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  11 December 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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Becoming Will Brewster

National Anthem, photo by Will Brewster.

Let me tell you what you can’t do.

You roll into Montana with the best camera money could buy and a freshly-inked degree from a private art school back east; you’ve got a shiny red Tacoma as an oversized camera case with Land of Lincoln tags and all-terrain tires. You think you’ll just head for the high ground to log a few dozen mornings and twilights, and soon enough the clouds will part revealing a path to photographer-heaven paved with 24”x36” sepia-tones fetching $5,000 apiece.

Sorry, Ace, not gonna happen.

Bozeman is a feeding lot for photographers – there are two living on my block. They slug it out year after year, burn up 10,000 images, hope for a break along the way. The lucky ones scratched out a living and conned a bank mortgage in the days before noses wrinkled at "stated income." But for the f-stop army out shooting cowboys and landscapes under the Big Sky, there are only a few that stand out. One of the best is Will Brewster, and what I’m trying to tell you is: you can’t out-Brewster this guy.

Cowboy on Truck, photo by Will Brewster.

Will Brewster’s first home was the Dryfork Ranch, a dreamy parcel that backs to Ross Peak with the whole Gallatin Valley laid out like a holiday dinner table. His dawning in the world was cast under the Springhill Rim, a mountainside tiger-striped by sunsets all year long. Down the slope, a large aspen grove protected him from summer’s heat and silently imparted an education of color and shadow. Water danced in the daylight while a boyhood Brewster dipped his toes in the nearby Ross Creek. One could hardly fathom a better spot for learning the power of light and nature.

Will comes from educated folk; his dad was a full-time writer, his mother started Nordic Skiing Magazine (today’s Cross Country Skier Magazine). Assignments often beckoned the elder Brewsters to the road, on forays where they would commonly include the two children. One such outing when Will was six or seven, they handed him a Browning 120 camera.

Mayan Vaquero, photo by Will Brewster.

From there, a game became a hobby that grew to a passion that led to an MSU fine art degree and, after that, a profession.

“I learned relatively early in my career that I am more appreciate of documentary work,” Will said recently from the oven-warmed kitchen at the Dryfork. “I started with black-and-white, but soon got into advertising,” he said. “That helped me a lot – big budgets allow for the best spots at the best time with the best people.”

Wiltshire Truck, photo by Will Brewster.

Later, he said, “The beauty of film is that you never know exactly what you have, so you need to understand the equipment better, what light it can handle.” Brewster still shoots film, but “nine-tenths of my work is digital.” Conoco Phillips, Bosch, Harley Davidson – his advertising clients, all household names – are plenty satisfied with the results. Looking ahead, he plans to do more advertising work; “It’s a challenge and a thrill.”

Aside from the commercial projects, Brewster retains his boyhood passion for the art. “Validity is really important,” he said, expressing a love for what he calls “decisive moment photography.” The movement beforehand and the anticipation - all the components necessary to snare the precise split-second because “that’s all you have.” Brewster said, “It’s far, far more satisfying to capture a moment of integrity.”

Laidback, photo by Will Brewster.

And that’s where you get left behind in a roadside ditch, as unwelcome as Queen Anne’s lace. Brewster is on the other side of the line, blowing by at 70 miles per hour, doing the work of a master in his element. Will makes the scouting sound easy because for him, it is. Of portrait work: “You approach people no different than you approach a horse. Non-threatening.” Using his popular cowboy portraits as one example, he says of the subjects, “They’re in their own space, they’re about to go to work, they don’t want to be interrupted.”

Photo of Will Brewster.You, Big Shooter, can at least buy the right clothes. But the diction, the look, the accent - these are the kingdom’s keys (which you don’t have). And beware the Montanans for they relish picking out a counterfeit. The term “dude” was born for people recreating in this region and copying the style of local cowhands. It’s derogatory; the welcome ended for them when the bill came due.

As for the gear, you've found a fair plot for sowing that big city money. “I always used Nikons, starting back in the seventies,” Brewster said. “I still use some of the same lenses.” He favors his D3S for advertising, action, and even art, but goes to “a Linhof 617 for the panoramic shots.” He’s impressed by digital’s recent ability to stitch a string together into one sanguine 300-400 megabyte image, but admits, “It’s still easier to shoot a negative.”

One more thing, Ace, if ever Will uses any variation of the word “easy,” you should cringe. What he means is: easy for Will Brewster. Now get out there, you got a ton of experience to make up. Call us when the Toyo’s wearing about two decades of sun and hail damage. Maybe then. -BM

(Link Will Brewster to see more handsome work in Landscape, Portraits, Architectural, Travel, Panoramics, and Advertising.)

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