Saturday, April 11, 2015

New Book, "Glacier National Park After Dark"

Glacier National Park After Dark

During the Leonid meteor storm on November 1833, an estimated 200,000 meteors per hour sparked across the Montana sky for more then nine hours. Several Plains Indian tribes recorded the spectacle as the, "Winter When The Stars Fell." For me personally, the past three months was the winter when the stars fell into place.

I finally carved out a chunk of time to write the book that I've been photographing and working towards for the last 28 years. At 4:30 this afternoon I signed off on the last color proofs, and at 5:00 I took Magpie (our energetic border collie) for our first hike since December. The new book is on its way to the printer, coming to a bookstore near you in late June.

The book's title is, "Glacier National Park After Dark." It's 96 pages, 100+ photographs and 30-something essays of the night skies over northern Montana. It's part guide book and part astronomy, part Blackfoot sky stories and part personal journal. There are photographs of Glacier landmarks with comets, northern lights, shooting stars, star trails, sunsets and sunrises, full moons, lunar eclipses, constellations, planets, Milky Way, nocturnal animals, and more. I also wrote a couple of chapters about how we can come to terms with light pollution, plus a couple of tables for sky events over the next 10 years. My teammates for this project included Blackfeet elders, university professors and college instructors, a well-respected author and career park service employee, among others. After nearly three decades of photographing, and three months of writing and layout, it's all signed and sealed and soon to be delivered.

Over on our photography website, we're offering free U.S. shipping for those of you who are willing to pony up and pre-order to help us pay for printing this book (roughly $15,000, ouch!). I also designed a companion calendar to go with the book, and the free shipping offer applies to it as well. The link to order is here.

To be honest, the book is a labor of love that I needed to create. Because my motivation was personal and not financial, I had no expectations for how it would be received by the general public. So far, the reception has been almost scary. Every single person who has seen draft has reacted with great enthusiasm and genuine interest. This will open doors for me to bring conservation issues to strangers and have a positive impact on their lives. We already have several public presentations in the works, and I expect many more. Now I need to put together a slide program and bone up on the medical aspects of light pollution.

So my conservation work continues, but now that the book production phase is finished I hope to get back to writing Wild & Free Montana features after this winter hiatus. Let's get outdoors see what spring has delivered to western Montana!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How Creativity Can "Kill the Artist"

Got 20 minutes to kill? I'm not a mystical person by any stretch, but I stumbled upon this talk that makes total sense to me, and it suggests that we give external credit for the creativity that most artists claim as their own - not for faith's sake, but for sanity's sake. As a person who has slogged to work every day for 30-some years in a job that entails trying to capture a few infrequently-passing "Ole! moments," I understand Ms. Gilbert.

What I don't understand is why some people heap praise on me for some "natural moment" that I managed to capture. Conversely, I never quite understand how others can look at these exquisite moments and not feel the least bit moved. I'm happily confused and stuck in a blue-collar position where "my" creativity might well have peaked (who knows?) back when I was nineteen years old. I still get up and go to work, and I'm still (mostly) sane. What is it that you enjoy creating?

"In the end, a person doesn’t view his life as merely the average of its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much, plus some sleep. Life is meaningful because it is a story, and a story’s arc is determined by the moments when something happens." 
(Atul Gawande)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Photography Workshop

At art shows every weekend all summer long, people ask if I'm leading any photography workshops. Most years I have to sigh and say, sorry, my schedule won't allow it. But this fall I'm breaking free to offer a one-day workshop at the Dunrovin Ranch, along the beautiful Bitterroot River just south of Missoula.

We'll meet on Saturday, September 27th, from 11AM to 5PM. I'll be focusing on simplifying the foundation that you need to take your photography into the creative realm - how to take control and make better pictures, no matter your skill level.

You can sign up and get more information by calling or emailing the friendly folks at Dunrovin Ranch, at 406-273-7745 or email Their web announcement is here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Show & Tell v. 8.01

Comet Lovejoy over Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park (c) John Ashley
"Silent Night." Comet Lovejoy over Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park
"Wow, these are phenomenal," he gushed. "If I brought you my cameras, how much would you charge to teach me how to use them?"  "Well," I paused, "It depends. How smart are you?" "Well, not that smart," he offered. "Then I'll have to charge you extra."

"Boy, you just have to be in the right place at the right time, doncha'?" Yep, that's all it takes lady. That, plus the months and years of planning and effort to be in the right place at the right time. Oh, and a wee bit of skill with a camera helps, too. That, and thick skin when people confuse all of your skill and work with a little bit of luck.

He said, "This is spectacular work." She said, "And he's not just being sarcastic." I briefly considered trading a print for his t-shirt, which read, "National Sarcasm Society. Like We Need Your Support."

"I've been coming to this show (Sweet Pea, Bozeman, MT) for 20 years, and you have the best photography I've ever seen." Wow. Thanks.

Seven-year-old girl, "What is that a picture of?" "It's the moon during a lunar eclipse," I explained. "Were you in outer space when you took that?"  "No," I said, sadly, "I had to stay on Earth. It's much easier to breath here."

"I work at (local photography supply house) and I see so much photography that I usually just walk right past," she explained. "But your's is different from the rest." "How so," I asked. "You're not just a guy playing with a digital camera. You have an eye. You're an artist."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Bigger Flashlight

Under a midnight Milky Way, the headlight beam from a westbound train paints the foothills
framing Mount St. Nicholas, along the southern edge of Glacier National Park. 
For three of my first light painting photographs, back in the late 1970's, I used a flashlight to paint a small Big Bend cave, a Vivitar 283 strobe (still have that old guy) to paint a new house and yard at night, and three lightning bolts in a central Florida thunderstorm at midnight to create a ghostly self-portrait.

For my most recent light painting, a couple of months ago, I used a bigger light - the headlight on a train. In "Midnight Train," a westbound train was winding its way along the valley floor, from camera right to left, while I shot sets of 14 images to stitch together later. When the headlight swept across the foothills, I thought, "Dang, there goes that set." Then I reconsidered. I like it. A lot.