Of image making,
storytelling and teaching others to see
Art Museum exhibits SKC photography instructor David Spear's imagery
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
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
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
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
“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
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,”
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
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