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Losing Myself In America

By Devin Tolman

Story by Shwood Eyewear February 8th, 2017

I work hard for my photographs in order to shake away complacency and document the world around me. I want to climb higher, walk farther, and move faster to capture those little moments in time that give the viewer an opportunity to feel inspired and create a sense of wonder.

Inspiration is not something you can go out to the store and buy, rather it’s something that’s discovered spontaneously and kept close when found. When I am able to reach out to someone and give them a feeling, even if only for a brief moment, I have given them something very special. As a photographer, my journey is to create images that will stand the test of time and continue to inspire.


White Sands, New Mexico. Self Portrait

The Beginning

My name is Devin Tolman and I’m just like you. I spent the last 10 years of my life working, coasting, and daydreaming that my 40 hour work week was behind me. I would look out at the customers and pray one of them would be kind enough to take me away and realize I was worth more than this uniform and small plastic name tag. The window behind me that beckoned to be stared at was seemingly a portal into a world of endless artistic opportunity, sunshine, and daydreams. I did a lot of my dreaming out of that window. No matter if it rained, snowed, or burst with color, it never failed to keep my mind off work and into photography.


During one of my long introspective looks out of this window, it dawned on me. No one was going to come in and save me, it was time to save myself. I had been one foot in, and one foot out of a photography career for far too long to sit on the sidelines of my dreams any longer. I quit my job, sold what I could, bought an Atlas and drew a big misshaped circle on it. With my fears behind me, my goals in front of me, and a camera around my neck; I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. A dream without a plan is just a wish and I just made my plans.

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My camera and I have seen a lot of things over the years, but nothing compares to the feeling of exploring somewhere new. Watching the world turn before my eyes, I’m reminded of just how special it is to be there. I want to share that inspiring feeling with the world! Which is exactly why I had decided to make my dreams a reality and travel the United States building the photography portfolio I've always wanted. With just enough money and supplies to stay alive, I hit the road. The search for beautiful started early...

the oregon coast

The first mile was at 5:15am. Up before sunrise and anxious before sunset. It all seemed to sink in even more quickly than it started. Alone and afraid. Inspired and hopeful. Motivated and ready.

Blacklock Point, Oregon Coast
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Sisters Point, Oregon
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Secret Beach, Oregon

As the trip slowly progressed, I became more comfortable with the gentle routine of things: fruit and oatmeal for breakfast, soup and cous-cous for dinner; up for sunrise, explore until sunset. After the Oregon coast it was off to the mountains and Lake Tahoe.

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Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe, California
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yosemite national park

The Disney Land for outdoor enthusiasts: Yosemite National Park. A comparable Heaven on Earth.

Yosemite National Park, California
Glacier Point, California
Yosemite National Park, California
Upper Yosemite Falls, California
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Mono Lake

My favorite landscapes are the ones that catch you off guard. I had heard Mono Lake was incredible, but words couldn't quite do it justice. I stayed for three nights hoping for a magical display of color. On my last sunrise, it happened. The kind of colors and moments you can only close your eyes and dream of: beautiful, etherial, and powerful.

Sunrise Mono Lake, California
Sunset Mono Lake, California

Death valley

What an incredible, horrible, scary, beautiful landscape. My first day there it hit 106 degrees and while I slept it never dropped below 90. Normally the temperature wouldn’t be all that bad but less than 24 hours previously at Mono Lake it never hit 70 and was in the mid 30’s while I slept!

I danced in the Salt Flats, photographed the Badlands, and spent that evening at Artists Palette singing with the crickets. It was a truly unique landscape, unlike anywhere I've ever seen.

Death Valley, California
Death Valley, California
Death Valley, California
Death Valley, California
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Death Valley, California
Death Valley, California

moving forward

I’ve photographed a lot, and seen even more. Every place I go I’ve promised myself to be as present and “in the moment” as possible. Which sometimes isn’t as easy as it seems. I find myself so full of fear that my mind races a mile a minute and stops me in my tracks. Fear holds us back, and it also motivates us to keep going. It’s quite a tricky emotion, really. When you are aware of your feelings you can choose to accept them and move forward; not let them hold you back or keep you from what you truly believe you’re supposed to do. With a healthy understanding of self, you can accomplish anything.

Zion Nation Park, Utah

Although beautiful, it wasn't always easy. 29 days into my trip I wrote:

"I can’t dive deep enough into my own mind because I’m not asking myself the right questions. Even with my inner monologue always in motion, I’m just not asking myself the right questions to bring forth the present minded thoughts that really describe to myself how I’m feeling or how I’m handling this. Maybe that’s why it is so helpful to have other people around? Because a good friend listens well enough to ask the right questions that bring forth the right answers. I’m getting good at being alone, but some things I can’t do on my own."


New Mexico
White Sands, New Mexico
White Sands, New Mexico
Petrified Forest, Arizona

halfway

Well, I made it! All the way over to the East coast to watch the sun rise over the water. After a lifetime of only seeing the sun set over the ocean, my curiosity to watch it rise fueled 36 days, 11 states, and just under 7,000 miles worth of driving. A lot of what I’ve been wanting to do, besides make photographs, is learn. I want to learn about how other places see “normal” and remind myself that the world is so much bigger than the one I live in. Eat the food, explore the land, survive the weather, meet the people, and really dive into what it means to be somewhere else.

