One of the things I like most about living in Bozeman is the tremendously deep talent pool I think we live in for a town of our size way out here in the mountains. And one of the people whose talents I enjoy most is Matthew Savery, music director of the Bozeman Symphony.
So I was thrilled to accept an assignment from the symphony to photograph Matthew for their promotional efforts for the upcoming 2013-2014 season.
I respect Matthew not only for his ability as a musician, but also for his commitment to excellence, regardless of how big a town is.
I just got back from a business trip to Palm Springs, Calif. And though I didn’t have a lot of time to sightsee, I did make a little time to visit Joshua Tree National Park nearby. A sign in the park says these trees were named by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s. The tree reminded them of Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land. The Joshua Tree National Park website says the tree is actually a member of the Agave family, that they grow an average of half and inch per year, and that American Indians found them useful as material for baskets and sandals.
My impression was funky.
Al Kesselheim wrote a fantastic story in the latest Montana Quarterly, interviewing a group of Montanans who have recently returned home after spending some time in the Bakken oil field in eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
A bowl of soup with a cup of coffee can cost $10, you might have to wait two hours for a sandwich at Subway, and the line behind a coffee kiosk in the morning can stretch to a mile, Sheamus Conley says. Anything left lying around — particularly tools — would be stolen in an instant, men were sleeping in their cars, raw sewage was overwhelming, water was extremely scarce and wildlife was almost nonexistent. “Not even deer want to live there,” Conley says.
Tim Stefan is an architect in Bozeman. He wanted to explore the opportunities in the Bakken so he learned to drive a tractor-trailer rig, bought one, and hauled building material used for roads and well pads around to the well sites. Stefan now has several design projects going in eastern Montana, including a low-income, multi-family housing project in Wolf Point. “I think the opportunities are available,” he says. “You gotta go out there and figure out what’s going on first.”
“It’s not that I’m a woman that makes me unusual in the oil field,” says Anne, a freelance well site geologist from Gallatin Gateway. “It’s that I’m a Democrat.” Still, “I met some really great people out there. Even if they’re Republicans.” Anne says she had her own bathroom and kitchen while living at the well site. “Once I get out there and start working, everyone forgets I’m a girl.” She says drilling technology is advancing at an alarming rate, making it ever easier to extract oil from the ground. “There’s absolutely no stopping the drilling,” she says. “Not if there’s a drop left on the planet.”
“Misfits. That’s what you’ve got in the oil fields. Basically a prize collection of misfits,” says ecologist Daniel O., who lives in the Bridger mountains east of Bozeman. He didn’t want to use his full name for this story, or show his complete face. “I want to keep my life as low-profile as possible,” he says. Daniel says he bought a camper trailer to live in while he drove a truck around the oil field, naming the trailer, “Wilsee,” as in, “we’ll see.” He says he planned to stay about three years, but lasted about six months, averaging 95-hour workweeks. “I got fired,” he says. Even so, he came home $45,000 richer. He says he was glad he went, but would only go back out of desperation.
“the real tragedy is the cultural aspect,” Daniel says. “the people that grew up out there are overwhelmed. The culture has dramatically shifted on them. It went from calm, slow-paced, agriculture to this high-paced, intense industrial culture in the last five years. And it hasn’t peaked. Far from it.” Daniel predicts the Bakken will be the largest industrial sacrifice zone on the continent in about 15 years, but it will also enable the United States to be energy independent. “In my opinion, for what it’s worth,” he says, “it’s a fair trade.”
Jay Laber is an amazing artist living in St. Ignatius, Mont. He makes wonderful, alive sculptures out of junk: old car parts mostly, many remnants of old cars blown apart by a terrible flood that hit the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in 1964. Now some of those car parts make up sculptural sentries guarding the four entrances to the reservation.
And sculptures aren’t all that Laber can do. He can make flutes out of PVC pipe, he makes and uses his own throwing knives, and he makes his own bows and arrows. But the thing I thought was really cool when I met him is that he can make and actually hunt with an atlatl, a prehistoric hunting tool. This is a rare skill and Jay is a rare man. It was a privilege to hang out with him for a couple of hours.
Lincoln, Montana, sits along the Blackfoot River just over the Continental Divide. And like many small towns in Montana, Lincoln has seen better days. One life-long resident remembers growing up in Lincoln the ranching and timber community. ”That’s pretty much gone now,” Brent Anderson, 58, says. “What keeps the town alive now is Highway 200 because we’re half-way between Missoula and Great Falls.”
It’s a town looking for a new identity. “Lincoln needs some industry, some kind of jobs,” Anderson says.
