Category Archives: Missoula

Issues dealing with being in Missoula

Is Modern Film Missing the Final Reel?

It is that time of year when all the “Best Of” lists begin to come out.  I always loved movies so this was always a fascination for me to review these list to see how my opinions compared to others.  This morning I saw my first top list of movies from 2011 on the NPR website.  The woman doing the reviews seemed a bit perplexed by the lack of standout movies for the year.  She thought it was a year of ambiguity in the industry and there were no major films that really won people over; but mostly split the viewer ship of those who had seen them.  As I perused the list I began to realize I had not seen a single movie that was released in 2011.  As I began to cut and past titles into Rotten Tomatoes, a movie information site that I used to adore and followed religiously on a daily basis, I realized how much this industry has changed and it was now like navigating a mine field to even find a spot to paste those titles due the site being taken over by a barrage of moving advertising.  I worked my way through the list of movies, trying to gain more insight, when an emptiness began to fill the pit of my stomach.  There was nothing here that even sounded remotely interesting.  That old excitement for finding a rare gem of a film that would challenge the way I saw myself or give me a new perspective on my world, somehow was missing and I began to think back to when was the last time I actually saw a film?  The last time I entered a theater was to see Avatar, whenever that was, and I utterly disliked the film and experience I have not been back since.  Granted I have taken the year off to become consumed by this project but what has happened to world I once loved so dearly.  I guess in a sense it has all come home.  I still watch stuff, but when the movie houses become filled with glorified video projectors, and Blu-ray at home outshines them it becomes harder to go sit with a group of strangers who are texting, talking and chewing, to watch a dimly lit presentation, at an exorbitant price for me to even go anymore.

My connection to the movies as always been strong and passionate.  I began working as a projectionist when I was a young kid and had to stand on a box to see out the portals from the booth and by the time I was 18 I was managing a local theater chain in Missoula.  Movies utterly captivated and entranced me.  I knew everything there was about every movie and saw most everything released throughout the year.  It was the soul of my livelihood and I lived as if my very existence hinged on them.  Growing up in a small community in Montana they become a rich fabric in which we learned to see ourselves. Every emotion I have ever felt was first experienced in a movie.  What has happened over the years?  How have I fallen so out of love with something that inspired me for decades?  Today I feel a loss, like a part of myself is missing.  Perhaps it’s just a sign of aging but I am still searching for a revelation in the flicker of that celluloid magic.

Gilbert M: A Lust For Life

Today I wanted to write about a man to which I owe much of my creative life. His name was Gilbert Millikan, probably one of the greatest champions for arts in the state of Montana. Gilbert passed away in 2003 from brain tumor and I cannot let this year’s project pass without paying a tribute to him.

Gilbert was born, raised and spent the greatest portion of his life in Missoula. His father was a smart businessman who invested in properties and owned the original Bitterroot Market, which is now where the Bitterroot Flower Shop is located. Gilbert’s mother was involved in many social organizations throughout the valley so Gilbert inherited the best of both those worlds. He is probably the kindest, most generous man I have ever known. He was somewhat of a philanthropist toward the creative process, the creation of art, and artists of all sorts. There were two sides to Gilbert, one his outgoing social butterfly, and the very reclusive man who often chose to remain hidden. He lived in an old Victorian Mansion, with his two little yappy dogs Sunny and Happy. He was passionate about gardening and developed the grounds of his Victorian Estate into the most extraordinary gardens. This is how I sort of got to know Gilbert. I was a student in college and rented an old carriage house on the property that had been converted into a self-contained guesthouse. I would occasionally help him with the upkeep and planting of those gardens. Movies were another passion we both shared and every Saturday afternoon we would go off to see whatever was new. His passion for movies so astonishing that he bought a video rental business that he grew to become one of the biggest and best in town outlasting any franchise that would dare enter our small community.

Probably the deepest level Gilbert and I bonded was that we were both gay. Though he was much older then I was, he was fascinated by how open I was and how the culture around us was becoming more open and the world seemingly more tolerant. The reclusive side of Gilbert’s stemmed from a certain amount of shame he felt from being gay and the difficulty he was having with his own acceptance of his sexuality. He had a long time partner, but they had become estranged and lived in separate houses in the same block. Anyone who would meet Gilbert would instantly recognize he was gay, as much as he tired to conceal it. I worked off and on for Gilbert for many years whenever I was in town, eventually becoming his personal assistant until his untimely death. I nursed him through his final months as he struggled with the tumor taking command of his life. Upon his passing, he endowed everything he had owned, properties, massive art collections, and estate to four arts charities in the state of Montana, which were considerably under funded at the time.