Jacksonville, Florida

the road home

As I stared out into the ocean watching the sun rise and feeling its warmth on my face, I felt happy. Everything I had put myself through to make it to the halfway point felt worth it. I had survived the longer part of my misshaped circle and everything from this point on, was on my way home.

Wormsloe Plantation, Georgia

Arkansas

It was one of those moments where I couldn't help but feel lucky to be there. 44 days into my trip I wrote:

"Alone in the middle of Arkansas, swimming in a perfectly colored pool, I'm surrounded by surreal beauty. As I sat on a nearby rock, I tried as I normally do to bring my mind the corners of its ability and think really hard about what it is that I’m doing out here. Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you. It is all so intense and takes so many parts of my body to perform, I begin to feel like I am on auto pilot. I try and try to be present, but even in my present mind, I consciously feel almost like what I’m doing isn’t real. Maybe that’s why I take so many pictures of my surroundings? That way when I’m back home I can look back and try and touch the feelings and memories with my mind. I really don’t know. Sometimes, you can only think so far."

Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
Tennessee

I want to see the sun come up, until the stars come out. Dare to learn and experience as much as possible. Have hopes to see something that inspires an idea, which inspires a feeling, and creates a photograph. Climb mountains of thought, and dive into freedom.

Hawksbill Crag, Arkansas
Estes Park, Colorado

Glacier national park

Out of all of the places I was fortunate enough to visit, Glacier National Park holds a special place in my heart. From the clear water, to the rigid peaks, to the animals that inhabit the landscape; It's one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

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Two Medicine lake

As the long awaited Milky Way season finally made its approach, I was eager to photograph it from Two Medicine Lake. I arrived around midnight and set up my tripod over calm, clear water. I sat in awe watching shooting stars blaze over the mountains, while I listened to a slow and soft thunder in the distance.

I sat alone on the shore of that lake watching the world turn and photographing its every move. The clear skies and perfect reflections quickly turned into a powerful display of clouds and light. Lightning cracking and thunder booming, I felt surrounded by its energy. The clouds moved swiftly, but the lightning moved faster. Freezing the clouds in my photograph into a perfect reminder of its power.

Two Medicine, Montana. The Calm Before The Storm
Two Medicine, Montana. During The Storm
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Growing up I’ve always heard, “you can be anything you want to be” and that’s exactly what I plan to do. I desired to take this trip and needed to take it alone. I want to show people that they can do it too. It may seem easy to be envious, but in reality I am absolutely no different than the person reading this. I took my awareness of self and applied it to the necessary steps I needed to create the life I always envisioned. I worked my ass off, saved my money, bought a car I could sleep in, and bought every piece of camera equipment I could need. I quit my boring ass day job and set sail to find out what I don’t know. YOU CAN DO IT TOO. Just realize what you’re afraid of and don’t let that shit stop you. Cause it’s not ever going to stop me.

My final night

I had searched for stars my entire trip. My last night as a dirty, bearded, homeless traveler; I found them.

Pallousse Falls, Washington

home

I made it home. Over 14,000 miles, 24 states, 3 car accidents, 1 eye infection, 4 showers, a head full of memories and a renewed sense of clarity. I am now more photographically successful than I could have hoped for. I took a leap of faith, trusted myself, and hopefully inspired a few people along the way.

It's okay to be afraid. Fear is such a strong emotion and motivator in my life, I don’t think I would be where I stand without it. The feeling of facing your fears and coming out on top is indescribably amazing. Am I going to let fear hold me back? Absolutely not. Did I take this trip and make these photographs to become the artist that I know in my heart, I am? Absolutely. I am aware of my fears and I’m taking them on full speed ahead. I won’t let my fear of bears keep me from cooking outside, I won’t let my fear of failure keep me from succeeding, and I won’t let my fear of the unknown keep me from discovering.

I took this trip and made these images in hopes of changing my life. And I did just that. The moment I realized nothing would change unless I did something about it, the possibility of success greatly out weighed my fear. If I could go back and change anything, I wouldn't. I feel like I’ve felt everything, twice. I’ve been so angry, I’ve screamed at the top of my lungs and given it everything I had. I’ve been lost, I’ve been sick, I’ve been exhausted and I’ve missed home so much, I thought of calling it quits. More than once. I’ve also seen things so gorgeous, and felt things so special, it made me want to cry. Tears of joy, that when you put up with so many things that may seem to get you down, you can still find yourself awestruck at life’s undeniable beauty. When the sun sets, magic happens. When the stars come out, magic happens. When you stick with something that ultimately drives you to the brink of insanity, and come out on top, magic happens. It really is the ultimate test of staying present and in the moment. It’s a practice everyone should pay attention to, but sometimes realizing how important it really is doesn’t show itself until you least expect it. If it didn't rain, the sunshine wouldn't feel so good.

Footnote: Story and photography by Devin Tolman / @devin.tolman