February 23, 2015

VUMC mourns award-winning photographer Dana Johnson Tallman

Dana Johnson Tallman, an award-winning photographer in Vanderbilt University Medical Center News and Communications from 1999 to 2009, died Sunday, Feb. 22, due to complications from cystic fibrosis. She was 42.

Ms. Tallman was a native of Bowling Green, Kentucky, and a 1994 graduate of Western Kentucky University with a degree in photojournalism. She held staff positions at several newspapers, including the Jackson (Tennessee) Sun, before coming to Vanderbilt.

During her decade at VUMC, she was photographer for all Medical Center publications, including the VUMC Reporter, House Organ, Vanderbilt Medicine, Hope, Momentum and Vanderbilt Nurse.

One of her award-winning achievements was the 2005-2006 VUMC Annual Report, One Day, in which she organized a team of 13 photographers (including herself) who shot photographs throughout a 24-hour period at the Medical Center. The publication won a League of American Communications Professionals Platinum Award as the best annual report in its class nationwide.

“Dana always lived life to the fullest. Because of her own health challenges she possessed enormous empathy and was able to interact with our patients and their families in a unique way,” said John Howser, assistant vice chancellor, Medical Center News & Communications. “We will remember her friendship and the gentle way she approached everyone she encountered, along with her outstanding photographic skills and the many contributions she made to Vanderbilt.”

Coworkers remember her as an unfailingly cheerful person with an ability to easily connect to photographic subjects, from faculty and staff members to patients and visitors.

“Dana was a phenomenal photographer who had the knack for always catching just the right moment,” said VUMC Reporter editor Doug Campbell, who worked closely with Ms. Tallman during her time at Vanderbilt. “But she was an even better person — kind, caring, optimistic and full of love. Her personality and spirit lit up more rooms than her camera flash ever did, and she will be deeply missed.”

Ms. Tallman's knack for photographing children was often on display, including this shot of Ivianna Saddler getting a close-up view of a cow's eyeball during Brain Blast 2009 at the Adventure Science Center. Photo by Dana Johnson Tallman

Ms. Tallman was active in the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and for many years fielded a team of walkers, “DJ’s Hits,” during that organization’s annual Great Strides walk. She also wrote a personal account of her experience with CF, which was published as a House Organ cover story in 2004.

In it, she wrote:

“Emotionally, there is always the element of fear. There’s always the fear of being sick and having to face the battle yet again. There’s fear when they remind you that CF is a progressively worsening disease, and what that means. There’s fear I won’t ever get married, have babies, all the things that “normal” people get to do. I fight anxiety and depression and sometimes have an overwhelming sense of despair, especially when I get sick.

“All of this is to tell you part of what it is like to live with a life-threatening disease every day. I also want to tell you that I also live with hope, with joy, and an appreciation of this world and living every day. I am so blessed, despite having CF. I am a happy person.”

Four years after she wrote this, she, to her great delight, was married — to Ken Tallman in a beach wedding in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He survives her, as do her parents Layne and Judy Johnson; brothers Nathan and Ryan; sisters-in-law; numerous aunts, uncles and cousins; and four nieces and a nephew.

She was an active member of Crosspoint Church, at which she led a married couples group with her husband. Visitation for will be Friday, Feb. 27, from 1 to 9  p.m. at Living Hope Baptist Church Chapel, 1805 Westen Ave., Bowling Green, Kentucky. Celebration of life will be Saturday, Feb. 28, at 2 p.m. at Crosspoint-Bellevue Campus, 7675 Hwy 70 South in Nashville,  preceded by a visitation from noon to  2 p.m.

On her Facebook page, Ms. Tallman listed two favorite quotations. One was from the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “…but the greatest of these is love.” The other is attributed to dancer and writer Vicki Corona: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but those that take your breath away.”