Tanner Dunn: Overcoming Challenges and Pursuing Artistic Dreams

“Just treat people the same way you treat anyone else. Don't just assume something about someone and just truly see them for what they can become.” - Tanner Dunn

In this episode of What's Your Why? hosted by Emy Digrappa, our guest Tanner Dunn, a photographer and musician with autism, shares his journey from capturing nature's beauty to aspiring to be part of his first ever photography art exhibit. Tanner's determination to achieve his artistic aspirations while emphasizing the importance of treating everyone with respect and empathy makes this an episode of true inspiration and finding your path. Tanner's story is sure to uplift and create a create a curiosity to learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder. Alongside his passion for photography, Tanner's personal journey with autism has driven him to become an inspiration for others facing similar challenges. His determination serves as a reminder that obstacles can be overcome, fueling his dedication to work as a registered behavioral technician and provide support to children on the autism spectrum.

“I have been doing photography as a way to express my appreciation for nature and wildlife. I also photograph musicians at concerts I attend. I too am a musician who plays guitar. When I was 4, I was diagnosed with autism. The fact that I can develop my talents in music and photography, as well as excel in them, is a miracle! For my day job, I work with kids with autism as a way to give back to those in need, just as I received help whenever I was in their shoes years ago.” Tanner Dunn

Key Takeaways:

  • Explore Tanner Dunn's inspiring photography journey to ignite your own creative spark. 
  •  Discover how individuals with autism overcome challenges to achieve remarkable success. 
  •  Uncover the art of wildlife spotting and nature photography to enhance your connection with the natural world. 
  •  Learn effective ways to support children with autism and make a positive impact in their lives. 
  •  Embrace artistic aspirations and learn the importance of treating others with respect in your creative journey. 



  • Visit Wyoming Humanities website at ThinkWY.org to learn more about the organization and subscribe to the podcast for future episodes. 
  •  Check out Tanner Dunn's photography on Instagram and show your support by following his page and engaging with his content. 
  •  Consider reaching out to Tanner Dunn for any photography inquiries or collaborations, as he continues to develop his photography career. 
  • Consider exploring opportunities to support individuals with autism, such as volunteering or donating to organizations that provide resources and support for individuals with autism. 


#Photography #Inspiration #Nature #AutismAwareness


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What's your why is brought to you by Wyoming humanities. And I am your host, Emy Digrappa. Our mission in this podcast is to inspire, engage, and inform, bringing you relevant, timely topics about our shared human experience. And today, we are fortunate enough to be talking to photographer Tanner Dunn. Tanner frequently travels to Wyoming for photography and has a great love and appreciation for nature and wildlife.

And so I want to welcome our special guest, Tanner Dunn. Welcome. Thank you very much for having me on. I appreciate it. Absolutely.

I love having you here. And when I first saw the photography that you were doing, I think I was on Instagram, actually, and I was like, wow, this is incredible. And then I started kind of reading your story and thought, I need to talk to him, and I need to explore how and why you got into photography. All right, man. Where do I begin?

I've always loved nature as a kid, and I moved to Colorado for a couple of years after high school. And then I ended up going to college at BYU, Idaho in Ricksburg, Idaho. And frequently I would go on nature drives with people and saw a lot of beautiful scenery. And I just photographed it because I love the mountains. And suddenly after maybe three years of that, people started saying, hey, you kind of have a knack for this.

And I kind of thought they were being nice. And then one trip to Jackson Hole, there was one particular photo I shared, and it just kind of blew up all of a sudden. And that's when I kind of told myself in a confident have, this might be an avenue to explore. And here we are another three years later and we're talking about it. So just kind of happened in a very organic Tanner.

So that is interesting. And how did you get involved working with different magazines or on site publications, online publications who were using your photography? Truth be told, it wasn't until this recent trip to Jacksonville where I started getting a lot of messages for people to use my work. And you're wanting to ask about publications. Actually, there's another kind of photography I do, and I photograph musicians that I admire at concerts.

And these are some pretty famous musicians, and a couple of them have actually used my photos to promote their upcoming concerts or use them as their Facebook or Instagram profile pictures. So that was kind of the first official publication I had, if you will. But it wasn't until these recent photos that you saw, which led to this podcast, that really had people coming and say, hey, can I use your photo to use it as a reference for a painting? Coming up. Hey, can I buy this for my Airbnb?

It just kind of came out of left field, and it was overwhelming in a good way. I love that. And I do remember reading that in your bio, and I wanted to ask you more about your music background. But before we do that, I do want to kind of go back in your life, in your history, and talk to you about when you were diagnosed with autism and what does that mean? Because there's so many different kinds of autism.

