Scenic Overlook

Community College of Denver takes an academic look at fine-art photography.

All this week, the Community College of Denver on the Auraria campus has been hosting a national conference on photography titled "Photography and the Creative Process." Free and open to the public, the conference was organized by renowned local photographer Ron Wohlauer, who has taught photography at CCD since 1975. In conjunction with the conference, the Colorado Photographic Arts Center and the adjacent Carol Keller Gallery are hosting an exhibit, also titled Photography and the Creative Process, that features the work of conference presenters.

Planning for the conference began informally in the summer of 1998 "as a modest idea," recalls Wohlauer. "Initially, I wanted to bring David Bayles to Denver to talk."

Bayles, an Oregon-based photographer and conservationist, is Wohlauer's old pal. The two originally became friends as undergraduates at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the late 1960s. Both were already interested in photography. "We met at the film counter of Jones Drug and Camera," says Wohlauer.

"Tub in Field, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, 1997," by Ron Wohlauer, photo.
"Tub in Field, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, 1997," by Ron Wohlauer, photo.
"Count Basie (Upstairs at the Blue Note)," by Ted Williams, photo.
"Count Basie (Upstairs at the Blue Note)," by Ted Williams, photo.

After graduation, Wohlauer left for graduate school at Cambridge University in England, and Bayles attended UCLA. In the early 1970s, their paths crossed again when they both wound up at the University of Oregon. Wohlauer returned to Colorado soon after, however, while Bayles remained in Oregon. But the two photographers had forged a lifelong friendship based on their shared interest in classic forms, specifically the landscape and the nude.

Lining up Bayles was easy, so Wohlauer decided to expand his idea into a full-blown week-long conference. "I came up with the idea for the conference because I didn't know at the time how hard it was to do something like this," he says. Other out-of-town luminaries participating in the conference include Kim Weston of California, representing the third generation of the Weston photo dynasty (his uncle is Brett Weston, and his grandfather is the late Edward Weston); Willie Osterman, from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York; and John Schaefer, a former president of the University of Arizona who was among the founders of the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson.

Wohlauer would like to make the conference a biannual event, but only if he gets some help. "I've made every phone call and all the arrangements," he says with a mixture of exhaustion and pride. Aside from organizing the entire thing by himself, Wohlauer was able to pull it off with a shoestring budget of $5,000. "CCD is a wonderful vehicle for an event of this sort. The conference is being held at St. Cajetan's, which is very expensive to rent, especially for an entire week," he says. "But since the conference is also a credit course at CCD, we were able to use St. Cajetan's for free."

The topic of the conference is the role of creativity in fine-art photography and, by implication, the separate issue of technical mastery. But the real reason behind the conference was Wohlauer's interest in creating "some kind of focus for the photo community in Denver. There's not a lot that unifies the community, and the conference highlights the fact that there are some really good people working in this geographic area," he points out. "I wanted to utilize the great resources that are here."

Wohlauer notes that the local photo scene, as good as it is, is little known to the general public; he calls it "a well-kept secret," and he's right. Several of the photographers participating in the conference will be new to many people, since they rarely exhibit their work, but Wohlauer hopes the event will get the word out about them.

The accompanying exhibit goes a long way in accomplishing his goal.

The CPAC and the Carol Keller Gallery share a converted garage in the Highland neighborhood. Visitors enter the CPAC first, with access to the Keller Gallery just off the center's south gallery. The show starts off with the work of Scott Engle, the chairman of the fine-art department at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton. His three large color photos feature shredded images laid one over another. In the wonderful Decompose 2412a-98 #43, Engle has crowded the photo with image fragments, but one feature stands out: the face of a smiling man in the upper left corner.

To the right are a pair of large black-and-white portraits by Gary Lynch. Essentially silhouettes, the two photos, Crooked Arrow and Gemini (Female) are almost entirely a rich, deep black. The only light Lynch uses is along the profiles of the single face seen in each. Lynch currently teaches at the University of Colorado at Denver.

On the long wall facing the front door are two photo-based pieces by Lisbeth Neergaard Kohloff, Fields of Memory #1 and Fields of Memory #2. Both join found images from the turn of the century with pressed flowers and leaves. For each piece, Kohloff has lined up three separately framed color snapshots of flowers. Above each group she has placed a found image of a woman on an oval-shaped embroidery frame. In these pieces, Kohloff is linking some interests related to Victorian-era women -- photography, pressing flowers and needlework. Kohloff has taught the history of photography at UCD for more than twenty years. She is also the coordinator for the CPAC's gallery.

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