The Kiernan Gallery was thrilled to have Jock Montgomery as our In Transit juror. Below, we’ve asked him a few questions about his work, his influences, and how his extensive travel helped him as a juror.
With such a passion for adventure and the outdoors you could have easily chosen to pursue many different careers. What drives your passion for photography?
Let me answer in a round about way. I've been blessed to always have a focus (pardon the pun!) and a clear idea of what I have wanted to do. When I was 11 I went on a river trip in Maine that kind of set me on a course that I've never strayed too far from. I became a guide and outdoor instructor starting when I was a junior in high school and all through college. And after college guiding river trips and training guides is what brought me to Nepal in 1983. In the background I've always been drawn towards art and I took many art and sculpture classes in college, but it wasn't until I'd been living in Nepal, guiding trips, and was thinking about "career next steps" that I decided to pursue photography as a business. In 1986 I bought a new camera and 300 rolls of Kodachrome and I traveled around Asia on my own shooting for 6 months. I haven’t stopped looking and seeing since then.
So to answer your question, I've kept moving forward with these passions intertwined and driving each other—my love of travel, adventure and people, applies to both guiding trips (which I still occasionally do with private clients), and photography (I also lead private photography tours). I certainly enjoy the commercial photography, and again my skills in planning trips, leadership, and working with people helped me get assignments and retain a stable of repeat clients.
You have traveled all over the world. How do your experiences influence your photography? How do they (and your own work) influence you as a juror for In Transit?
My photography and my travels definitely influence each other. Much of my work involves people, and I find my shooting is a great way to meet and interact with folks. My camera helps me slip into a place where I’m the foreigner and it gives me a reason to hang out and get to know the people and the places. I’m not a loud person, and when I shoot I’m rarely brusque or hurried and I think that usually comes across in my work. When I shoot portraits I make an effort get to know my subject—form follows function—that kind of thing.
In terms of in-transit photography I find that I usually do my best work when I simply sit down in one place, I stay in the moment and I see what comes past. I love catching those ephemeral moments! I often experiment with combing a sharp stopped-image with, for instance, the discreet blur of a person’s hand.
Your work varies from landscapes to commercial work to everything in between. What is your favorite body of work? How does it influence your other projects?
I don’t have a favorite body of work per say. It’s always more about the next great moment, but definitely my favorite kind of work involves people and story telling. It could be a one off portrait that hints in the background of the person or a place, or it could be a photo essay.
After having lived in Asia for so long, what is it that continues to inspire you and draws you to this continent and its many cultures?
I’m afraid there is no clear explanation for this. To put it one way, there’s a certain chaos and lack of familiarity here that I would miss if I moved back to the west. It’s not always fun either—pollution, noise, etc.—but there’s a certain on-going energy that over the years I’ve absorbed and feel a synergy with. Daily life here—simply walking to lunch—is always pretty exciting!
Finally, we ask this of all our artists: How do you define success?
In terms of being successful as an artist there are at least two elements that help define success in my mind. One is technical success, simply “getting the shot,” the way you want it or expect it to be. The other is about creative success, and this kind of success to my mind is personal, slippery, and transitory at best.
If you ask me how many creatively successful photographs I’ve taken my answer is “certainly not many.” I guess one could say that I infrequently have little successes when I’m out shooting, (I normally would call them gifts). These gifts typically occur when I become fully immersed in the work and I feel I’m really “seeing”. I enter a sort of half-conscious state where my intuition takes over. I’m in a kind of ephemeral, visual trance where I’m striving to make better work and my camera becomes more of a palate than a tool. When I’m seeing in this way, and street photography is a great one for this, my photographs are usually a lot stronger in terms of capturing compelling light and composition, and so they tend more often to scratch at the surface of success. I’ve never read anything by Cartier Bresson, but I’m certainly familiar with his work and I think his photographs speak to this kind of seeing and success.
Any photograph is obviously about a moment in time—Bresson’s “decisive moment,” of course must be mentioned here—And for me and many others like Bresson, it goes beyond this. It’s about somehow successfully catching these little glimpses of intuitive seeing amidst the chaos, the uncertainty, the ambiguity, and the illusive nature of taking pictures. This is what keeps me so continually enthralled and striving for the occasional gift of success.
In Transit will be on view December 5-29, 2012.