Musing December 2016

What’s next?

I have just had the most amazing experience of my professional life! On November 26th Alchemy of Light opened at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. I was completely unprepared for the experience of walking onto the third floor of the museum to be face-to-face with 30-foot banners of my name and images. My work was grouped into three rooms while a fourth was covered with ceiling to floor pictures of me working in my darkroom along with 10 prints from Dr. Li, who had shepherded this project through the governmental maze. The 100+ images (16×20 and 8×20) were beautifully displayed but were almost dwarfed by the sheer size of the walls.

The formal opening ceremony and speeches began at 10 a.m. in the main entrance hall of the museum. (I gave a thank you speech, but not in Mandarin.) The number (and rank) of dignitaries and representatives of every major newspaper and TV station in the country made for a big crowd. An hour long “seminar” was held for about 100 people during which time I answered questions from the curator and the audience. There was a formal lunch with dignitaries from the government, Beijing University and the China National Photography Association. There was a one-hour press conference with more interviews. There was a book signing. There was a formal dinner to end the day. It was 10 p.m. before I was returned to my hotel.

I will probably never have another show in my life that will compare in ceremony or stature to this one. At moments the experience had me speechless and completely overwhelmed but I am so grateful to my hosts for making this exhibit and this experience possible. If I heard it once I heard it a thousand times that “this show is good for Sino-American relations”. Which, in the end, means it wasn’t really all about me, right? I am grateful that my images could be a bridge between two cultures but the reality of this being about something bigger than me makes it easy to return to the every day practicalities of life.

The week before I left for Beijing I was in Alabama to be inducted into the first class of the Alabama Arts Hall of Fame with nine other talented artists (Wes Chapman (dance), EmmyLou Harris (music), Nall Hollis (mixed media) the late Dean Jones (theatre), Bruce Larsen (Sculptor), the quilters of Gee’s Bend (textiles), the late Mildred Nungester Wolfe (painter) and the late Richard Zoellner (painter). This smaller celebration is the result of the collaboration between Athens State University and Calhoun College, which together created the Alabama Center for the Arts. Students from both schools attend classes and work in these two state-of- art spaces for the visual and performing arts. What an opportunity for students and teachers alike!

As I think back on the past two weeks I wonder what’s next? After examining my “life’s work” up to this point and preparing an exhibition of over 100 prints I am still in love with the platinum print. The process still speaks to me and is the way I want my work seen. As I get older the cameras get bigger and heavier so I am beginning to use my digital camera more. I can still make beautiful 16×20 platinum prints from the files I get out of my Fuji X Pro 1 and X Pro 2. (I have several Fuji large format lenses and the digital lenses are equal to any on the market.) I still love working in large format but am now willing to be flexible where necessary.

I still like to work in a project format, that is, to define a topic and explore it deeply. Currently I am in the middle of long-term projects on the Erie Canal and Maine. I will continue to travel and photograph in other places, in the US. (AL, ND, TN, VA) and abroad (China, Japan and Scotland). I hope to get to new places to do my own work and then introduce workshop groups to these locations. I love teaching. Teaching workshops with dedicated and motivated students in interesting locations is something I want to continue doing for as long as it is possible.

I want to continue to make better prints. The more I make the better I get at making them so that means I need to continue printing on a regular basis.

I want to deepen my vision and my understanding of the places that pull me to photograph. I want to understand what calls to me and how I can better bring that calling into a visual presence. I want to keep looking, striving, pushing myself to see stronger and to make better images. As great as these past few weeks have been I want to continue working and creating. I want to be a stronger teacher, to help others make their images better. I don’t want these two events to define a career. I want them to be a comma or semi colon in a career, a time to pause, reflect, gather, and to move on to greater images. I want to continue to experience new challenges and make new discoveries beyond the next horizon and not be focused on what’s in the rear view mirror.

Wishing you all the best this holiday season,

Tillman

 

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