Category Archives: Montana

issues dealing with being in Montana

Nourished & Nurtured

I woke up this morning to hear the rain on the skylights above my bed.  This generally means it’s beginning to warm up in Montana.  The snow has been melting out of the back yard.  I realized it’s only about 6 weeks until the bulbs will begin to bloom.  I miss my garden in the winter and do not realize what a big part of my life it becomes.  I put a lot of time in my garden last year and it was stupendous.  Gardens take time, and that is the beauty of them.  I had visualized what the garden would look like when I was designing the space.  I came up with what I called the 10-year plan for it’s creation, but last year I leapt ahead several years.  My garden is against a hillside below a vast mountain beyond.  I have been digging into the hillside and building retaining walls of concrete stones.  I also have an old irrigation ditch that runs through the back yard that used to feed orchards that were once below the property.  It now only flows in the summer, I have completely landscaped it to look like a creek.  I have beautiful old willow in the back with enormous trunks that look like giant hand emerging from the ground with a bank of cottonwoods beyond them.  Raiding everyone’s garden I know last spring I transplanted an entire area of the hillside with about 2000 Lilly of the Valley pips.  They took me three days to plant.  They did nothing last year, but this year I anticipate that part of the hill be spectacular.  I have begun to build cedar fences around the yard and did a great job of keeping the deer out.  Last year I began to build low beds of stonewalls to contain the contour of the north side of the building, and nourished and nurtured the Virginia Creeper I transplanted there 15 years ago.  It became a massive wall of green completely isolating the yard from my neighbors.  I also found a tin of variegated red to white cosmos seeds that I saved from previous years and threw them into the beds creating bursts of color within the green vines.  I also managed to expand the irrigation system to the hillside so most everything becomes self-watering.  Then in the later part of the summer we excavated where the patio will eventually go and laid a bed of crushed gravel.  Of course I have to do everything by hand because it is too narrow to get back there with any kind of equipment.  Now you can see why I didn’t have much time to blog.  The garden has a restorative power of me.  It nurtures me as much as I nurture it.

I see now this project is very much like my garden.  As I am beginning to work on it again, I see so much of myself within every element of it.  Initially I thought it was about investment, but now I as I look back I realize it’s about something more, my creation.  It is more the story of myself, the sharing of my life, and the celebration of my creative existence.  I can’t seem to let it go and keep digging at it, as if I were weeding it somehow.

This is an image of Grant looking out the studio window into the garden and the garden as I was beginning to dig the patio.

It’s My Turn

The journey seems to continue deeper within myself as this last month I have begun connecting to the community that surrounds me and working with some very astonishing people. I miss the daily blog of coming to this page each day, part of what I have been working on it making to old blog more accessible from different points. I am about 2/3rd of the way through creating galleries of the images month by month. It is amazing to see how much was there and is stirring much emotion, still. There seems to be about 500 people per day still access the two blogs, the original and the new site and I feel it’s becoming something important and worth the time I spend on expanding it’s accessibility.

Part of the month I was going through a phase of questioning the validity of the project and what I was doing, thinking that perhaps these thoughts and images are to remain private. My father has been reading it and expresses concerns about me. He says I am a very strong writer, but I think this is the first time I have really let him in my world. I am somehow glad that he wants to enter in and see what I have become. My relationship with him is important to me and a stronger connection is what I need with him at this stage in my life.

I have been spending more time getting out and meeting new people in my community. Last week I photographed several members of the Imperial Sovereign Court of Montana (royal order of drag impersonators) getting ready for and images of their pageant. I posted them on my Facebook and they were stunning and enlightening. It gave me a stronger bond to my own community that surrounds me and gives me a greater sense of place and home here in Montana. I have also been out meeting, having coffee, and lunch with other members around me. Last night I went out, for a charity show and I finally met Soul Seeker, one of the guys whose manhunt profiles intrigued me into writing a blog about internet cruising sites. It was an amazing moment of coming to flesh of someone who had captivated and inspired me and see the extraordinary intrigue in his eyes, as he seems genuinely pleased to meet me as well. We are so lucky in many ways that we have such an amazing group of people that surround us. Many of us are from Montana, there seems to be such a healthy strength everywhere I look. Most everyone is aware of my project and what I have created and there is a certain pride about it that touches many of them. The project in that sense has become a reflection of my time and era as so many others are also relating to my process.

It seems everything I touch now is about me and I see the world that surround me from a new perspective; unique, unusual, quirky, marvelous. I am finding great delight everywhere I turn my camera. Though the last month has mostly been about me I have been bringing new subjects into the studio and am shooting most everyday. The explorations have been deeper and more personal then I have ever been. There is a truth and honesty others want to share with me and they allow me into vulnerable places. It’s still an explorations and I am not sure if these images will be for exhibition because they seem more raw, I feel more raw, more exposed then ever. Somehow the process of getting to work out there now seems less important then the actually process of creation. It becomes more about who I am, how I have lived my life, and having connected to something beyond what I ever imagined possible.

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.