Shutter Luck

Story by Nicky Ouellet

Kyle Massick barely believed his eyes when he spotted the planes in the river. Resting on the steep embankment of the Clark Fork river were three Boeing 737 fuselages, stranded there after a freight train derailed on its way to an assembly plant in Washington on July 3, 2014.

Massick, a river guide and photojournalism student at the University of Montana, pulled into an eddy behind a rocky outcropping, got out his Canon 30D with its 70-200mm F/4 lens, and waited an hour for the perfect shot.

“I tried to get that illusion of how powerful the earth is, and the environment within it,” he said.

By July 7, his photo series of small rafts floating past towering plane bodies had traveled around the world.

Massick scored his early career break through a combination of luck and nonchalance.

After failing to sell his photos to the Missoulian, he gave them to King 5 News in Seattle for free. The photo credit he was hoping for turned out to be a major one.

Reuters, the global news agency, spotted his work and purchased redistribution rights for three pictures for $500.

A latecomer to photojournalism after trying majors in nursing, psychology, and forestry, Massick says he holds no illusions that the photos will launch his career. For now, he’s happy to photograph tourists as they navigate the rapids of the Clark Fork—a river rat, ready for the big one to break.

Three years of teaching English in Russia and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation left Nicky Ouellet with no shortage of stories or wanderlust. Now in the classroom as a graduate student, she continues to seek out stories and adventures in western Montana.