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The Quest: Renowned photographer Dr. Richard Buswell releases seventh book

Hungry Horse News | November 29, 2023 1:00 AM

Ask Dr. Richard Buswell how many photos he’s taken and printed over the span of his 51-year career and he can tell you exactly: 534.

“Which doesn’t sound like many,” he said in a recent interview.

Buswell just released “The Quest: A Montanan’s Photographic Journey,” which features 71 fantastic black and white photos taken over the course of decades, mostly at abandoned homes and townsites that are slowly fading into the Montana landscape.

Buswell, a native of Helena, made his living as a doctor of immunology and allergy for 37 years, but his passion for the past five decades has been roaming the Montana landscape, meticulously taking photos on film.

“I’m definitely old-fashioned,” he said. “I wouldn’t know what button to push on a digital camera.”

He started out in 1971 with two Nikkormat cameras. He uses four lenses, a 50 mm f1.4, a 105 mm, an 80-200 zoom and a 24 mm wide angle, as well as a tripod.

The cameras are completely manual and his bag weighs more than 40 pounds, he said. His favorite subjects are abandoned homes, mines and towns. His medical practice drew people from across the state and they would often give him tips on where to photograph. He also has a library of historical books on Montana ghost towns which also help him find his subjects.

“I spend two, three, four hours waiting for the light to be right,” he said.

He interviewed the renowned photographer Ansel Adams several times and took his advice to heart for his own work, Buswell said.

He develops his own film and makes his own prints in his home darkroom.

The prints featured in “The Quest” are often haunting, beautiful and abstract — rust patterns that look like eyes, weathered dolls from a different era, a stack of peas in their husks, a row of pike’s teeth.

One can get lost in a Buswell photo, they are profoundly simple and yet complex. His work has been collected by 234 museums, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Seattle Art Museum and his entire collection, printed on acid-free paper, resides at both the Montana Historical Society Library and the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

“The Quest” is his seventh book and one of his last, he said. At 78, he said he is all but done taking photographs — he can no longer carry the heavy pack or walk the miles to get to his subjects, he said.

He is currently working on an eighth book.

His advice for film photographers?

“It takes patience for one thing,” he said. But beyond that, there is the longevity of silver prints.

“A compelling reason (to shoot film) is the life expectancy of the prints,” he said.

“The Quest” is published jointly by the Montana Historical Society Press and the University of Montana Press. It is available at bookstores and online vendors such as Amazon.

    Cloth doll (2020). (Richard Buswell photo)
    Pike head (2019). (Richard Buswell photo)
    Cabin Chinking (2016). (Richard Buswell photo)