Musing March 2017

Close Enough isn’t and Good Enough won’t be

I should have two trashcans in my darkroom – one labeled “good enough” and the other “close enough”. When I catch myself thinking a print is “good enough” or “close enough” then the print needs to go into the designated can. This is my own short hand to myself that the print is not up to my standards. It reminds me to question if I’m rushing to get the job done by cutting corners, just to be finished with the print.

Each of the past 10 years Donna and I have aimed to hang completely new work in our home gallery. We have 65 spaces for images ranging in size from 5×7 to 16×20 and sizes between. It takes several months to go from choosing which the images for work prints, selecting from these those for the exhibit and then making the final prints. Throughout the process we continue to tweak the images, print choices and location in the gallery during our (euphemistically called) “blue tape period”.

We’re now at the point where we will title, date and sign prints before they leave for matting. When they return we will take down the old work, frame by frame, clean and install the new image and hang it in place. This requires a full week of careful attention, but the hard decisions have been made so it is not difficult. The best part is twofold: showing the work to people and getting to live surrounded by it for the year.

The work this year is primarily from my trips to China and Japan. Our open gallery/studio day this year is June 17th and you are all invited. I will be giving platinum printing demonstrations throughout the day so come on by anytime between 9 and 5.

About halfway through the editing, scanning and proof printing there was an update to Adobe Photoshop CC which changed the curves for my digital negatives. As often happens, this caused me to stop and reevaluate my digital negative procedure. It took me about ten days to sort everything out but now the prints are looking right to me again. Many prints are still being torn up and thrown away but not because the curves aren’t working.

When I looked at those earlier prints and said “not good or close enough” I knew something wasn’t right. Probably no one but myself would have noticed the difference without looking at two prints side-by-side, but I did and had to do something about it. This is why I’ve always said one of my most important darkroom tools is an industrial sized trash can!

Why do I think this is an important story to share? It is simple. What each of us is doing is our art. Most of us aren’t going to get rich making art (though some artists do and other people win the lottery… are the odds similar)? The rest of us make art, photographs, paintings, or pottery because it brings us pleasure and because we have to. Something inside us would die if we couldn’t express ourselves through our art. We do it because it allows us to tell the world how we see things, what we define as beautiful and about what we are passionate.

There is a difference between, “this is the best I can do today” and “this is good enough or close enough”. As artists we are constantly learning, reinventing, and remaking our craft. As we improve our craft, our vision expands and we see new potential and possibilities for our materials and expression. The more art we make the more our craft improves and our vision deepens. It is an upward growth spiral.

Accepting “close enough” or “good enough” is a slow death spiral. The “best I can do today” inspires growth. Today’s “best” often goes in tomorrow’s trashcan. Stopping at “good enough” can leave you discouraged and disappointed because you know deep down inside it’s not your best. By refusing to accept “good enough” or “close enough” you will push yourself to better work and that is all that matters.

Our mothers’ had it right, “Do the best you can”. It sets a high standard but it will keep our hearts and spirit alive.

All the best,






Collectors Print Special XXIX


Welcome to the first 2017 Colelctors Print Special! These images  are selected from my Olson House portfolio. Andrew Wyeth documented life on this isolated, saltwater farm. He painted Christina, Alvaro and their home as symbols of Maine. I photograph the Olson House because of the light pouring in from the oversized windows, bouncing off the hard surfaces of the rooms. Without the life and vitality of the Olsons, the house lost its appeal for Wyeth and he searched for new inspiration. For me, the inspiration continues as the spectral presence of the past weaves in and out of the light. Different artists… different muses.

The Olson House was gifted to the Farnsworth Museum in 1991. The contents of the house had been removed, including the stove, and the house stood worn and silent. I made Stove Pipe, Olson House, Cushing, ME in 1992. I loved the angle of the light coming across the wall, leaving just a hint of the door to the barn off to the left.

All Collectors Print Specials are approximately 5” x7” platinum prints, in editions of 25. The special price of $225.00 is available ONLY during the month of offer and reflects a 45% savings. (Full retail pricing of $500.00 + shipping reinstates on the first day of the following month.) Shipping costs within the continental U.S. is included but prorated to other locations and ME sales tax applies for ME residents. Your print arrives signed, numbered and un-matted – within 30 days of the end of this offer. The next specials will be individually available in May, August and November.

A bonus 5thimage is yours when you purchase all four images in this year’s collection. You can pre-order all four images when you order the February print special. We can keep a credit card number on file for the year or you can be invoiced and pay by check. Prints will be sent individually each quarter.

 Please return the order form to me by February 28, 2017 to reserve your copy of this month’s Collectors Print Special (XXIX). Thank you for your order!

I hope you enjoy this year’s selections!



Newsletter January 2017

Happy New Year everyone! I wish you good health, prosperity and an abundance of time to make great photographs! Regarding the last on the list, the best way to make those great photographs happen is by doing, by getting out and making new photographs regularly. Some of you find this easy to accomplish on your own. Others find that a week away from their life’s routines sets in motion the groundwork for incorporating a new routine for time to photograph. Aside from the creative sparks a change in location can bring, a workshop also provides camaraderie, knowledge and fun!