All those years with Gilbert I learned to face a lot of my own fears and anxieties. Gilbert had instilled in me a passion for what was beautiful and that all creation comes from the soul weather you are photographing, gardening, or cooking. He was a man of amazing means that lead a humble life. Everything was done and approached with as much enthusiasm one could muster with no expectation of an end result. Though he was not an artist himself, he was fearless in his approach for cultivating other artists and brought humanity to the creative process and instilled a passion for others to create. He became a great patron for many artists in the region, filling his house with the works of others. He believed in me when I couldn’t see it within myself. He believed that we had to earn everything, and didn’t hand it to me, but always created an exchange. The honor of artistry was something that had to be earned, like any other business and that anything was possible with a lot of hard work. This instilled an ethic in me for my own creation that seems to drive my passion deeper.

My dear friend, though it has been many years since your passing I wish you could see the seeds you have laid in my heart for what I have become this year. You would ever be so proud of what I have been able to accomplish. The best of everything you ever were I now carry forward. I have now become that artist you had always believed in as a young man. My compassion, honestly, lust for life, and ability to see into the humanity of others I owe to you. Thank you for the gift of such a precious life.

Photography 101: The First 10 Years

I began chatting yesterday with a man from Minneapolis Minnesota who was interested in coming to Missoula to go to the Rocky Mountain School of Photography this summer. He is an architect and interested in becoming an architectural photographer. He had lots of questions about the school and about Missoula. Fourteen years ago I made a decision that I too wanted to become a photographer. I had never owned a camera and really never taken photos before. So one summer I enrolled in Rocky Mountain School of Photography summer intensive program, that was then just a few years old then, It was 11-weeks of shooting processing, printing and critiquing. It became a turning point in my life. It was pre-digital then and we learned everything the old fashioned way of exposing film, processing it with chemicals, and printing it our selves in the darkroom. Everyday was a huge leap and everyday we were required to produce one color slide and one mounted black and white print for evaluation. I remember is was frightfully expensive, but for that 11 weeks all I did was eat, drink, create and dream photography. The course then didn’t really lead you toward a professional end, but it gave you a good start, teaching you the fundamentals and pointing you in the direction of where to look for the larger answers. The school still thrives today, though I can’t imagine spending 11 weeks now only on digital. I ended the summer broke, but at least able to shoot with the basic fundamentals of self-expression. That fall built my own darkroom and began to grow from there.

I know most of the students whom I took classes with didn’t peruse the craft beyond that summer and in a sense the school seemed to be more targeted at glorified hobbyist with lots of money that wanted to spend a summer in Montana. Photography is one of the most expensive passions I have ever engaged. The equipment is expensive and becomes more expensive the more proficient you become at the craft. For years and years everything that I made, off the process, completely went back into the process, plus some. Now days it is still ever changing and evolving and seems to become more affordable for beginners. In a sense it feels the market for professional photographers has fallen through the floor as the automatic cameras and software make it possible to any and everyone to take a decent picture. Back then, to undergo the process and take the time and expense to create an image meant that the image carried a great deal of significance. Today I wonder if that significance remains the same or has it just become altered. I could spend days working on a single image. Today I create it in moments, transfer it to my computer and have a completed print within a few minutes. It took years to understand the technical nuance of exposure, composition, and how to translate what I saw into an image. To perfect the art of seeing and relating my feelings and emotions to the moment I clicked the shutter. Though I mostly am guided by the instincts now it is still a process the make a single exposure. I have since thought other students the process of photography, but my emphasis is always on how to use the instrument you have to create your own expression. There are so many subtitles to the art of photography that the expression becomes unique to each individual. It becomes a matter then I turning off the automatic settings and making choices for your self. Defining exactly what you want the image to convey through the use of various lens and focal points of those lens, to stop of blur a motion, to create a depth within the image that defines your point of focus. It is not something that is mastered in a manner of weeks but has taken me a lifetime to cultivate and most often without reward. To become a photographer one needs to have a passion for the craft and it’s artistry. It is a process that is rarely perfected and never completely learned. We change as much within ourselves as the technology forces us to change and adapt to new techniques.

As I began to convey my personal conception of the art of photography to my new friend I began to see how much I have grown through its process. How much it has shaped my conception of the world. I just hope I was not overwhelming and scared him off. The art of photography is still an awesome process, even if only with an I-phone. Like everything else in life, you get out of it what your put into it.

