Mary Peters was hanging some of her huge, canvas-mounted photographs at the Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill last week, preparing for the first of what Last Chance manager Tanner Vinecke hopes will be a series of collaborations with artists.
For Peters, though, the exhibition has a deeper meaning.
For her it marks another stage in the process of recovering from a concussion she suffered in 2012. Peters, a Lewistown native who has lived in Lavina for nine years, has long been a professional photographer, shooting weddings, graduations and other events and milestones as well as doing work for newspapers and magazines.
After falling and hitting her head, her life changed dramatically, although for a long time she hardly realized it herself.
“The problem with concussions is, you as a person feel fine,” she said. “But you don’t remember a year and a half of your life.”
That’s the period of time for which she has no memories, and once she became “kind of coherent” again, she said, she’d come home from a shoot and she couldn’t tell if some of her photos were in focus. She didn’t know if the problem was with her lenses or with her own eyesight.
She bought new camera equipment and she tried different glasses and contact lenses. She went to doctors, optometrists and physical therapists. Mostly it was a process of relearning what she used to know, and learning how to deal with the after-effects of the concussion.
She had been doing a lot of work for the World Class Bucking Horse Association, and when she was photographing the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale last May, she took only one lens and used automatic settings on her camera for the first time ever.
“I still knew what I wanted to do, but the mechanics of it were hard,” she said. “They were just so hard.”
So was living with three to four migraines a week that resulted from the concussion. She learned to deal with those, too, by cutting back on the work she was doing for various organizations and by wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim when she’s outside. The hat and sunglasses cut down on sun glare and limit the amount of visual information her brain had to process.
Concentrating on particular tasks is another problem. If she is interrupted while sorting through photos, choosing and annotating frames for later use, she finds it difficult when she returns to remember where she was, and what she was doing.
A similar forgetfulness plagues her in dealing with people, remembering names and details of conversations.
“I’m not a big fan of feeling stupid,” she said. “You have to get a really thick skin if you can’t remember things.”
That’s why the exhibit now up at the Last Chance Pub, 2203 Montana Ave., means so much to her. It is tangible evidence that she’s getting back on track, that she’s still taking photos that people found compelling.
The exhibit came about by happenstance. Like some other photographers, Peters liked shooting in the alley behind the Last Chance. The brick and steel building used to house a tractor factory, and the industrial feel of the location made for a lot of interesting photo settings.
Peters was there this summer, when the pub was still under construction, shooting senior pictures for a client. She got into a conversation with a subcontractor who happens to be a good friend of Sam Hoffmann, the founder of Red Lodge Ales and the owner of the Last Chance.
A week later, Peters was there for another shoot and got into conversation with the subcontractor again. He was interested enough in her work to suggest that she consider mounting an exhibit in the pub after it opened.
Hoffmann was game, as was Vinecke, the pub manager.
“I want to give the artists their own canvas in this building,” Vinecke said. “I’m lucky that I get to have their art grace my walls.”
Peters was excited by the exhibit because the Last Chance Pub occupies such a large, high-ceilinged space with big expanses of wall space. She thought some of her rodeo and bucking-horse sale photos would be perfect there, so she had them printed in large format—one is more than 4 feet wide and 6 feet high—on canvas.
“I liked the rodeo stuff because they add some movement to such a huge space,” Peters said.
“It’s typical Montana art, with her particular twist,” Vinecke said, “which makes it fantastic.”
Details: For a look at more of Peters’ photography, go to her website.