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Getting To The Core Of Who Your Subject Is

It’s been a couple of weeks since I have been able to write or post a new blog.  I have been super busy lately working on more commercial work that needed priority.  One of the projects I work on this time of year is the promotional images for The Montana Rep Theater Company’s national tour that goes out at the end of January.  So much of my work has a theatrical quality to it.  I worked in theater for so long that it still sticks with me.  I guess it is just a part of my nature.  I love the idea of tapping into the emotional resonance of an image.  One of the things that most people first learn when working with me on images is how quickly I connect to others.  I once read an interview with Robert Mapplethorpe where he talked about the importance of establishing a relationship with his subjects.  Meeting, talking, getting to know, and sharing with the person you are about to create images with.  He would never shoot anyone cold that he didn’t know.  This stuck me at the time and I have modeled my own approach to photography in this manner.  It shows in the image how strongly the subject connects to the photographer.  I mean in a sense we are all photogenic.  But I see so many young or beginning photographer’s images and it feels they are only revealing the surface of the subject, because the subject seems distant or aloof.  Yes the image may be pretty and technically good, but that is only a small fraction of creating an image.  Establishing the working relationship first breaks down some of those barriers and creates more of an intimacy in the final image.  Somehow people trust photographers in ways they don’t trust others.  At my first meeting with a subject that I will possibly photograph nude, often revealing insights that are intimate and personal.   Perhaps I know the right questions to ask, perhaps they know and trust my eye and body of work, perhaps I have a reputation that whatever they say or reveal will not leave the walls of my studio.  I am not sure, but it gets me closer to the core of identifying who they are.  The actual photographic process can often be distracting due to all the technical elements involved in creating the right exposure and adjusting the lighting as I begin to discover what works best with their skin and personality.  The subject somehow trusts this.  My focus always remains on them, discovering the nuance of who they are.  I shoot a lot of images during a shoot, but with each shot I try to discover more about who they are.  I never work on the surface.  Part of my theatrical training is the ability to constantly coax out their best, each image becoming a step further.  I guess this is what I really love about the process.  To me, my segue from working in theater to photography was just a natural progression.  In a sense it’s still staged, but I have just moved from the box of the proscenium arch of the theater to the box contained within the frame of camera.

There Has Always Been A Strong Sense Of Community Here!

Though we live in what many would classify as a small town, Missoula has a great sense of gay community.  It seems to have always been that way.  Of course Missoula being the gay mecca of the region if not the whole state.  I feel an overwhelming pride and joy to have been part of such a remarkable community in such an extraordinary place.  When I first moved to Missoula in 1980 to go to the University I was not quite sure of my actual sexual orientation. I knew what I desired, but was not sure how to get it.  Gay was taboo, something not talked about with no visible signs.  Though my desire at that age was strong my revulsion was stronger and kept me at bay in actually seeking it out.  After several years I finally began to venture out and meet a guy whom eventually become my first partner.  Much to my amazement he was connected to a community that was quite strong and prolific.  He manned an office on the third floor of the Wilma building overlooking the marquee of the theater, for an organization with a community center called “Out In Montana”.  Hanging with him in that office I began to meet many others that were alike and finally felt like I had found a place I belonged.  This group was quite active with meetings and all sorts of organized activities.  There were picnics in the parks, house parties, nights out with the boys, movie nights where we actually when to a theater, all sorts of things constantly organized.  I quickly gained a vast body of friends and become a part of a community where I felt completely supported.  There were annual events on Memorial Day that would become a weekend long party sort of event that would closely approximate a modern day pride celebration, with organized dances, theater events, and a talent show.  What a great time and place to come out and find my own sense of identity.

Though the world has changed and we now interact in different ways, mainly though social media, I still feel that feeling of community around me.  Perhaps it’s just that I have been here for so long that I just know so many people.  A week or so back I went to the Gay Men’s Chorus annual Christmas Event and it was like stepping back in time.  There were several hundred people in attendance and I knew most of them.  This is a place where people’s hearts and souls are open to each other.  We still have an active community center, we have FDH & Associates, a gay community based health organization, and every thing seems to be thriving.  I see what a strong healthy community we remain after all these years.  Missoula is like  a wonderful melting pot.  There seems to be very little fear and anxiety here, where we are not judged, but are encouraged to be tolerant of each other despite our differences.