The Creative Path Less Followed

It seems far easier to be creative then it is to actually market or sell your creativity. This is becoming the lesson of this week. This is the greatest leap in my creative endeavor so far since this project began. I think back to the beginning of when I was first getting into photography and the greatest hurdle was just getting my self to the creative table. The beginning of a creative existence is filled with self-doubt and anxieties surrounding whether we are good enough or even talented enough to create. It happens in baby steps. For me doing “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” a 12-week program by Julia Cameron which created that leap in my head that said it was OK to be an artist and the acceptance of myself as a creative being. With each success your confidence grows. The consistence of creating good stuff begins to outweigh the mistakes and, believe me there are lots of mistakes, you reach a tipping point where you become a master of your craft and nearly everything you work on is at least interesting. But it is a long voyage of forcing yourself to the creative process that continually nudged your way to that point of this clarity. The next hurdle seems to be exposing what you create and putting yourself out there for judgment and criticism. Of course this has been my greatest obstacle because of what it is I want to do and the acceptability of it in the culture I live. The first Friday evening of every month all the galleries in Missoula have a gallery walk where everyone is open late and you can wander from shop to shop and see all the new work that is up for the month. It has been a huge success in Missoula because they typically entice you in with wine, beer or some sort of edible treat. But these shows mostly only contain images of western themes or landscapes, the usual sort of paint pealing off the old barn sort of work. If I where to display my sort of imagery I am afraid I would create a scandal sort of thing and my studio would possibly be fire bombed. So this has become a huge leap in my own creative acceptance. The next phase that I feel I am on the verge of overcoming is creating a presence. This is the culmination of the process of this year and the process of search for a place. This phase has been far more creative and certainly more work then the process of creating art where the process of art began. Along each step there is a huge growth and a better understanding of myself and the things that seemed insurmountable in the beginning are now trivial in the end. Why does it take most of us our entire lives to become what it is we desire or aspire to become? Is it that we just don’t know the pathway? Does it become a battle with our own self-doubt? I began this year asking the question from many of my artist friends “Are we born to be artists or is it something we learn?” I now see what a tremendous amount of time and perseverance it takes to create anything. But so many of us put that amount of time and effect into things we are apathetic toward as a means to an end, just to make a living. When the real question becomes what is it that really satisfies and makes us happy. I know most of my life has been lived in uncertainty. But I have had this impulse all of my remembered existence and somehow at this stage it all seems worthwhile.

Lack of Intimacy In A Creative World

Sorry no blog yesterday, every time I sat down to do it I would get distracted by something else. It was one of those extraordinary fall days outside that was sunny and unusually warm for this time of the year. I had my nephew Brenden come over and help me clean the property and prep it for the winter. I somehow thought I would be able to put him to work and I would get to write and work on my computer. But he is not very experienced and I began to realize the work of pruning and cleaning the beds was only specific to me. It was so beautiful out that I just decided to stay and get everything caught up. Then we had Glenn’s mother for dinner in the afternoon, because I had a wedding consult at 5:00, to shoot a wedding next month, and had to attend the dress rehearsal for a University production at 7:00, for a shoot on Wednesday night. When I got home it seems a bit late to blog so I settled in with Glenn. This seems to be the extent of all of my days.

The production I saw the rehearsal for was called Grace And The Art Of Climbing and seemed to focus on a woman dealing with intimacy issues. It really got me thinking about my own life and I began to question if perhaps I too have intimacy issues of my own. I began to think about relationships in my past and how perhaps I have pushed so many people away. When I began to ask Glenn about his perceptions of me and how I function within our relationship? He genuinely said he was happy and realized I had lots to accomplish. Most of the time I feel so focused that I know I am not really present to him and our relationship, and often times it feels like I notice him in the distance watching me. From my past experiences it seems the points of my life where I have been highly creative are the points where the relationship begins to falter. I cannot equally focus my attention in both directions at the same time. That’s why in the fall when Glenn goes off for two months to work somewhere else I try to focus on huge creative projects and seem to get the most productive work accomplished. I think artists in general are people who suffer from relationships more then anyone else because we have to disconnect and rechannel our passion toward what we create. Life in art is not easy and I think this is why many artists are single and probably drink and or use drugs. When we are creative our intimacy is our art. I am lucky, Glenn recognizes this and allows me that creative flexibility with little demand in return, in fact supports, it by taking care of the everyday things that distract me from the creative process.

I am reminded of an incident when I first met Glenn and I was asked to work as an associate director for a large film festival we used to have here in Missoula. I was responsible for logistically pulling the entire festival together. I worked with a woman named Cinda Holt who had help Robert Redford organize the Sundance festival in it’s early stages and we created a similar festival here in Missoula for and with artisans behind the camera: art directors, cinematographer, writers, directors. We screened films for a week and brought in all the filmmakers including Kenneth Turan from the LA Times to facilitate the event. For this project I had to book the films, that spaces, contact all the people and logistically get them to and from Montana, arrange accommodations and coordinate the mass army of volunteers to make the project happen. For several weeks it was all consuming for 24/7 to pull the project off. The project was a huge success, but it about destroyed my relationship with Glenn at the time. He was so angry that he refused to attend any of the events I had just spent every ounce of my being orchestrating. This hurt me so deeply that my own partner would not stand beside me at a moment of my greatest achievement. I now recognize it was a defining moment in the relationship where I disconnected, perhaps we both disconnected. Our relationship has since grown. Now Glenn is my creative partner in all my wacky self-absorbed endeavors. My projects and creative life has since grown and some how we have all adapted. My days do not get any easier and my need or sense of accomplishment never seems to cease. I don’t promise it will get any easier, because I know that would be a lie all I can recommend it that you “fasten your seat belts because you are in for a bumpy ride” as Bette Davis says in All About Eve.