And Lincoln’s Bootlegger bar shows the conflict involved in the changing economy. Long a place where environmentalists were seen as a threat to the local livelihood, Lincoln is now looking to its dramatic scenery as way to draw in tourists. But under the taps for what owner Vicki Krause calls, “greenie beers,” old attitudes linger. “I’m entitled to my own opinion,” Krause explains. “We serve everybody. As long as they’re not offended, I’m not offended.”
“Snowmobiling in Lincoln is the winter sport. It brings business into town,” says Steve Tjaden of the Ponderosa Snow Warriors Snowmobile Club, which puts on two or three community pancake breakfasts every season for anyone who can attend.
The Snow Warriors boast 250 members from Missoula, Helena and Great Falls, in addition to Lincoln, and the breakfasts feature sourdough pancakes by Bob Orr, far right, who says his batter is about 30 years old. “I just keep it in the refrigerator,” Orr says. “I add a little flour and water every few weeks. It’s kind of like a kid.”
In addition to snowmobiling, Lincoln offers hiking, fishing, and hunting, though feeding the deer that often roam the streets in the predawn hours is illegal. In 2007, a pickup struck an 830-pound male grizzly on Highway 200. The bear died instantly, the driver was unhurt. Then the community got together and stuffed the bear and put it on display at the ranger station on the east end of town.
Lincoln shares a shrinking school enrollment problem with much of rural America. Carla Anderson, left, says she left her position as the school principal in Lincoln about five years ago to help care for her grandson, who needed a liver transplant. When she left, the enrollment in Lincoln was 240 students. Now it’s closer to 130.
Meanwhile, Lincoln remains a busy place. ”Just about anything you can think of,” says Joy Aquino, right, while sporting one of the 200 hats she owns, “we’ve got an organization that covers it.” Aquino is a member of the Fiber Guild, among others, and says the first two weeks of every month seem to have a meeting every evening and most of the days.
And life continues in Lincoln. It may be moving from timber town to retirement community, but maybe that’s not so bad. Denny Peterson, left, and Bob Armstrong trade bean soup for canned fish outside the Lincoln Post Office. “This is how we survive in Lincoln,” jokes Peterson. Armstrong, who says he just trimmed his beard after serving as the local Santa, has lived in Lincoln 32 years. “We like Lincoln,” he says. “It’s a nice place to live.”
There’s a new issue of Montana Quarterly just hitting the newsstands and I think it’s the best issue yet. There are a number of great stories inside, including one by Jeff Welsch about the Little Shell band of the Chippewa Indian tribe. That’s James Parker Shield above, outside the new visitor’s center the Little Shell recently opened in Great Falls. Shield and Tribal Chairman Gerald Gray, below, are in the process of giving the Little Shell long-awaited recognition from the U.S. government.
The Little Shell have been landless and unrecognized since the late 19th century. Gray and Shield are working hard to change that. “Our tribe can’t afford to play stoic Indian,” Shield says. “We have to be assertive.”
Shield remembers living among the Little Shell near this butte, known as “Hill 57,” for the 80-foot whitewashed “57″ a Heinz salesman and his friends and family fashioned out of stones on the side of the hill in the early 1920s. Shield says he grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in a tarpaper shack without electricity, plumbing or phones, sharing one water pump with about 200 other Little Shell. The new visitor’s center sits at the base of this hill.
And the tribe has big plans for this site at Morony Dam north of Great Falls. Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed a bill in 2007 that grants the Little Shell control over the lands. Shield says that when the grass was first mowedon the center lawn, it revealed a circle sidewalk with lines radiating outward to the four compass points. “I knew this was the place for us,” he says. “I looked at it [the circle] and said, ‘This was meant to be.’ “
I have earned my living by making photographs for more than 20 years, mostly for newspapers and magazines. I've authored a few coffee-table books and won my share of awards.
I believe a successful picture is one in which the viewer sees themselves.
The more we see ourselves in other people and in other places, the more we will cherish those people and places. But we must trust the truth we feel.
Truth resonates character. Character resonates truth. When we perceive true character, that generates trust.
Done well, photography speaks universally and authentically, overcoming barriers of language and culture and trust. So I choose photography to share true character of people and places.
I want people to see themselves in the people and places I photograph.
I want people to realize we all have more in common than in conflict.
I've just published a book, Montana: Real Place, Real People. It celebrates the true and authentic people and places writer Al Kesselheim and I have come across in our travels through this wonderful state.
I give a motivational speech called, "Be Who You Is." It's about the authentic, genuine character that I've discovered and been inspired by over the last decade.
My favorite color is orange and I like canoeing, classical trumpet and Nordic skiing. I love farmers and ranchers, even though I grew up in Chicago and I'm allergic to pretty much everything with four legs.