Musing December 2017

A Project Evolves and an Obsession Ends

Back in 2009 I became interested in photographing the Erie Canal. As a project it offered history and historic structures in contemporary use, it covered a sizeable and varied topography and was within a day’s drive of home. The locks and dams on the Tennessee River where I grew up were huge and inaccessible but my first visit to the Erie Canal’s more human scaled locks hooked me in. I started my research and visited my friend, Dennis Stierer, to take a look at the historic flight of five locks giving Lockport it’s name. So began my seven-year obsession to find as many parts and pieces of the original (1825), the enlarged 1845 and new modern Barge canal system.

Dennis and I tracked down and photographed the remains of virtually every section of the canal that we could find. We led six workshops, several Photographers’ Retreats and made several trips a year in all seasons to work along the canal. This fall we closed a 100-platinum print exhibition at the Kenan Art Center in Lockport and finished our latest workshop along the lift bridge section moving west from Rochester. My digital files are downloaded and I am scanning the processed negatives from this last trip.

Walking through the exhibit, looking at the digital files and negatives it is clear to me that the obsessive photographing part of this project is nearing an end. I have photographed the entire length of the canal at least three times and certain locations more than that. I will continue to photograph along the canal for the images that can be made better, images made with newer insight, but the obsession has passed.

For me the Erie Canal is becoming like Scotland, a location I photographed intensely for years, researched and questioned, and although the obsession is ended will still return to seek a new photograph now and then.

The real question is what’s next for me? I have been working on a long-term project on Maine, the Maine that tourists and visitors don’t often see. I will continue this work but don’t feel a compulsion to work on it solely. I know there will be a “next” project that will consume my attention who’s questions will obsess me and the answers be revealed only as I work through the project. It will involve structures, history and require research because these three things seem to be the foundation of every project I undertake. I look forward to discovering what’s next for me.

I wish you all good progress on your own journeys in photography in the coming year.

Tillman

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