Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

August 12, 2010

Of image making, storytelling and teaching others to see

Missoula Art Museum exhibits SKC photography instructor David Spear's imagery

By Lailani Upham


Colstrip by David Spear

MISSOULA — The Missoula Art Museum (MAM) presents local photographer, Salish Kootenai College instructor and Two Eagle River School teacher David Spear’s camera work this fall.

The theme was named “Snippets from the Bright and from the Shade: The Camera Work of David J. Spear,” according to MAM.

Spear, has been teaching several years on the Flathead Reservation, began with a camera in hand back to his high school days in Connecticut. It’s been said that he walked into his school’s newspaper pronouncing himself a photographer; and the rest is Spear history; recorded through dynamic images from the east coast to the west.

It was in the 1970’s that Spear launched his work that lasted two-decades at New York City’s International Center for Photography. In the 90’s he made his way to Montana, where he now is at home and is helping to expose other aspiring photographers through his experience and passion by capturing the world and every day life through images.

Early in his career, Spear recognized the value of image making, its link with storytelling and identity, and was determined to share his love of photography with others.

MAM reports that in the 1970’s when Spear was working a as night watchman and staff photographer for the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, he undertook the task of fulfilling the institution’s mission: to bring photography into the lives of people who might otherwise not have access to it. Spear had complete access to the institute’s archives and photo labs and used these resources to introduce photography programs to seven NYC high schools.

In 1985 Spear developed the ICP’s Community Outreach Program for underserved communities of New York City and was its primary instructor through 1997.

Spear’s desire for outreach work continues today with students at the Two Eagle River School. He also teaches photography courses at Salish Kootenai College.

Students from high school to college that have lived or passed through both schools have gained a new outlook and passion on life after taking Spears’ classes. His energy and love of photography resonated through to the students he reaches. “He has taught me to slow down and appreciate life by taking pictures,” said Mary Rose Morigeau a former SKC student and SKC staff member. Morigeau describes Spear as patient and a person. A person who gives constructive criticism that can add drive and improvement; and take on your own projects, she said. “I have learned to make every picture count and to pay attention to what’s in your frame,” she added.


Fire by David Spear

Morigeau has completed four classes from Spear and said her life has changed since picking up the camera and working in a dark room. She explained Spear taught the students so much not only on capturing images and using light, but also introduced them to another world that is not common in today’s fast paced digital photography world, and that is bringing black and white photography to life in the dark room. “He taught us how to fine tune our photographs.”

MAM reports that the featured exhibit includes works of Spear’s students from his days in Harlem, New York to his current work on the Flathead Reservation. Choosing, even in this day of digital ease, to work with traditional photographic methods and primarily black and white film, Spear’s work resonates with that of 1950’s street photographer Robert Frank. Both capture moments that are timeless in their depiction of the human spirit, representations that are dignified without being contrived.

Featured work in the exhibit will be Spear’s images of Montana from the late 70’s and early 80’s; and his days in Manhattan in the 80’s and 90’s. A portion of his work is centered around his father during the time Spear was his primary caretaker. There will be a selection of portraits and landscapes and lastly scenes from his most recent years on the Flathead Reservation, including work of his students from Ronan, Pablo, Arlee, and St. Ignatius.

Spear has worked with hundreds of young people over the years through TERS. He begins arming his students with Polaroid cameras, instructing them to take instant portraits of classmates and then respond in writing. Viewing the dozens of images and the written observations by the photographers and their subjects is fascinating as the youthful artists comment on what they see in the faces of their friends as well as their own expressions. This activity opens the door to visual literacy as students learn to recognize the power of their images.

This past school year Spear teamed up with CSKT tribal member, writer and poet Jennifer Greene on an intergenerational two-year project involving 17 TERS students ranging from seventh to twelfth grade called “A Voice - Art Vision and Outreach in Community Education.” The focus was on storytelling with the intention to connect youth with a variety of people in their own community.

According to Spear, he and Greene helped guide the students in the interviewing and photographing process yet stepped back and allowed the student to engage in their subjects and develop a story.

“It is my goal as a photographer and educator to share the power of photography and to bring the excitement of making and sharing pictures to as many diverse audiences as possible,” Spear said.

SKC student Sonny Doney says he has walked away with a new perspective on photo taking after experiencing a class with Spear last fall. “I’ve learned that photography is more than taking random pictures,” Doney said. Spear taught Doney to take the time and effort when photographing, Doney said. “Before I took his class - I didn’t care I would just take pictures randomly, now I pay attention,” he said.

Former SKC student Leslie Camel-Stewart said Spear’s class was one of her favorites and enjoyed it so much that she took it more than once. “Learning to work in the dark room and developing my own film and photos are some of the highlights. My favorite subject to photograph is orchids. David encouraged me to explore flower photography and as a result I have taken some remarkable photos. He is a teacher that allows his students to express themselves through their photographs and subject matter, so every student’s work is as unique as their vision,” she said.

Although Spear is known for teaching others in the valley, he practices what he teaches by toting his camera where ever he goes; documenting the surroundings through film and refining the craft of shutter speed and decisive moment. The exhibit “Snippets from the Bright and from the Shade” surveys several bodies of Spear’s work from the past four decades.


Mirror Landscape by David Spear

The exhibit will run from Friday, September 3 through Thursday, December 23, with an artist reception at 6 pm on September 3.

On Wednesday, October 6, Spear will offer a lecture called “Concerned Photography” that will begin at 6 p.m.

On Saturday, October 9, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. there will be a Family Art Workshop with David Spear. A teacher workshop, “Photography and Poetry/Visions and Voices” will be held on November 6 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

“His commitment to community and young people is inspirational, he has taken the time to let Native youth have a voice through their photographs. We are lucky to have such an experienced photographer share his knowledge with us.” Camel-Stewart said.

On the web: Missoula Art Museum

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