Cristina Fletes-Boutte--The Tangents Interview
This summer, Cristina Fletes-Boutte brought her considerable talents in video production and photography to the service of Trig Innovation and its clients. After completing her undergraduate degree in photography at Louisiana State University, Cristina moved to the Triangle area to take on a master’s degree in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
With successful stints at The Washington Post and NPR under her belt, Cristina arrived at Trig, eager to bring her perspectives from the worlds of art and journalism to what she sees as a collective of creatives searching for better solutions to express product attributes and brand connections.
We sat down with Cristina to capture her sense and sensibility for her work at Trig, and how her background, education, experience, and self-motivation inform her central role in the firm’s emerging service areas that shape products and markets for clients.
Tangents: What drew you to photography/video production?
Cristina Fletes-Boutte: As a child, I loved poring through my father’s huge collection of National Geographic magazines—he had whole bookshelves full of them. I’d spend many rainy afternoons in Memphis pulling them all down onto the floor, making a huge mess, enthralled by all of the photographs from around the world.
While I loved photography from a very young age, I didn’t pick up a camera with any level of seriousness until my college days at LSU. My parents gave me a point-and-shoot digital camera for Christmas, and I loved experimenting with all of the settings—black-and-white, different tones, and even video.
At the time, I was pursuing a major in English. That following semester, one of our assignments was the Depression-era documentary, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Like many English majors, I struggled to keep up with all of the different written works we were assigned, however, I found myself especially frustrated with the wordiness of this particular book and instead flipped to the photo essays by Walker Evans embedded in the middle. The first image I came across was of a woman with gaunt features and piercing eyes. There, in one instant, I immediately understood the immense poverty and suffering of the Great Depression. What the author had been trying to communicate with thousands upon thousands of words, Evans did in one image. That shook me to my core, and I knew immediately that I wanted to make photography my life’s work.
The switch from English to Photography may have required me to up the ante on my technical prowess, but my introspective nature was always a key asset. Photography is more of a mindset than an occupation or activity. It’s about possessing an innate curiosity about everything, yet having the ability to take a step back and observe situations and environments. Most of all, it’s about finding the beauty in everything.
One of my favorite subjects to photograph is my family. For one of my projects I asked several members of my family to sit in the yard on a plastic chair—the men would hold pictures of their fathers, while the women held pictures of their mothers. The resulting photos spoke volumes about how images are made up of so much more than lines and tones—they serve as placeholders for a particular time and place in our lives and often become priceless artifacts as our memories begin to betray us.
After finishing my degrees at LSU and UNC, I had the wonderful opportunities to work at the Post and NPR—exposing me to two vastly different, yet equally effective approaches to journalism. The Post taught me that once you’re “in the field,” you won’t always have total control over your work. A national newspaper like that is obviously deadline-driven to the hilt, so it challenged me to bring my best to the table with each assignment, within a really tight framework.
NPR, on the other hand, was very open-ended, with lots of creative freedom, working on longer-term projects. There, I learned how to wisely steward high levels of artistic freedom. It’s easy when you’re having fun, doing what you want to do, to take your eye off the ball. But the people there are so committed to bringing their best work and meeting their deadlines, never sacrificing the fun or the deliverables.
Tangents: What attracted you to working at Trig?
Cristina Fletes-Boutte: From the time Ty Hagler approached me about working for Trig, I could appreciate this company and how it’s structured for success. I see it as a group of creative professionals who try to find different ways of presenting information on products, as well as connecting customers to brands. What drew me in was the room for my growth, aligned with Trig’s growth and that of its customers, by establishing a service that’s a real void right now for many companies.
I had no preconceived notions about doing more commercial work—I entered this project with a completely open mind. While I always want to push myself to become better with each and every client engagement, I always need to step back and make sure that our client is absolutely thrilled with what we deliver.
Tangents: What do you enjoy most about your work at Trig?
Cristina Fletes-Boutte: There’s no “prescribed formula” here, something I think is quite rare. It speaks to the trust that Ty has in each of us within our respective specialty areas. So in the area of camera work, I have a voice—a real say—and get to articulate my vision for the work first. This strikes me as very unusual—Ty is an open book. He tells me about the products and the person involved, and then cuts me loose to put together a vision for the photo or video work.
This is the foundation for what I love most about my work at Trig—the creative freedom I have to use my own vision and judgment to make decisions based on my abilities and my limitations. I also love working as a team with the Trig team and our clients, plugging in with people in our group for animation, website, and social media projects.
Tangents: What do you think is the Trig team’s greatest collective strength, now that you’re a part of it?
Cristina Fletes-Boutte: We take a product out of the dry realm of deliverables and shape it into something much more—real brand-building. Sometimes our work is tutorial in nature, such as instructional videos, and that’s fine—people have to know how they’ll actually use products. But what I really love is grabbing people emotionally on how they connect with the product on multiple levels.
I’m reminded of the recent Tide commercials during the Olympics, and the way they connected athletes and their mothers—the same women who washed years and years of sweaty, dirty laundry, who now had the privilege of watching their kids triumph at the Games. I want to keep pushing boundaries for Trig and its clients in much the same way, garnering those really deep connections that people have with products they use every day. That’s been the real thrill I’ve found in commercial work. Ultimately, people are interested in other people and connecting with them. There’s so much of this work for us to do and do well.
Tangents: Tell us something else, outside of work, which fuels your passion.
Cristina Fletes-Boutte: I’m a runner and have been since joining the cross-country team in high school. What I love about it, and I can’t help but relate this to my professional mentality, is that you don’t have to compete with others to succeed. You can simply go out and run, challenging yourself to do better each time. I run almost every day, and I learn something about myself each time.
Like work, some days are better than others, but there’s always a learning opportunity, an opportunity to improve. While my professional schedule is fairly prohibitive to doing scheduled road races, I tend to do well when I do stop to measure myself against others. It’s funny that you can achieve so much, whether it’s in running or in professional pursuits, by simply measuring against your own performance each time. If you try to get a leg up on what you did yesterday, you can often exceed your own expectations. And in business, this mentality has meant that exceeding my own expectations makes a “wow factor” for a client that much more likely.