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Larry Mayer, The Chronicler: Billings Gazette photographer documents Montana for nearly 50 years

Posted at 4:45 PM, Feb 28, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-28 18:49:10-05

Larry Mayer, a photographer with The Billings Gazette, has been professionally taking photographs and documenting communities across Montana for the Billings publisher for the last 46 years.

"You should become like Larry – y’know, who likes everybody … knows everybody … (is) gentle with everybody … and understands that everyone has value," said Chris Jorgensen, the managing editor of the Gazette.

Mayer began his career as a sports photographer shortly after high school with his hometown's local news outlet, The Livingston Enterprise.

"I built a darkroom in my basement when I was in high school ... mostly what I did was look at National Geographic magazine," said Mayer.

He is now known internationally for photographing and identifying the Chinese spy balloon that was flown over Montana last year.

"A lot of times, we overload him and give him way more than he can get to and he always manages to get to everything, somehow," said Jorgensen.

When he started working for the Gazette, Mayer said he bought his first airplane and sought his pilot's license after he realized he needed to reach newsworthy locations across Montana more expeditiously.

"(There's a) school that burned down in Plentywood, there's a flood on the Musselshell River, there was, y'know, whatever events those were, I would fly there, do an aerial, and then go take pictures and talk to people on the ground," said Mayer. "It took a lot of experimentation and there was a lot of failure ... Failure's fine because it teaches you."

Mayer's work is currently being exhibited at the Western Heritage Center and will be exhibited in his hometown of Livingston.

"His legacy will continue on. He's gonna continue to do photography and continue to do aviation, and still be an important part of the photojournalism community in Billings and Montana," said Amy Nelson, a photographer with the Billings Gazette, whom Mayer has mentored during her time with the publisher.