Musing June 2017

Big Dreams Make Photographers Great

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” raises the question in my mind of “When was America great?” I think it’s a valuable question to mull on.

For me, America was great when we dreamed big. In driving to my Virginia workshop I was primarily on the Interstate system of roads. The Interstate system was a big dream, which provided easy transportation for everyone with a car to travel around this country. On the road I listened to “Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon”. In less than a decade, America set out to land a man on the moon and did so! While driving I crossed over and under many rail lines. More than 150 years ago intrepid Americans dreamed of building a railroad from one side of the nation to the other and, again, it was competed in less than a decade. For the last eight years I have photographed a project along the Erie Canal. Two hundred years ago the Erie Canal was known as Clinton’s ditch. It was first derided as a folly yet the project successfully paid back its loans early and opened trade and transportation to the American West.

These things were built and accomplished because somebody dared to dream big. None of these projects were easy to begin, all had their critics, all were expensive, and all overcame unexpected problems and crises. For success each demanded new ways of thinking and discovery to solve the problems.

So what does all this have to do with photography? It is simple. We photographers need to dream, and dream big, about the work we do, the projects we take on and the continuous practice it takes to make our voices heard through our photographs. It doesn’t matter what you choose to dream but that you do so. Following it will be demanding. There will be doubters, there will be critics and there will be those that on the surface seem to support your dream but actually throw up roadblocks.

This is a great time to be a photographer. We have the means to make images using any process or format from Daguerreotype to cell phone. We can produce books, exhibitions, installations and share work using the web in a multitude of ways. Yes, there are millions (if not billions) of photographs being made every day. What’s going to set your images apart from the rest and make them notable?

Start by dreaming big. Big dreams make demands; they require time, expense and creative problem solving. Dreams demand sacrifices but also provide larger than expected rewards. Following your dreams will be harder than you can imagine. They will make demands that you can’t see coming. They will take you to places you never expect to go. Big dreams make you think about what you are doing, question why and how you are doing it and lead you to better understand yourself. Big dreams make you take chances, try new things and meet new experiences head on. Big dreams enrich your experience of life.

Failure is not falling short of accomplishing your dreams. Failure is a lack of dreaming in the first place.

Tillman

June 2017

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