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Two Eagle students exhibit photographs in Missoula

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MISSOULA – Photos Leanna Powell took over a year ago near her home in St. Ignatius have brought her to a show at the People’s Center in Pablo, to a prestigious show in New York and now to the new Zootown Arts Community Center Gallery in Missoula.

“I had no idea it would go this far,” said Powell, sitting outside a show that features her photographs in the new ZACC. 

The ZACC is an arts community center that features a gallery, studio and performance space in Missoula. The new location opened in late October. Its walls are bright white, and it smells like new construction. The Pink Dress Project was the first show in the new space. 

The Pink Dress Project was a collaboration between students from Mexico, New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York and the Flathead Reservation. Students took photos of their friends modeling in pink dresses in an exploration of femininity and identity across cultures and geographic locations. Representatives from the Lower Eastside Girls’ Club, which started the project, were also at the opening. 

Models posed in pink dresses against the stark backdrop of a snowy Flathead Reservation winter during several photo shoots. Since students finished the project, the photos have been shown in a wide variety of locations across North America. Having a show at the new ZACC was an opportunity for the photos to be seen by a wide audience near the students’ homes. There was an opening reception on Nov. 8. Students sat on a panel to talk about their work on Nov. 9. 

In the opening of the panel, Two Eagle River photography teacher David Spear spoke about his pride in supporting strong young women. He said he’s happy to see photography, which was once “a boys' club,” being done by women from within their communities. Photography is often done by professional photographers from outside a community who don’t understand their subjects. The pink dress project gave students the opportunity to define who they and their friends were in photographs, he said. 

Julie Cajune, CSKT’s education director, and local poet Jennifer Finley spoke about the importance of the project. Cajune said it can be hard for young Native American women to find their way in the world, but that Spear’s efforts to support them makes it easier. 

Finley read some of her poems to the audience. She said she sees photography as a way for young people to connect with others and that benefits their mental health. 

“What David does with the kids is magic,” Finley said. “He helps them express themselves in an authentic way.” She said she wishes she had a program like the Two Eagle River photography class when she was a student. 

Student photographers had the chance to share stories behind some of the images they captured for the pink dress project. One student, Josh Crumley, talked about taking photos of his friend at a warehouse in Pablo. He said his model became more comfortable and vulnerable as the shoot went on.

Powell said she got a last-minute model, who had just rolled out of bed. She shot a photo of her friend sitting in a stone structure near the historic St. Ignatius Mission that once held a statue of St. Mary. 

Another student, Danielle Adler, took photos of her best friend, Jermain Charlo. The photos, taken near Dixon, featured Charlo atop an old railroad trestle and against the grays and yellows of the bison range backdrop. Six months after the photos were taken, Charlo went missing. She has not yet been found. Charlo’s family wanted the photos shared to spread the word about her disappearance. The photos also help Adler remember a fun time with her friend. “I’m happy I was there to take photos of this time, and I’m happy [the photos] are getting out there,” she said. 

Powell said she’s glad so many people have seen her work and that of her classmates. “It feels really great,” she said.


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