David J. Spear’s Butte Photos On Display at Paris Gibson in Great Falls through Feb. 11, 2013

January 18, 2013  |  Art, Do, Drive, Events, News

Butte is my adopted hometown. I always say if I die and am reincarnated, I want to come back as a Butte Girl. I shot most of my Senior Project there as a MSU student in 1992 & 1993. I thought about moving there after graduation, but at the time there was no speed limit and I could get there from Bozeman in less than an hour. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to be 23 and single and living in Butte, so I visited her on the side and–20 years later–I’m still visiting her on the side. (She is Pat Shannon to my Charles Kuralt.)  I am completely inspired by her architecture & street life (it’s the only town in MT where you could be a street photographer). So though I like to go there for a good time, I have never been able to fully commit and think of  her as my  long-standing mistress.

Earlier this week, I had to add caption info to a photo I’d take an the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art and was on their website when I came across a current exhibition titled A Timeless Town in Time – Butte, MT:  The Photography of David J Spear – 1977-2008.   The thumbnail shows a beautiful black & white image of  what appear to be two twirling Tieman Irish Dancers at practice.  I started Googling Mr. Spear and from what I can tell, he is a part-time photography instructor at Salish Kootenai College. According to their website he teaches courses with titles like “Documenting Your Community” and “Historical Aspects of Photography Practice”.  In 1985 he also, according to his bio on the Salish Kootenai College website, developed the International Center of Photography’s Community Outreach Program for underserved communities of New York City and was its primary instructor through 1997. This KILLS me because I took my first (of many!) documentary course at ICP in the spring of 1997, so just missed him. His images have been published in the New York Times Magazine, Granta, German Geo and others. I am dying to interview him and have a call and email in to him, so hopefully I will be posting an interview with him here soon.

Meanwhile, here is what he says in his artist statement about his Butte exhibition:

“I was inspired by Butte’s photographic history and wanted to add my own contribution.  Beginning in the 1990s, I started making regular trips to the region from New York to photograph for a week or two at a time.  My fascination with Butte’s historic buildings and neighborhoods occupied me until the town’s inhabitants began to allow me to make their picture. 

In my work I become engaged in the coming in and then the going out….. the coming in and the going out of making photographs, even with things and subjects that know me.  In the process of making these pictures I journey to an unfamiliar place and, like all outsiders, after arrival feel an urge to belong.  But American culture often defines us with questions like, “Where were your parents born?  Where are you from?” which inwardly feels like “If you’re from there, you can’t be from here.”  So I continue to travel to this place….. each trip arriving as an outsider, and with each departure leaving in a small way distantly connected to the things and people in this place I know as,Butte, Montana-A Timeless Town In Time.  The coming in and the going out, I suspect, will reoccur there for a time.”

I hope I can make it to Great Falls before February 13 and see this.


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