Havre native captures the world in photographs
A new photography exhibit on display at the H. Earl Clack Museum this month allows a glimpse of life as it is lived half a world away, seen through the eyes of Havre native Kris Erickson.
Erickson, a professional photographer, culled the 12 photos from more than 10,000 pictures taken during travels that have taken him to the far reaches of the globe in the last six years.
"I chose these images because they have a common theme," Erickson said. "They're talking about people living an existence that's not necessarily modern although it is the present."
Erickson's journey started with hobbies - climbing and skiing. When he decided to switch his major from landscape design to photography in 1993 at Montana State University-Bozeman, the pair went together naturally.
"I started combining my love for outdoors and adventures with my photography in school," he said. "Eventually they kind of merged into what was actually a job for me." A job that most people only dream of.
After Erickson got his bachelor's degree in photography from MSU in 1997, he went on a mountaineering expedition to Peru with friends. The North Face outdoor clothing company paid him for his pictures. That fall he went to Pakistan for five weeks to photograph a Nike spokesman on a climbing expedition there.
"It was just the tip of the iceberg," Erickson said. The next six years found him hired to travel to places like Tibet, Antarctica, the Alps and Argentina, and others to photograph expeditions. He has taken photographs for articles in sports magazines like National Geographic Adventure, Sports Illustrated, Climbing, Outside, and several European magazines, and for ads for companies like The North Face, Nike, Patagonia and Marmot.
"It's a decent way of paying the bills," Erickson said, the ordinary statement sounding strange coming from someone who does such extraordinary - and often dangerous - work.
While he was being paid to photograph climbers and skiers, Erickson widened his frame.
"I started looking beyond subjects I was being paid to photograph to other subjects," said Erickson, who likened the life he saw in remote places to going back in time 100 years. "They were living an existence that was very very foreign to me and I was fascinated by that."
The exhibit draws from Erickson's expeditions to Peru, Pakistan, Nepal and Tibet. Climbers and Westerners are absent. The colors are often startling and vivid, the lifestyles traditional, the dark eyes disarming.
"The cultures I'm referring to, they're often in very stark landscapes," Erickson said. "The color that they wear themselves can often be the only color in the area, so it can tend to draw you into it." Red and gold cloaks abound in the photographs, as well as more subtle touches like the a green fringe against a brown neck, and sparks of red paint on a white Peruvian city wall.
Several of the photos involve pictures of people working - a Pakistani gunmaker before a glowing forge, a Tibetan yak herder, Peruvian wheat farmers on a ridgetop.
"They're all sort of going about their daily routines," Erickson said. "It's almost like it's an environmental portrait of these people in most instances - often they're not very camera-aware."
The exhibit also has a more interior, even spiritual side. The brightly colored veils of students at a girls' school in Pakistan fill two of the pictures.
"You can see what it feels like being a girl in an Islamic country when you've just been allowed to get up and go to school," Erickson said, drawing attention to their arresting gazes straight at the camera. "You can't see things like that if you can't look into their eyes ... These girls were very proud that they were going to school."
Monks are the subjects of two others.
"I'm definitely fascinated by the entire Buddhist culture and religion. It's more giving than any other religion out there, without asking for anything in return," he said. "That's sort of fascinating to me in a world of consumerism where we're all about trying to get the next big thing. ... It's sort of going the wrong direction, I think."
Erickson's art is not about critique, necessarily, he said, but contrast.
"Life for them isn't about two weeks of vacation. Every day it's a whole different mindset about being able to live their life. I hope people (here) are appreciative of how good they have their life."
The people in Erickson's photographs face different challenges, but their lifestyles have benefits too, he said.
"Their life is simple. It's not cluttered with a lot of other desires," Erickson said, though he said the same progress that allows young Muslim girls to go to school could change some of the good things about a more traditional lifestyle.
"It's very easily a double-edged sword. That's something that will evolve over time," he said.
The 1992 Havre High grad, who lives in Bozeman, doesn't find the experiences have diminished his Montana roots, but put them in perspective.
"In general I feel I have just a greater appreciation for the quality of life I'm able to enjoy in this country. The world is a big, nasty scary place in a lot of places. In a lot of ways north-central Montana is isolated from a lot of that."
Erickson is embarking on another quite different expedition.
"The next big project is getting married in July," Erickson said, but he won't be settling down. The couple is moving to Morocco for nine months, where Erickson will photograph an expedition through the Atlas Mountains and his future wife will study Arabic.
The exhibit at the Heritage Center will be on display through June 21.