Over the Christmas holidays last year, Jon Switzer was exhausted.
Exhausted, he said, “by my dumb ‘smart’ phone and the constant distractions it brought me.”
So he sat down with an old magazine full of photographs of Montana. He was captivated, he said, but also frustrated because he wanted to go the places pictured in the photos but found little or no guidance on how to find any of them.
Out of that frustration came a new book, “Lost in Montana,” which Switzer hopes to publish by the end of August. It is a stunning collection of photographs taken by a team of Montana photographers, and it is designed to make finding the places featured in the book as easy as possible.
The book is divided into four parts, each representing a quadrant of the state—northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast—and each photo is identified by a number attached to the appropriate quadrant.
The photo at the top of this story, for instance, is identified as “se011.” If you go to the Lost in Montana website and click on “photos” and then click on se011, you’ll learn that it was taken in Bighorn Canyon by photographer Andy Austin.
You also find out that the GPS coordinates for the site are 45°01’18.9″N 108°15’07.3″W, and that there is an image from Google maps as well, guiding you visually to the site. Visitors are also offered a chance to buy a print of each photo.
“A lot of people have since told me the idea was smart,” Switzer said in an email. “It didn’t come out of a strategic business opportunity. I just saw a picture and went, ‘Whoa. Where is that? It’s annoying there’s no details on how to get there.’ Without the geographic component, it felt inaccessible to me.”
His two main partners in the project were Jason Maehl, an adventurer and photographer, and Dan Rickman, a designer at AlphaGraphics, where Switzer is an account executive. The book will be published by AlphaGraphics.
Switzer said he is “not even a decent hack at photography” himself, but he grew up with a copy of Mike Sample’s book of photography, “Montana on My Mind” always around the house, and now that he has a family of his own he thought there ought to be a modernized version of that book available.
“I feel like I could go some new place every day in Montana for the rest of my life and never fully know the spectrum of her beauty, so it’s humbling to try and share her grandeur with others,” Switzer said. “What’s great about Montana is, there’s enough space in over 147,000 square miles that we can share without bumping into each other.”
Another feature of the Lost in Montana website is that visitors who click on a photo are invited to share any stories they might have about visiting that particular site, or even to say whether they think the location given is accurate.
In addition to the photographs, the book features brief written introductions to each of the four areas of the state, commentary on some of the photos, inspirational sayings, and descriptions of and thoughts about Montana by the likes of Meriwether Lewis and Norman Maclean.
Switzer said a quote from Glenn Law really summed up how he feels about Montana, and what he hoped to communicate in the book.
“Montana’s special gift is space, landscape made personal that reaches out to the horizon and then comes back and gets under your skin,” Law wrote. “It reaches inward, wraps itself around your soul, incubates and grows. When you finally begin to understand just what it is about Montana that is important to you, it has already taken root in your heart and you’ll never be the same.”
Switzer said he especially likes the phrase, “landscape made personal.”
“There is a symbiosis between Montana and her people,” he said. “Neither is meant to be without the other. It’s why I wrote elsewhere in the book, ‘we cannot help but be grateful that there’s more to the story than ourselves.’”
In addition to Andy Austin, who took the photo of Bighorn Canyon, contributing photographers are Dave Shumway, Sean Heavey, Tony Bynum, Craig Hergert and Jason Maehl.
Switzer is hoping to get the book into as many bookstores and other outlets, like Costco, as possible. It will also be available directly through LostInMT.com.