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Photographer Brian Christianson captures Missoula's epic winter



During this transitional season, when spring seems hesitant to grab hold, it's easy to long for the summer months ahead and try to block winter from your mind, no matter how epic it was. In his new exhibition, Missoula On Ice, photographer Brian Christianson offers a powerful argument against forgetting the winter Missoula is just exiting.

Christianson committed last fall, before the season's first snow, to mount a show at the Public House, though he didn't know at the time what work he might display.

"Then December hit," he says. "It got really cold, the river started to freeze, snow just kept dumping, and I thought, 'This is it. This is going to be a winter show.'"

Just when it seemed Rattlesnake Creek couldn't freeze any deeper, for example, it did. He watched people mountain biking over the frozen creek.

"My guiding principle for landscape photography is: What makes today different from any other day?" Christianson says. "I was out every day just working it, watching it, seeing all the changes in the Missoula landscape. It's the most fruitful two months of shooting I've ever had."

Christianson first picked up a camera as a high school student in Albert Lea, Minnesota, where he cut his teeth shooting endless fields of corn and soybean. In 2004, he went to Colorado to study photography. Though he loved the program, he sold all his gear and quit photography for nearly a decade after leaving school.

Brian Christianson’s “Rattlesnake Blues” is part of his new exhibit Missoula on Ice.
  • Brian Christianson’s “Rattlesnake Blues” is part of his new exhibit Missoula on Ice.

"I wasn't ready to be an artist, or a starving artist, at that time," he says. "I needed to do something else." He went back to school, studied education, and worked his way into the nonprofit sector, where he's been ever since. That career path brought him to Missoula about eight years ago. But photography wasn't finished with him.

"About three years ago it hit me that I want to do more photography, and I want to commit to it this time," he says.

He bought a starter camera, started doing small exhibitions around town, and made enough money to upgrade his equipment. Missoula On Ice will feature a dozen images shot in and around Missoula this past winter, each printed 32-by-48 inches or larger on either canvas or metal. Christianson says he hopes the large prints will allow viewers to experience the same thrill he felt shooting them.

"Most people are looking at images on phones or tablets," he says. "Occasionally a computer, but not likely. But this is the way [landscape photography is] meant to be seen, in large format. It's really fun for me to experience them, too, when I open the box when the images come in. I'm like, 'Oh my god, this is it!' I'm always surprised."

Missoula On Ice opens at the Public House Fri., April 7, with a reception from 5 to 8 PM.

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