Pain and Encouragement

March 07, 2020  •  8 Comments

Canada Lynx | Glacier National ParkCanada Lynx | Glacier National ParkI spent four days searching for lynx and landscapes with wildlife photographer Cory DeStein on the edge of Glacier National Park in early February. Although the weather did not cooperate for strong landscape photographing, we found lynx! We spent ~20 unforgettable minutes with a little family of the felines.


I have done a poor job of maintaining a rhythm with writing in the New Year. I have come to realize this is not because I don’t have anything to say, but rather that what I have to say isn’t terribly cheerful or photographically rich. Personally, I tend to avoid reading sad stuff and, I suspect, most people do too. Why would I produce something that I wouldn’t want to read myself? Well, I have come to learn, for catharsis and connection. Expressing the good, bad and, especially, the ugly serves as a release valve. It is an opportunity to scream and, instead of screaming into a pillow, share a scream with a group of people carrying similar burdens. Commiseration: good stuff.


To the point: the truth is, 2020 has been a painful one. In the early summer of 2019, I had to suspend my immunosuppressant medications after an an attack of a pernicious infection. Bummer. I spent the remainder of 2019 off of my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) meds battling the infection. As 2019 wound down, my RA symptoms amped up. In addition to the routine joint point that is part and parcel with RA, my energy waned, my sleep suffered and my mental health took a nose dive. Again, bummer deal. 

I’ve been playing this RA game for 10 years. None of this is new. There have been awful times - can’t dress myself, have difficulty walking and lay in bed all day - and there have been delightful times (when none of those three things were true). I feel incredibly fortunate to have a naturally optimistic disposition. 95% of the time I am able to charge through the symptoms and have a go at a normal life. The other 5%? I wake up and say - excuse the language - “this fucking sucks.” I go to therapy for that part. 

RA makes landscape photography difficult. When it’s bad, I can’t hold me camera. What’s more, it is difficult to walk/hike/climb/skin/run/crawl to the locations I want to shoot. Thankfully, most of the time, the symptoms are somewhere in the middle: it is uncomfortable to hold my camera, but not impossible. Ultimately, 95% of the time, I am grateful that I can move at all. But, 5% of the time, it fucking sucks.

Needless to say, 2020 has not been a banner year. I have produced very few images and even less writing. More days than I care to admit have been spent in bed. Although I had been planning my biggest exhibit yet, along with a book release, I was on the cusp of calling it all off. In fact, earlier this week, I had drafted an email to cancel the venue I had booked. I was in pain and feeling uninspired.


A month ago, a couple - previous print clients - from Memphis contacted me. They were going to be in Missoula in early March and wanted to meet up. Tickled by the request, I acquiesced. I love meeting folks and nerding out about shared love for landscapes. I also love hearing folks’ stories, where they’re from and what their values are.

We met up for some brews at the Kettlehouse. The meeting was delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about their connection to the Rocky Mountain West and Missoula. We shared a deep love for the landscape. Throughout the evening, they referenced images of mine and previous blogposts. This was shockingly strange to me. First off, people are looking? Secondly, they care!? They were complimentary and kind. Again, it was a delightful meeting. I felt honored that they had gone out of their way to connect with me. It was deeply meaningful and encouraging. 

The meeting reminded me that, although I am in a creative drought at the moment, that photography has opened up so many doors for me to meet people and share my experiences in Western Montana with a broad audience. I was reminded that, in spite of my own thoughts about my images (I think they aren’t great), folks all over the country have invested their hard earned cash to purchase prints. There must be something there. There is encouragement in that. And, as it goes with encouragement, a little is enough. It was just enough encouragement to take another positive step. That’s it. That’s all I needed. 

What’s Next

That meeting was just the push I needed to take the next step towards pulling off an exhibit that I have been scheming for over a year. I am five years into this photographic journey and I have dreamed of assembling a book and exhibit to highlight my favorite images of Western Montana. It is going to happen!


Here’s the basic scoop (much more to come in the next few weeks):

Exhibit Opening and Book Release

Friday, April 3rd | 5-8PM

The Public House, Missoula


The Exhibit: the exhibit will feature 12-15 large format (4’x5’)  framed canvas prints of my favorite images. Small prints will be available for purchase as will a limited number of copies of the book. 

The Book: the large, hardcover coffee-table book will feature ~40 images of Western Montana. I will be doing a preorder in a week or so. 

Closing Thought

I am taking the encouragement from my new Memphis friends and converting it to gratitude. It was just the fuel I needed to take another positive step. I have discovered that my life, in spite of some setbacks, is nothing more than a series of single positive steps. Some of those steps came easily, while many were the result of encouragement from others. My encouragement for you, dear reader, is to take a single positive step in the direction of your dreams. If you are an artist, scheme a show. If you are contemplating a job change, download the application. If you have a romantic interest, draft a fun/flirty message. If you are considering a move across the country, fill your gas tank (you know, just in case). 

Onwards and upwards,



Carol Sanders(non-registered)
Hi Brian...
You haven’t met your Auntie Carol yet. I am sorry I missed u and Linds this month. We have beautiful landscapes!! Art Wolfe was a friend in Seattle... so much to get to know about each other. RA sucks.,, yes. Still you inspire.
This anxiety and fear and pain cycle is such a soul sucking ride. But struggle is life and because of these things the peace and the love and the enjoyment rise up. I hate that you hurt. But because you do and share it and go forward it makes me realize I can do the same. It’s hard as shit. And scary. I hate it. But I have to. Thank you Brian. You are amazing.
Theresa Bryant(non-registered)
Thank you and just like your positive meeting with your friends, your words were very encouraging to hear. Just the push I needed this morning. Best of luck on your book and show. I will be odering a book. #Missoula hometown girl!
Robert Daniels(non-registered)
I'm not the best with words but I applaud your courage and resolve. I know from experience talking about it is very helpful and value my weekly support group for just that purpose.
I'm sad that I will miss the exhibit as I believe that's the same weekend as retreat so I'll miss it. Keep us posted on the book presale.
Wishing you the best of health mentally and physically.
Retta Hettling(non-registered)
Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your story. You do amazing work and I am grateful that you press on day after day making the best of it!
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