Parting Shots

Jane Fudge fools around with local photo history on her way out the DAM door.

The last problem is the nearly total lack of biographical material concerning the four featured photographers: Wood, Berko, Crestone's Mary Alice Johnston and Denver's own Hal Gould. Had Fudge remained at her post, surely this would not have happened. We're hard-pressed to blame Milteer and Tieken, however, since they took over at the very last minute and presented a valiant effort despite the circumstances.

Of the four artists, Wood is probably the most famous. Born in Oklahoma in 1921, he was fascinated with New Mexico and southern Colorado. He spent nearly sixty years photographing the Taos Pueblo, the chapels of the Penitente Brotherhood, farms, ranches and small towns, as well as the inhabitants of each place. He is best known for his studies of Georgia O'Keeffe and her adobe homes and studios in Abiquiu and in Ghost Ranch, done between 1979 and 1981. Several of these have been included in the show at the DAM.

In a single page of information that accompanies the show, Tieken has written that Wood was interested in "precise composition" and that he had an eye for "romantic detail" -- a combination of attributes that is shown off in "Taos Pueblo," a gelatin silver print from 1961. The cubistic composition of the pueblo, exaggerated by the bright, sunlit portions contrasting with places in deep shadows, fills the picture from one side to the other. Standing inconspicuously on a parapet is a draped female figure. Other beautiful signature Wood photos include "Elder, San Francisco Church, Ranchos de Taos," from 1964, and "Penitente Morada," from 1978.

"Vino: ‘Hal-o-gram,'" by Hal Gould, photogram.
"Vino: ‘Hal-o-gram,'" by Hal Gould, photogram.

Wood's photos fill the entire wall and then wrap around the corner. The rest of this adjacent wall is devoted to Johnston's photos, many of which were taken in Paris, where she lived from 1950 to 1958, and during her travels around the world. Johnston, who was born in Michigan in 1921, was inspired by French street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, and, like his work, hers has a lyrical and intimate character. Especially charming are her photos of children playing at the beach, such as "Ballet," a gelatin silver print from 1968, and "The Sandman Cometh," a color photograph from 1978.

Europe is also the locale for many of the Berko photos. Berko was born in Hungary in 1916 and came to this country to flee the Nazis. In Chicago in 1949, he was hired by the late philanthropist-industrialist Walter Paepcke to record the cultural life in Aspen that Paepcke created. But here again, Fudge left out these photos in favor of Berko's work from his trip into exile and, later, his Mexican vacations.

Berko was a rare example of a post-war photographer who was interested in color, and he was a pioneer in the use of color in fine-art photography, as seen in the sumptuous dye-transfer print "Chicago," a 1948 shot of a serpentine staircase. Also striking is 1952's "Poster Series," another dye-transfer print, this one depicting the peeling image of a clown.

Last up is Gould, who was born in Wyoming in 1920 and was a commercial photographer for thirty years before becoming a curator and gallery director, first for the Colorado Photographic Arts Center and then for his Camera Obscura Gallery, just across the street from the DAM.

"Penguin Hallelujah Chorus," a gelatin silver print set in Antarctica, is an example of his most recent work; it was done earlier this year. There's also one of Gould's photos of bristlecones, "The Wild One," from 1991, and one Western landscape, "Bent's Fort," from 1996. Both are gelatin silver prints.

Really out of the ordinary is "Vino: 'Hal-o-gram,'" from 1985, a gelatin silver photogram in which Gould laid metal corkscrews and wine-bottle openers on the photo-sensitive paper.

More than most people associated with the DAM, Jane Fudge had a high profile in the local art world. I've often thought of her as the museum's ambassador to Denver. That's what made the unpleasantness surrounding her leaving such a public-relations error on the part of the museum. Too bad, because whether they like it or not, it's the summer's biggest art story.

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