I left Missoula for many years, working in many places, an exotic dance boy in Dallas, a very popular bartender in DC at one of the hippest bars, and many years working in theater, not staying very long anywhere in particular and never did I find of community as strong as Missoula.  I now laugh when I overhear the young kids say, “I can’t wait to get out of this place” and I typically whisper in their ears, “yes but don’t let what is here pass you up”.  This is the time of your life and savor every moment.

A Flutter of Activity

Last week was a flutter of activity.  I needed to turn my focus toward the Missoula Art Museum Auction and finish off my other website for it’s opening.  The art auction was a huge success for me.  My framed photograph of the Helmville Rodeo creating somewhat of a bidding frenzy and drove the price up, finally going for $1900.  This is very good for the Missoula market, photography in particular.  Mine becoming the 12th highest priced piece to sell of the evening of 110 pieces being sold.  I am now being offered shows spots around Missoula area. This sort of establishes me as an artist in this region of Montana.  My cyrphoto website is now structurally in place, with just a minimal amount of on going tweaking to keep it operational.  I now have the month of February to begin to focus back on this project.

Yesterday I began a conversation with Cheesecake painter artist Paul Richmond whom I have admired for such a long time.  It just started out with a simple hello and the day ended with him sending me a selection of his images to become the next profiled artist on the project.  I was up well into the night creating his gallery.  It feels so good to be back here again.  I have missed this community.  I working on an article about Paul and will have it all posted later in the week.

I have also lined up several new models and will get back to shooting again the beginning of next week.

Back to a Point of Lost Innocence

I woke up this morning thinking about my cousin Kathy.  There were three families from that generation, and each had three children and she was the only girl amongst eight boys.  I always felt a particular kinship with her, perhaps because that unbeknownst gay genetic gene was always present and she had dolls and I could feel safe and at home in her room.  She was always the person I went to and confided all my secrets with as she did with me.  In a sense it always felt like we could share everything.  But most importantly she never judged me.  Though we all knew I was different, not being able to label it as such.   She always accepted that difference and helped me to nurture and hold on to a side of myself that always seemed hopeless.  I was taunted and teased by other boys because I was so odd.  I was very sensitive and shy with a big heart I wore on my sleeve.  Some how others seem to take advantage of this vulnerability, but Kathy was always there, close, comforting, pulling me out of the muddy mire.

Lately I feel I have been feeling a bit lost and have come back to this project to somehow reclaim myself.  As I begin to clean though the files I begin to see how much doubt and fear so much of my life was based on.  I have been looking for the champions who have helped me through those though times.  Kathy was truly one of the champions in my early life.  I owe so much of my creative ability to her.  She is truly the woman of my light.  She supported me unconditionally.  She gave me such courage to find and accept myself.  I somehow didn’t see, or had forgotten until I dreamed about her this morning.  Somehow it feels like my conciseness is beginning to make its way back to a point of lost innocence and my dreams lately have been about people I have forgotten.

The years have passed and Kathy’s and my life have moved in different directions, in different cities.  We now see each other at family outings once a year or so, and it feels like we are strangers.  The last time I really connected with Kathy was several years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer; it was a beautiful crisp spring morning.  She came to the garden I was planting, we sat in the gazebo, in the beautiful light that morning, and opened our hearts talking about all the things we had lost, and how we always seem to reclaim ourselves.   I realized this morning, that Kathy I have you let you know how much you are loved, adored and admired.  Thank you for all you have ever done for me.

The Other Side of Me!

I have been splitting my focus working on my two websites, one day on this, and the next on creating a business site with my regular photography.  This is the time of the year when the photography business tanks and I get to catch up on all the stuff I have been neglecting for a long time; a sort of nurturing and renewal before the spring.  The site is nearly complete and then I will begin to turn all my energy back to only this project.  It kind of all began, last month, with getting the Helmville Rodeo image accepted into the Missoula Art Museum, raising the bar for me to showcase my skills and talents.  I am beginning to think more in the terms of the actual creation of pieces of art from my imagery.  Though it feels like I am still a bit of a controversial artist in Missoula, I still need to create things that can sustain me.  Yes, I do weddings and other portraiture.  I love the whole idea of somehow getting into the gay wedding market.  I love doing weddings and to do gay ones seems to be a perfect match.  I did photograph one a couple years back and had the time of my life.  Montana has not yet accepted gay marriage, though I think it will be soon to follow. The western part of Montana is quite progressive; it always has been, well since I can remember.  I have mostly always been open about my sexuality and no one, even in the small town I grew up in gave it much of a thought.  Looking back I see my fear was more internalized then actual.  Spokane, Washington, just a few hours across the mountains has legalized gay marriage and could become a viable market.