I was raised in the plains of central Montana near the Missouri River. I was a lucky person who participated in fishing and hunting and hiking and camping outdoors from the earliest age. As the years went by I mostly lived in California and Washington State as my work took me to the harbors of Los Angeles and Oakland California and Tacoma and Seattle Washington. Every year I was fishing near my home in Montana as this was my major interest along with boogie board surfing in the ocean of Southern California.
Some 17 years ago I moved to Salt Lake City, Utah and I concentrated on fishing until my son gave me a Nikon point and shoot camera. I took this little camera when I went fishing. One day I was fishing in a river near the Grand Tetons in Wyoming and this is when everything changed. I was in the middle of the river, and I made a photograph of the Grand Teton which was framed by cottonwood trees on each side. After I saw it, I thought I could make interesting and different photographs with my camera. I decided to buy a Nikon camera with interchangeable lenses and the rest is history.
I have taken many photographs of the Pacific Ocean in California and I also spent 40 days per year in Jackson Hole Wyoming. Of course I was also at my home in Montana and I was fishing and taking photographs. After a while I was mostly taking photographs.
In 2008 I was fortunate to find the beautiful country of Georgia on the internet via flickr. When I saw the first two photographs of Georgia I decided right then and there I was going to Georgia. Again I was fortunate that the first two people I met from Georgia not only became my dear friends but they arranged my first trip in August of 2009. I came to Georgia as a friend and a guest.
So my travels not only include much of the Western United states, they include many places in Georgia. My journey will be reflected in my black and white photography and will start in California at the ocean and end up in Tusheti.
In between there will be photographs of Wyoming and Montana and various places I have visited in Georgia during 2013.
Mike Bourgault biography
Since I am preparing for an exhibit of my photography I thought it would not only be nice but necessary for those whom I am involved. Folks need to know who I am.
I was raised in a small city in the central plains of Montana. I had a wonderful idyllic childhood. My parents were outdoor oriented and we camped and hiked and fished and hunted while I grew up. Our state and even our city were intensely involved with Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. This influenced my core beliefs in my being about the land. I started visualizing when I was quite young how it was when Lewis and Clark came through there. I always longed to have joined them and lived there when the land was young and raw and Indians roamed the plains in search of bison. I knew the bison and the elk and the grizzly bears were plains animals and I wanted to see them again out there. It was easy in our small city (we did not think of it as small when I grew up there) to walk out of town into the prairie. The prairie abounded with life. No barbed wire fences and a place to run free.
As long as I can remember, in the summer we went camping and fishing every weekend. Usually we went to Augusta on the two lane highway and then about 40km up the gravel road that leads to the Good Medicine River Canyon. As we got closer and closer to the mountains I still remember coming over that last hill which put Sawtooth Ridge and Castle Reef in plain view. At the bottom of the hill at the 90 degree bend in the road, we opened a barbed wire gate and drove down a two rut road into the prairie. If you did not know where you were going you would miss the small set of tracks that would you take you further off to the left into the prairie and finally to a spot just above the river. I was driving down these ruts one day with Dad in the 1950’s and I remarked, “This Looks like a road to nowhere.” Those that know me can understand now I have spent my whole life going down that type of road.
We camped just above the Good Medicine and the river roar was a soothing sound all night as we usually slept outside. Big old sleeping bags and a tarp for me and my brother. I do not remember anyone ever coming in there but us. Today I still go to almost the same spot as we did when I was young - to fish and to just sit there. I had to alter the routine slightly as the property that belonged to the old mountain man who first let my grandfather camp there has been sold to a wealthy out-of-stater. But I know the secret and where to go and we now camp on the bench in view of the river. It is easy access to the river and the only people I have met in there keep it to themselves. I either know them or know of them when I meet them – that usually happens about every 6 years. In all that time I have brought Mom back here to reminisce and my two sons and two of my close friends.
I think I was 10 or 11 when I was first allowed to go hunting in the fall. When I was 12 I had my own license and a certificate from the NRA Hunter Safety class. That is when my love affair with Castle Reef began. There were 6 weekends in the hunting season and Dad and I went and camped in the shadow of the Reef or sometimes we would stay in one of the cabins owned by Bill and Martha Stecker. Stecker was another mountain man and he fit right in with view and vision of the land and the place. I enjoyed hunting when I was a kid during those years much more than fishing. Then one day I left home and I never went hunting again with a rifle.
Dad and I walked. We never hunted from the car. My favorite place to walk (and later I would learn was also Dad’s favorite) was and is called the Green Timber Pocket. I do not think I ever saw a deer or an elk in there but it was magic place to me. When Dad was dying, he asked me to place his ashes there and I did. My wife took care of him those last months and she was closer to him than anyone else I knew ever. When she died, you can guess where my son and I took her ashes...
Years after those early events on the prairies and rivers of Montana, I still come back here. Either to the Good Medicine to fish or to the Reef for walks (there are no roads). I have about 4 or 5 spots on the river I fish but mostly I come and park on the bench and walk down to the same spot. Nothing ever changed for me in all these years until about 10 years ago when I started bringing James here.
Most folks I know are well acquainted with James in person or by reputation. James is one of those dogs that is not trained too well and does not listen much either. He tended to get himself lost and I used to have to spend a lot of time looking for him. I noticed finally he would sit on this rock shelf that is part of the bed rock and then he would become a different dog. He stayed with me after that and even went into the water by my side while I was fishing. I think it was about 5 years ago I started noticing he was listening to somebody. I was not sure what they were saying to him but it worked this way for me. You see this is a sacred burial ground and place of the Blackfeet Indians and there are things out here that happen that just are not regular. Why James knew and why I know is beyond my comprehension. I suppose the few folks that I share this with will understand. Even if they do not, it does not change what happened for me and James. I now have a sense of what those whose presence inhabit this place believe. Not from a voice but a sense. I owe this to James.
So those wonderful folks who are helping me with my work as a photographer need to see this. These are the essentials of what is driving me and why I am obsessed with what I am doing. Just like the grizzly bears going out into the plains, I am just trying to go home.