What does that mean for you and how does it change your life when you're autistic and how does it change your learning? That's a very good question and I'm happy to share. So I was diagnosed when I was four. The doctors pretty much told my parents, hey, he's not going to be able to function like a normal person at all. He's not going to be able to read, write, and if he can't read, he can't even understand what he's going to read.

Frankly, us having this conversation was out of the books as far as they were concerned. And so growing up, I went to a lot of occupational therapy, a lot of school counseling. And looking back, and I didn't realize this at the time, but I really struggled with some things that other kids didn't while growing up. I just didn't really put my finger as to what until about high school, when I really kind of saw it from a hindsight point of view. But honestly, it was just a lot of work and a lot of miracles from God that got me to where I am.

Honestly, I say this in jest, but kind of seriously, I love for the doctors who told my parents that he's not going to be able to do much to look at what I've accomplished over the last several years with photography, graduating college and a bunch of other things. And so it was a struggle to get there, but I did. And basically what I like to say is, if I can overcome what I went through with autism, anyone else can. It just may be a little harder or maybe a little easier, but they can do it. Wow, that's amazing.

And do you think it was? Because at that time, because I think a lot more has been learned about autistic children since then. Do you think at the time they just didn't know how to deal with it? That could have been a possibility. I mean, I never really thought about that one before because when I got diagnosed, it was either in late 99 or early 2000, somewhere in that ballpark.

Yeah, I never really thought about that before. It's a very good question, actually. Your parents obviously have supported you tremendously. Very nonstop support from you. I'll be forever grateful for everything they've done.

What do you think? Knowing that you're autistic, did that make you feel disabled or different or handicapped?

My parents first explained that I was diagnosed when I was ten years old because that's when they felt that I'd be able to understand it, because I remember around that time, I just kind of picked up, like, wait a minute. I'm one of the very few students who have been going to this certain counselor in school and no one else has. And I started to pick up on these certain things that I was kind of like an isolated amount. And so my parents explained it to me one summer, and for a little bit, it was kind of a lot to take in because I think I was around nine or ten when I was around nine or ten when they told me. But honestly, I never once felt like I'm disabled.

I mean, there were definitely thoughts of, I might be a little bit different, but I never once told myself, I'm undisabled. Like, I'm not going to limit myself. If anything, I use it as a catalyst to grow and take the challenges of life head on. That is excellent. And I'm sure you've met other autistic children or young adults, and you say in your bio that you work at a day job and you work with kids with autism as a way to give back to those in need, and just as you received help when you were in need and you were in their shoes.

And so what kind of autistic children do you work with, and where do you work? So I work for a company called Wyoming Humanities alliance, and I'm actually taking a very big exam for that's called the RBT exam. And that's when I'll officially be certified as a registered behavioral technician. And so I've been meeting with clients as kind of a training, but also, it's like my actual job now, but it's very interesting to see how different children are affected based on where they're at on the spectrum. Like, with some children, it's like you really never guess they had autism with initial contact.

But until you really know what you're looking for, then it's kind of like, okay, I see. Here's the signs, but with some of them, it's like, within the first two or three minutes, it's like, okay, yeah, we got some things to tackle. We need to tackle now. But it also kind of put my life into perspective in some ways. I think back and it's like, yeah, I struggled, but I don't want to sound like I'm comparing, but I was definitely more fortunate than some as far as what I had to deal with growing up.

Well, that's admirable that you've decided to do that. And like you said, give back. And actually, it probably helps you grow as a human being to know other people who struggled or have struggled, and you probably can give them excellent tools to help them along the way because you had to use those tools. I have nothing but the utmost compassion for those kids, and some of them are teenagers. And it's just at the end of the day, the way I see them, they're just normal people.

They're not different in my eyes at all. They just have different struggles than others. Well, that's an excellent way to put it. I love that. Now, tell me about your photography, because someone, and somehow you recognized that you had a good eye for seeing things that maybe other people didn't see.

So how have you developed your photography? Honestly, whenever I'm in nature, well, I can do this more when I'm a passenger than a driver, obviously, but I'm just constantly looking out the window and just seeing if I could see anything. And when I first got complimented that you have an eye for spotting, if you will, we were in Yellowstone, and this is about six and a half years ago now. We were standing there, and I was just looking across this kind of like this cliff we were on, and I saw this massive brown mass just walk out of the trees on the other side of the river. And it was a grizzly bear, and it was kind of in the trees, but in my mind, I thought it was as clear as day.

But some people had to look. And when one of my other friends saw it, they're like, that was a great catch. How did you see it? And I'm just thinking, there's a boulder with legs and a mouth with sharp teeth walking right there. It was that big.