The response to my brief email about the 2017 workshop schedule has been enthusiastic and I’d like to use this newsletter to give you a bit more information so that you can pick the best workshop for your interests. I’m a planner and letting you know as soon as I have the minimum to run a workshop is my goal. This keeps travel expenses lower for all of us. It also allows me to schedule other business opportunities into the gaps (which Donna reminds me is the business part of Tillman Crane Photography)…

As we have for the past several years we begin the workshop year with the Portfolio weekend. Limited to 8 participants, each photographer brings a portfolio or selection of photographs (not digital files) to the workshop. We meet briefly on Friday night to introduce our work and ourselves to each other. Saturday and Sunday we spend an hour discussing each person’s prints. Saturday’s focus is the technical and aesthetic aspects of the work. Sunday we arrange and sequence the work as if for an exhibition, book, or continuing portfolio. Leaders include myself, my wife Donna (my editor extraordinaire) and Tim Whelan (photo historian and bookseller) but the most important feedback often comes from your fellow photographers. Portfolio Weekend, March 3-5, 2017

The Photographers Retreat is just that: the chance to meet, talk and share work with other photographers. It is a laid back relaxed weekend of fellowship and photography. It is my chance to be a student and not a teacher. I always see interesting work, meet new photographers and reconnect with friends I have known for years. This year we are returning to Peters Valley School of Craft (note the name change) in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It is a tuition-free event though you are responsible for travel, room and board. Eighth Annual Photographers’ Retreat  April 28-30, 2017

NEW workshop! Pinholes, Portraits and Cyanotypes with Russ Young. Russ lives in Floyd VA, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. An expert on pinhole and cyanotype photography Russ’ farm also offers a great south light studio for portraits and still life work. We will create landscape images along the parkway and on his farm the first part of the week. The second half we will make digital negatives and cyanotype prints. This is a great opportunity as both an introduction to alternative photographic processes and a chance to try out several historic soft focus lenses. I hope you will join us for Pinholes, Portraits and Cyanotypes!, May 21-26, 2017. Class size 10

The Abandoned Farms of North Dakota workshop has been one of the most popular workshops over the past 8 years. This year the workshop is in August rather than May. The weather should be perfect and we will be there when the harvest begins. If you have been to North Dakota in the spring you may seriously want to consider returning in the late summer. It is a completely different landscape and experience. As in every previous year, there will be about 25 locations to photograph, some old but many new as access, availability and nature continue to change the landscape. If you have always wanted to attend the workshop but the timing was wrong, this is the year to make it happen. Dan Smith and I look forward to seeing you in North Dakota this August! Abandoned Farms of North Dakota, August 20-25, 2017. Class size 15

This year’s Erie Canal workshop is located in, what I call, the lift bridge section of the canal, Brockport, NY. We will photograph from the Fairport lift bridges to the step locks in Lockport. We will also spend a day at the George Eastman House (Rochester) touring behind the scenes of the print and camera collections. Join Dennis Stierer and me in chasing the fall light along the Erie Canal. Bicentennial of the Erie Canal, September 24-29, 2017. Class size 15

New workshop! Autumn in Guilin, China. If you have been following my adventures over the past few years you know that I have been spending more and more time in China. Last summer I spent 5 weeks in Guilin, learning a little Mandarin and a lot of culture at the Chinese Language Institute. I have teamed with C.L.I. to create what I think will be an extraordinary workshop experience. We will spend ten days photographing in and around the Guilin area. This workshop is not a tour where every day you go to another city but rather an excursion for photographers where each day you will explore another part of Guilin and its environs at a photographer’s pace. I hope you can join me for this unique exploration of the beautiful Guilin area. Autumn in Guilin, China, October 22 – November 1, 2017. Class size 12

Portfolio Consultations, Book projects, and Private/Semi-Private Tutorials in Platinum Printing and View Camera technique scheduled by request. Tutorials are generally from one to five days and the focus is on you and your interests! It’s an efficient way to get what you need in a limited amount of time. Contact Tillman ( for further details.

This year we made the difficult decision to increase our workshop prices. This is our first workshop price increase in over 10 years and we hope it will not be the deterrent in your choice of workshop teachers.

We will still continue to offer the same discounts as before:

  • Save 10% if you pay by check and in full at the time you are invoiced for the workshop.
  • Save 25% if you are a returning student taking a specific workshop for a second time or more and pay by check.
  • Save 15% if you are a returning student taking a specific workshop for a second time or more and pay by credit card.
  • These discounts can be combined.
  • Discounts are not available on private/semi-private workshops/tutorials.

The registration process for workshops is simple: Fill out the on-line registration information. No deposits required on workshops. As soon as we have the minimum to make the workshop a “go” we will contact you. Invoices will be sent out at that point. Every effort will be made to announce a workshop’s viability within two months of the start date.

Big news of note: Bob Keyes wrote a 2-page feature article on me in the January 8 Portland Press Herald Audience section. You can read it here.

Next month the first Collectors’ Print Special of the year will be available. The focus this year will be images from the Olson House, Cushing ME, made famous by Andrew Wyeth. I have three prints in an April exhibition at the Farnsworth Museum (Rockland ME) along with 5 other photographers celebrating this iconic Maine house.

Wish you all the best of winter light,



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,