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Wall Street to walls: Ex-banker shoots graffiti, posters for ‘Urban Pop’

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Urban Pop

Missoula fine art photographer Doug Ness documented graffiti from his travels for his new show, “Urban Pop,” up now at Glacier Sotheby’s International Realty on North Higgins Avenue.

Doug Ness’s inspiration for his new art exhibit “Urban Pop” comes from big city streets, even though he lives in a town surrounded by acres of wilderness and national forest land.

Maybe it has something to do with his prior career as a bond salesman for an investment firm in Chicago, but Ness says his art stands apart from the typical nature and landscape photography that hangs in exhibits around Missoula.

“Urban Pop” went on display at Glacier Sotheby’s International Realty for First Friday this August, and includes seven 30-inch-by-45-inch prints of his original photography.

Ness says he was influenced by pop art when he created the collection of photographs he took of walls in four cities, New York, Berlin, Rome and Paris.

“What I really enjoy about my photography is finding art in the ordinary,” Ness says.

Ness says he combines different elements in posters, graffiti and other found objects and juxtaposes them within the frame, and enjoys putting things out of place.

One photograph taken in New York City mixes a few elements of a brick wall. A man wearing a holster and cowboy boots covers most of the print, the burnt orange wall in the background. Graffiti in the form of a black arrow points from the right corner.

Most people can’t guess that the man – who seems to be walking along the wall – is country musician Andy Williams. The poster is taken out of context, Ness says.

Iggy Pop dominates one photograph of a wall in Berlin, except his head is ripped off. The poster is mostly shredded at the top, but includes his arched torso and fans reaching for his ripped jeans. “Iggy” is printed in neon green block-letters at the bottom, and graffiti letters cover where his head should be.

Ness says Berlin has the most dynamic street art scene out of all the cities he’s photographed. Graffiti isn’t treated as much of an issue there as in the U.S., he says.

“It doesn’t seem to be discouraged there,” Ness says.

Ness says he photographs the walls just as they appear without manipulating them. What appeals to him is the idea of photographing a subject that may never look the same again. Capturing the walls and the posters plastered to them creates an “ephemeral” piece of art, he says.

“With street art, it’s just happening right now, so it’s very current,” Ness says.

Ness began photography shortly after the recession in 2008, when he was laid off from his position at Citi Group. He bought a Nikon DSLR after being warned about losing his job, and took his first photography class the evening after hearing the news.

He says he wanted to try something new and creative, and decided on photography because it melded with his love of travel.

“I told myself I would go down that road as long as it felt right,” he says.

In 2009, Ness came to Missoula for the Career Training Program with the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, and became an assistant teacher for one of their workshops. He lives in Missoula full-time now, continues to assistant teach with the photography school and will hold a series of lectures for the school in the fall.

He went “from Wall Street to photographing walls,” as Ness describes it.

“Urban Pop” is his first solo show in Missoula, and will be on display until the end of August at 321 N. Higgins Ave.

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