back on the air

For what it’s worth, photomontana is live again here on It’s at for the time being, though the links will redirect and will probably be the main address again eventually.

For now this may be as much an archive site as a place for new stuff, but we’ll see how it plays out. Most new photos that I make will show up in the instagram feed over on the left. I’m in town for another day or two so I decided to set this up and re-launch it before I head up into the mountains.

I’m likely to be in and out of range of wi-fi and cell signals for the next few months — if I’m able to post I’ll probably do some. If not I’ll be pretty inactive for periods of time. In that case, if I have something I want to post, I’ll catch up when I’m back in range. Being out in the natural world comes first — I’ll work my blog and internet activities accordingly.

Thanks, and keep in touch.


ignore the box


To be aware of the history and the accepted standards of your chosen medium but not be bound by them… to be willing to experiment with new tools and techniques and ideas… to not only think outside the box, but to ignore the box altogether… to keep an open mind to different philosophies and ways of working…to me these are the cornerstones of a rich, rewarding, creative life as an artist.

we’re all artists

Pulled from the archives.  Originally posted in October 2010

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I know it’s getting to be a bit of a cliché already, but I think any of us who pursue any kind of creative endeavors should keep it in mind and remind ourselves of it occasionally. We’re all artists.

What is art but a personal response to the world around us, and a means of expressing that? Woody Guthrie once said something to the effect that our modern society is the first that pays professionals to make our music for us, and that’s true of other art forms as well. The role of artist has been placed on a pedestal, and has been treated as an almost holy position that only a chosen few can fill. But nothing is further from the truth. Each and every one of us is born with the spark of creativity and expression. That’s not to say the talent and skills are equal in everybody, but the spark is there. Skills can be learned. Talent can be encouraged and nurtured.

Kids know this instinctively. Just give a child a box of crayons and some paper and watch what happens. Picture after picture flies off the table, and before long the refrigerator is papered top to bottom with the latest masterpieces. It comes naturally.

Too often our artistic side is crushed over the years. We are taught through years of school to pursue more practical skills, to find a career, to prepare ourselves for a world of commerce and consumption. The arts, though not totally discouraged, are given short shrift, are considered hobbies and pastimes, but are seldom thought of as suitable options for adult life. Societal pressure, peer pressure, family expectations — these all further reinforce that attitude. As well-meaning as it may be, it can still be crushing to a young person. The message? Forget about art. You gotta have a real job.

Then, in most cases, comes marriage, that job, the mortgage, the responsibilities of modern American adulthood. Artistic aspirations get crushed even deeper into the dirt. Soon they’re buried and forgotten. A few may continue to pursue art as a hobby. Others might rediscover creative pursuits later in life. Most lose touch with their creative impulses altogether. Their voices are stilled. It’s tragic. A rare few don’t get sidetracked and live a life built around their need to create art. They’re the ones we commonly call artists.

I’m going to steal a couple of brief snippets from Andreas Feininger’s book The Creative Photographer here. It was written in 1955, but much of what he wrote is timeless. He says about the drive to create:

“It is this force which created our culture. I have seen it at work in others, I have felt it in myself. It defies analysis and reason. It is simply there, as elementary as the drives of hunger and sex, and it demands release…

…No one will ever know the number of talents crushed before they had a chance to develop, to mature, to give to all of us — victims of a system devoted almost exclusively to the creation of material wealth.”

That camera in your hand is a marvelous instrument. Get out there and use it. Use it well, and show us your stuff. You’re an artist. The world needs you.

close to home

rock abstract III
rock abstract III

When you’re camped in the desert you don’t always have to roam around looking for interesting subjects. It can be just as fulfilling simply to sit in camp, experience the changes in the desert day, and explore your immediate surroundings. If you look closely there’s always something to find.

These rocks are only about ten feet from my tent. I thought they looked pretty good…

spirit magnets

self-portrait — merging with the rocks

Places, wild places, have their own personalities much like people do. With some people you feel an instant connection. Others not so much, but a sense of familiarity and kinship grows with time. Some you want nothing to do with. Places are much the same, though to attach human attributes like personality to wild places might be to trivialize them. Spirit might be a better word.

Some places draw you in like a magnet. Spirit magnets. The first time I was out west, at least the first time I was old enough to remember, was in 1967. I was sixteen, and on a family vacation with my parents and sister to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. On our way back to Minnesota we went over the mighty Beartooth Pass on the Montana/Wyoming border. I was transfixed — the magnetic pull was powerful and I didn’t want to leave. My dad almost had to drag me back to the car by my heels, kicking and screaming, so we could go.

It was much the same on another trip to Glacier in Montana and Banff in Canada two years later. As we headed back east, my parents and sister sat and watched the landscape of the high plains roll by. I crawled in the back where I could see out the rear window of the station wagon and watched the mountains recede into the distance, thinking I’ll be back someday. A few years later I started making periodic trips to western Montana, and I finally ended up staying.

Now I’m here in the Colorado Desert by Joshua Tree. The pull here is strong — areas like Pinto Basin, Smoke Tree Wash, and the transition zone where the Colorado and Mojave deserts merge are powerful magnets. Even other areas close by like the Mojave to the north and the Salton Sea area a few miles to the south have a different feel. I’m not drawn to them like I am to this one specific place. At least not yet. Maybe a connection will grow, maybe not.

For now I’ll home in on this sun-blasted, boulder-strewn piece of the desert. I’ve done little but scratch the surface so far, but as I spend time out in these rocks and let my spirit merge with theirs, I’ll see what kind of work grows out of it.

So… I’ll ask you. Do you have certain places that draw you in like a magnet? Places that you feel like a living breathing part of? I’d love to hear about it.

salton sea… first impressions

palm tree -- salton sea, california
palm tree — salton sea, california

About the last thing you’d expect to see in a hot, bone-dry place like the desert is a large body of water. If you didn’t know it was there, coming upon the Salton Sea would be quite a shock. Even when you know it’s there, and are specifically looking for it, it’s startling to come across.

I spent a day there this past week, and I have mixed feelings about the Salton Sea. Yes, visually it’s harshly beautiful — a large lake in one of the barest, driest places you could imagine. But there’s a sense of uneasiness lurking there too — a sense of a place that’s out of balance. Maybe that comes from knowing a bit about how the lake was formed and some of the problems it’s now facing. Maybe some of it comes from the depressed and desolate feel of the towns I saw. I don’t know. It’s a strikingly beautiful place, but I can also sense a place with a troubled spirit.

Was it worth spending some time there? Oh yes. Is it a place I might explore further? Probably. Is it a place I could feel in tune with and at home at? No, I don’t think it is.