Montana, USA – 2018
The Jersey Lilly is the most authentic and isolated “Final Frontier” saloon bar I know in America. Based in the town of Ingomar, Montana (population 12), it is a long way from anywhere. In fact, there is no store or fuel within a 45-minute drive north, south, east or west. It truly is the “last chance saloon”. My fixer in Montana spoke to the owner - a cowboy rather splendidly called “Boots” - and he agreed that we could use the interior and exterior for filming on a Monday and Tuesday in the early summer - when the bar itself would normally be closed. Permits were also secured with the local authorities to allow us to film in the bar with a tame bear. I did a reconnaissance the previous Saturday - a good three-hour round trip from Billings, Montana - to check the light and the bar’s interior. It was clear that there was potential to tell a “wild west” story, but equally I would have very little depth of field in any photograph I took - the window light was okay, but not overly generous. I was drawn to the number of animal heads on the wall and in particular the massive bison in the top corner seemed a great prop to play with, albeit I needed a composition to show it off.
Roxanna Redfoot from Dallas, Texas is a star - she is smart, as well as striking and can play any character role. On this occasion, her role was within her comfort zone - a sassy and smokingly sexy saloon bar maid with a no-nonsense approach to over eager customers. The customer, Adam - a 1000 lb brown bear - is not normally aggressive but working with him is far from easy - as he does not speak English. Roxanna showed no anxiety and was theatrical and focused from start to finish. Her eyes had to tell a story. For my part, I had a preconception and an image in my head. It was vital to me that both the bear’s head and Roxy’s head had to be equidistant from my camera lens - which probably meant that they had to be looking at each other. I knew that we would have a limited window of opportunity as Adam was not going to play the role for long - he gets bored easily. Luckily the rabbit behind the bar kept him focused for longer than I expected. The vast majority of shots did not work for one reason or another - my focus, the bear’s head position or the interaction between the two characters. But this one image is a gem. The American Wild West - you cannot beat it as a canvas on which to paint a playful vignette.