Imagine someone were to ask you to count the number of photographs you see from the moment you open your eyes in the morning until the moment you close them again that night. Between looking through your own work, as well as the various social media and news sites, the number of images we expose ourselves to is probably well over a thousand.
All those photos, plus whatever television and/or movies we may watch, is a lot of visual stimulation for our brains to process. So, it’s not hard to empathize with photographers who say that they never look at anyone else’s work and it’s not that difficult to imagine why our Facebook friends may hide us from their newsfeed or unfollow our fanpage and Instagram. Sometimes, we all simply need a break from all_those_photos.
We’re all visual artists and as such, we should crave and devour visual media by the truckload. If we’re trying to make a buck at this, it’s essential that we stay current; who is doing what, where, why, and when. We need to be aware of what’s trending, what’s selling, and what’s attracting clients. The need to stay current is not specific to any genre of photography. In fact, there is just as much competition in wedding photography as there is in fashion photography (if not more). A healthy bottom line is dependent upon not only if we know what’s happening now and what’s going to happen several months down the road. Keeping on top of clients and potential clients is a job in itself.
What happens, though, when staying ahead of current trends becomes more of a chore than something you actually look forward to? What happens when you simply lose the stoke and literally cannot bring yourself to look at another photograph? What happens when places you usually turn to for inspiration become less exciting than looking through the evening newspaper?
To be honest, as artists working with a visual medium, inspiration is available to us literally everywhere, both in an out of our respective areas of interest. Though that doesn’t mean that we have to like everything we see. In fact, we may be so overloaded with visual stimulation that when it comes time to look at photos for enjoyment, our brains may be so full of other stuff that it allows some really incredible and deeply meaningful work pass us by.
In 2012, 27 year-old photographer Tanner Wendell Stewart traveled to Bulgaria. While he was there, he remarked to a man about how beautiful the baby was that the man was holding. The man, in turn, offered to sell the child to him for 80 Leva (about $50.00 US). Tanner declined, leaving instead with only a black and white photo of the young boy. The exchange was brief, but powerful. In that moment, Tanner felt a change come over him, a solidification of sorts. Despite knowing that he was just one lone voice in a crowd of billions, he felt the need to do his part to help bring about an end to human trafficking and slavery and he set out to do so in the way which felt most natural to him - his photography. Thus, Shoot the Skies was born.
The basic concept of Shoot the Skies is simple and one that probably is not new to photographers; Take one photo a day for a full year. What differs about this 365 project, however, is that, despite taking place on a much larger scale, in designing the project, Tanner knew that every photograph he took, he would collate together and publish, the profits of which he would donate to aid in helping to abolish human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Called a 365 Project, most photographers will take photos of the things that surround them and often those things which are most easily within reach; their family, their friends, their car or their pets. Tanner, knowing that he needed to reach as a wide an audience as possible, knew he needed to leave his comfort zone. Traveling up and down the west coast, relying on the kindness of friends and strangers, sleeping in his car, and sometimes camping out in national parks, he became one of the rare people who not only had a vision of how to change and/or affect the world, but he became one of the even more rare people who was dedicated enough to see that vision through to reality.
To say Tanner went big is an understatement. Looking through his Flickr gallery is all one needs to be reminded of just how incredibly beautiful our planet is - a feeling which is quickly thrown into contrast when you remember how and why Shoot the Skies started in the first place.
Partnering with the A21 Campaign, an organization which not only fights to end human trafficking and slavery, but whose primary focus is to rescue, save, and restore victims of slavery and trafficking all throughout Eastern Europe, the goal Tanner set for the project was admittedly rather ambitious: crowd fund $45,000. To help reach the goal, he set up a page over at Indiegogo, which allows people support the project through the various levels of donations. As of this writing, Shoot the Skies is more than 75% toward their goal.
Keeping with the selfless fashion of the project, after the cost of the book is covered, all proceeds from the sale will be donated to the A21 Campaign. In addition, Tanner is not trying to recoup any of the money he spent on bringing the project together (gear, travel, etc). So, if successful funded (and I believe it will be), Tanner expects to donate a minimum of $28,000 to the A21 Campaign. An admirable feat, to say the least.
Beyond Tanner’s mission and the overall concept of the project which, in my opinion is perhaps one of the most noble I’ve seen in a while, Shoot the Skies is vastly inspirational - at least for me. Too many days pass by where we take our tools for granted. Our gear often sits unattended, gathering up dust. The potential it has to change the world sitting idly by, while we wrap ourselves in another episode of that TV program everyone likes.
I’m not saying everyone should go out and try to change the world for the better (actually, yes - yes they should), but in my experience, inspiration comes to us in so many different forms and, if we pay close attention, it may help or push us in new and exciting directions. Maybe it comes to us in a form which makes us want to hit the gym. Perhaps it comes to us when looking at the work of another artist, which makes us reevaluate and change up our own. Or maybe, just maybe, we experience something so earth shattering, that we’re forced to rethink and reshape not only our core set of values, but to question who we are and why we do what we do.
As people living in an overcrowded world, too many times our lone, single voice is drowned out before it has a chance to gather any momentum. It’s not difficult to see why. Not only are we force-fed an overabundance of visual media - the loudest (and perhaps least deserving) often making their way to the top, but, as photographers and artists, if we wish to maintain a foothold in this industry, we need to force feed our work to the clambering masses as well. And although the silence of turning everything off is sometimes (always) welcome, the temporary blindness and reprieve we enjoy may prevent us from experiencing that single moment when something hits us so hard that we, like Tanner and those at the A21 Campaign, become inspired to do something to effect change - not for the good of ourselves, but for the good and the recognition of those much less fortunate than ourselves. And what better way to spark that change than through the power of the still image.
Further Information on Shoot the Skies Can Be Found at the Following:
As always, thanks for reading.