By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
Richard Smith grew up on a dairy farm in New York and left home when he was 18.
“The only thing I knew is that I didn’t want to milk cows anymore,” he said.
Richard landed at Rocky Mountain College in Billings and spent five years studying music. Since then he’s worked as a carpenter, a cabinetmaker, a timber framer, a folk singer and a naturalist.
Now 65, Richard is an accomplished wildlife and landscape photographer. He lives in Four Corners with his wife Barbara and runs his business, Wildsmith Photography, with his son, the Emmy award-winning cinematographer Zebediah Smith.
The two men will be filming in Montana for several days as the first part of a PBS pilot series that Zebediah is producing.
The show, Journeyman, is an adventure documentary project that will follow modern pilgrims seeking “to live out the answer to a burning question,” according to its website.
This first one will follow Zebediah on a pack trip into the Montana backcountry, and then through Yellowstone, where Richard will guide the film crew.
“It’s about a renewal of his love for the West,” Richard said.
Zebediah’s work for the PBS show Travelscope has taken him around the world, from South Africa to Easter Island to the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast in British Columbia. He told the Weekly last summer that Montana is as close to a home base as he has.
“It’s one of the places I go back to find inspiration. When you go out in Montana to that true wilderness and can find peace of mind, the rushing world [fades] away. When I’m traveling I try to think back to those moments in those places where I’m centered.”
Richard said their art has grown together. “It’s almost like we’re one person a lot of times.”
Words from Richard
My uncle found an ad in a magazine for a little college in Billings, Rocky Mountain College. It was July and they still had some openings. My ears perked up, my eyes opened, up. I said ‘wow, Montana. I always wanted to go out Wes
I spent close to five years [at Rocky], majored in music, but never graduated because I failed to meet all the required courses. I took a lot of things that sounded fun, and when the guidance people informed me I wasn’t going to get a degree I up and left. I was married with a little baby girl. We went up into the Beartooths, went to Yellowstone, to Jackson Hole. We spent a lot of time wandering around down there, and then we went back East to live for a few years, then on to Colorado, and finally ‘home’ to Montana. Like the man said, “I wasn’t born here but I got here as soon as I could”.
[My wife Barbara] graduated from Naropa University [in Colorado] and became a Buddhist. I haven’t taken my vows like she did, but if nothing else I’m probably [Buddhist, too]. Buddhism is not a religion. It’s just a way of living, thinking and seeing life. It’s more spirituality than religion. One could be a Christian or a Muslim or have any other religious belief and still be a Buddhist.
What I’ve found is that it’s really important to take time out even daily to just sit, and meditate by a river or out in a meadow or high mountain. That’s where I get my balance. [We] need that because we’re now more than ever so inundated and bombarded with information than ever, all day, every day.
I have one photo of this bull elk, a 7-by-7 bull, during the rut in late September or early October. I’d been shooting him for several hours and actually got some images of him fighting with another huge bull. He was fully aware of me and was only about 150 feet away. I don’t know what changed, but he was suddenly fed up with me. It was almost like he said, ‘dude, you’ve been here long enough. You got enough shots. Go away.’ He charged me, and I picked up my tripod and my lens and I ran behind a tree. I have the shot right before he charged. He was facing me, his front paw is up off the ground, his head is back, his ears are back, his nostrils are flared.
If you stop, sit down and spend a couple of hours, you get to know a place. Sometimes I close my eyes and feel where the breeze is coming from. And there’s all kind of smells. If you dig around in the earth, there’s a musky smell.
In the fall there’s rotting leaves—you can lie down in them and cover yourself. In spring, the high mountain meadows are [full of] flowers. Winter brings cold crisp days of soft snow like eider down covering the landscape.
If you do that as a photographer, you experience your surroundings as a wild creature, it becomes part of who you are. You’re photographing from that place, as a participant not just a traveler wandering through. And people sense that when they look at a photo. Sometimes I don’t even photograph, I just take it home with me.
Photography is an outgrowth of the fact that I love to be out in nature—in the mountains, the meadows, out on the plains, and on farms and ranches where life is part of nature. I wanted to have some record of those experiences.
See more images from Wildsmith Photography at:
Big Sky Farmers Market
Gallatin Valley Farmers Market
Art shows around the state: Visit wildsmithphotography.com to find out about upcoming shows and galleries.
Follow Zebediah Smith at journeymanadventures.com.