peek the first few photographs of Homage on Northrup’s Instagram account, @tylernorthrup.





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About the Author

Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.