J M Cooper: The Gulch

February 20, 2019


April 15, 2019


Opening reception Thursday March 7

5:30 – 7:00 pm

Cooper has been photographing regional Montana for over 40 years. This series, “The Gulch,”  was photographed over a period of time from the 1970’s into the 2000’s. Most of these pieces focus on the 300 to 400 block of North of Last Chance Gulch.

His first photography class was with Lee Nye, the infamous black & white photographer from Missoula, MT. “When Lee walked into my first classroom wearing aviator sunglasses, I knew I was going to be a photographer,” he says.

Cooper used 35mm BXW analog film, hand processed then printed on 5×7’ analog paper. The prints were then scanned and printed on Hahnemuehle Paper.

Artist Statement

I was born exactly where I was meant to be. As a documentary photographer of over 30 years, there is no place like Montana, and as a Montanan, there is no place else for me. Ripe with history and the essence of the west, the town where I was born and raised is Helena — Montana’s state capitol and pinnacle of my curiosity.

Since 1972 I have been documenting the architecture and people of Last Chance Gulch (or The Gulch), the Main Street and walking mall in downtown Helena. I took interest in the project the same year Urban Renewal uprooted approximately 240 buildings, a devastating architectural and historical loss for those who grew up in Helena, and beyond. My images are a tribute to the Gulch’s spirit, character and businesses, from 1972 to 2000. Even now as Helena’s tourism and population grows, I continue documenting the lives, work and art on Last Chance Gulch. The project will never be finished, and maybe like the town itself, it is a work in progress.

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