Lee Nye’s storied Missoula portraits are jumping from a barroom wall into a hardbound book.
A 150-page fine art book “A Corner of Space and Time, Lee Nye’s Eddie’s Club Portraits” is nearing the publication stage after fundraising events at Charlie B’s in late September and at the Missoula Art Museum on Oct. 4.
An online Kickstarter campaign is also underway to help fund the project. Some $16,700 had been raised as of noon Tuesday. Kickstarter will fund the project only if the goal of $20,000 is reached by 3:13 p.m. Saturday. The book is due to be published on Dec. 1.
Rows of Nye’s 16x20-inch black and white portraits he produced from 1965 to 1973 still greet patrons of what’s now Charlie B’s on North Higgins Avenue. Nye (1926-1999) was a cowboy and veteran who studied photography at the Brooks Institute in California and at age 50 earned a fine arts degree from the University of Montana after he quit his job at Eddie's Club in a huff.
He was what Ben Ferencz of Missoula, the project director, called “a largely undiscovered photographer who captured the souls of a bygone America on film like no one else of his generation.”
Eddie’s Club was a rough-hewn watering hole that attracted railroad workers, cowboys and “other common folks,” Ferencz said. It was discovered by poets, professors and hippies, forming “one of the American West's most vibrant cultural melting pots.”
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Nye asked chosen regulars of the working class bar to step into his “studio” in the back alley. There he photographed them with a Rollieflex camera using only natural light.
“The 125 images he captured represent a singular achievement in 20th century American photography. Noted art critic John Yau points out at Hyperallergic.com that Nye’s portraits were created a decade before the much-heralded portrait series ‘In the American West’ by famed East Coast photographer Richard Avedon,” Ferencz noted in a press release.
Yau wrote that to his mind Nye’s portraits are “a far more solid achievement than Avedon’s but in a narrower vein. Avedon … objectifies (his subjects), which Nye never does.”
“Nye’s photographs are about who the men are and how much can be glimpsed in the gaze of his camera,” Yau wrote.
Jean Belangie-Nye of Lolo opened her late husband’s archives and researched biographies that will accompany each subject. The portraits will be printed in a duotone with black and metallic silver by fine art book publisher The Studley Press of Dalton, Massachusetts.