But ever since then, even looking for roots, sometimes they love to hide in the sage brush. And honestly, you got to look for the antlers because they can kind of blend into things. But honestly, once you know what you're looking for, I mean, it comes easy to me. But with some people, I understand that they're just starting. My thing is just naturally, the more experience and more time, the more I knew what to look for and how to track and really just know where the animals tend to live.

Well, Tanner, who trained you on high level photographic equipment? Well, I'm going to be 100% honest with you. I'm self taught, mostly. I mean, there's some photographers that I met in Utah over the years and Wyoming who have given me tits and pointers. Sadly, I don't even know half of their names because we were only met on the initial interaction.

We just never saw each other again. But there's been several who I've met, who I've met in Utah who have followed me over the years, and some of them even told me where to go in Jackson Hole when they knew I was going. I would totally say their names, but I didn't get permission to use anyone on a podcast. But I'm sure they're going to be listening at some point and they have my utmost thanks for the tips and pointers over the last couple of years that we know one another. Oh, that is great.

So you're self taught. Oh, my gosh. So you were saying earlier that your love for music and photography also came together. Was it before you started photographing?

Uh, were you already photographing?

So technically, it all kind of happened at the same time because when I go back to Texas to visit, I actually ended up moving back. How the music thing kind of started is that I moved back to Texas for about seven months in 2018 and just kind of took a break from school to spend time with family and work. But as it so happened, I started going to concerts during that time. And about a year later, there was a band in Dallas, and they're called Red Long Drive. Side note, you should check them out.

And the singer of the band at the time, he contacted me over Facebook about a year after I saw them, and he said, hey, are you coming to the show? I saw that you're going to be back in town. I'm like, yeah, sure, I'll come see you guys. And he's like, yeah, you're the guy who took those killer shots last year. And I'm just.

I mean, I just posted some photos on Facebook. I just thought there were other know, but then I ended up taking some photos and I kind of took it seriously. And I remember that particular lead singer commented after the concert, and he said, you have a future in this. And again, I just kind of thought those people were being nice. But then about two years later, there was another band that I saw in Las Vegas, and this one is a bit more famous.

They're called LA guns, and I've been a fan of them since middle school. My dad got me into them and I posted some photos and I sent into some of the guitars. And the next thing I knew, some of the band members followed me on Instagram and were sharing my photos. And one of the guitars asked if he could use my photos on his website. I just kind of thought, what the heck?

Like a nature thing, a concert thing. Two different worlds kind of collided then, and I've just been rolling with it ever since. And everything just kind of naturally took off from either going on nature drives or going to concerts. It's been great. Well, that's a perfect way to stumble onto something that you really love.

And what is the saying that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life? It's very true. Honestly, I kind of feel that way right now. It's not a dread doing photography or going to work with the kids with autism. It's always like, okay, I'm looking forward to this.

All of it's fulfilling in its own way. Yeah. And so now, are you able to make somewhat of a living off of your photography or you're not to that place yet? Not to that place yet. So I partnered with this one company last year, and little did I realize that some people would buy some things, but I barely made a profit off of it, so I discontinued my partnership with them.

So, honestly, my goal and whether this happens or not is to be determined. My goal for next year is to be a part of the Park City art exhibit that happens over the summer. And so I need to find out who to talk to there. But several people I've talked to have said you should participate in that. It's a great way of exposure.

From then on, assuming I get there, I'm going to start asking around. Or just even if I don't do the art exhibit, I'm going to ask some photographers up there, what do I need to do to start really selling my work out there and make a profit off of this? Well, it definitely seems like you have such a natural gift. And what did you call it? An excellent spotter.

Yeah. Excellent spotter is a term some of my friends have.

That. I love it. Tanner, before we go, what do you want to share about yourself with the world? Know, not just growing up with autism, but just teaching young people. Like you were saying, I just see people as regular human beings.

They might have different struggles than me, but we're all just out there together. If there's anything I can say that I've learned in my 28 years of life, I mean, I feel so old saying that, but I realize I still have a lot of life left. Just treat people the same way you treat anyone else. Don't just assume something about someone and just truly see them for what they can become. Or in other words, see them how God can see them.

And so you do that. Making friendships will be easier, making connections will be easier, and ultimately, you'll just be happier because you're not throwing some absurd judgments with everyone you meet. So that's really all I got. No, that's a lot. You got a lot.

You got a lot. So thanks, Tanner, and have a beautiful day, and I will definitely let you know when your podcast airs. And I just want to thank everybody for listening. And this is Wyoming humanities, and I'm Emy Digrappa. Thanks, Tanner.

Thank you so much. Take care. You too. Bye.

00:16:51Thank you for joining us for this episode of what's your why brought to you by Wyoming humanities with support from Wyoming Humanities foundation and generous supporters like you. To learn more, go to syncwy.org to subscribe. And never miss a show.