Feature Photographer Robert Osborn

This summer, in addition to the Bair Collection of Western and European paintings and Plains Indian beadwork, the Bair Museum will present portraits by photographer Robert Osborn.

Portraiture is not just one of art’s oldest genres—it is an art form that endures and is continually reinvented by artists who understand its power. Osborn’s work is not like the portraits anyone else is doing. They are the result of a singular alchemy between the photographer and his subject, informed by decades of hard work and obsessive devotion to what he believes is possible with a camera in his hands. The impact of his work is cultural, psychological, emotional, and iconic. Each image pulls us into another world and holds us there, informing us of more than that which is visible. His photographs capture qualities that feel simultaneously rare and ordinary, beautiful and disturbing, real and occasionally theatrical. If a portrait is defined as the representation of a particular person and a self-portrait as a depiction of the artist by the artist—Osborn’s images are both.

One thinks of photography in general differently than one thinks of painting, but it is a mistake to assume that a painting Osbornis an interpretation while a photograph is “the truth.” In Osborn’s work the artist chooses the lighting, the composition, the subject’s stance or position (standing, sitting, leaning against something, close to the camera or at a distance), the blank background, the subject’s expression, sometimes an item of clothing or an object, and, finally, the qualities of the final black and white print. The truth that remains is that the photographer is the dominant subject and the individual photographed has consented to a kind of collaboration.

If we start with the Kodak Brownie camera Bob Osborn received as a Christmas present when he was ten years old, he has been a photographer for over seventy years; if we start with when he began to be a professional photographer, it’s only fifty. But in Montana, perhaps because of Montana, with these portraits, Robert Osborn has stepped into his life’s work, what he was born to do. See his portraits of Native Americans and Montana ranchers and cowhands at the Bair Museum throughout the summer.

The Bair Museum is located at 2751 Montana Highway 294 between Highway 12 and the town of Martinsdale. Hours are 10am-5pm every day June through August. In the fall, it is open 10am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday. The last tour of the day at the Bair Home is at 4 pm. Tour times vary.
The museum closes for the winter.

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