"I Choose Door #1," by Jerry De La Cruz, altered photographic collage.
"I Choose Door #1," by Jerry De La Cruz, altered photographic collage.

Hot Shots

The Colorado Photographic Arts Center has its offices and exhibition space in the Highland neighborhood in a rehabbed garage it shares with the Carol Keller Gallery. At first, Keller occupied the main rooms -- converted mechanics' bays -- and the CPAC was in the smaller rooms that had been offices. But last year, the two switched places.

Because the bigger quarters gave the CPAC an opportunity to present larger shows, the board decided to use the expansion as an opportunity to increase its membership, and it cast a wide net to catch fresh talent. "We took out an ad and invited photographers to submit work -- an open call. Anyone could respond, they didn't need to be members," says Lisbeth Neergaard Kohloff, the CPAC's gallery director.

Slides poured in, and a committee reviewed the submissions. They selected a number of artists who would be included in future shows. Then a subcommittee, made up of Kohloff, her husband, R. Skip Kohloff, and Carol Keller, director of the namesake gallery, sorted the chosen artists into groups of three. Color Constructs is the latest in a series of shows highlighting the contemporary Colorado photographers who were discovered through that open call.


The exhibit, which features experimental color photography, leads off with several large abstracts based on flowers by Robert Bridges. A self-taught photographer, Bridges has exhibited his work locally for only the last few years, but his passion for the medium began when he was a child.

It's hard to say exactly how he gets the types of images seen at CPAC. That they are chromogenic prints will lead many to conclude that the fractured forms contained within are the result of digital manipulations done on a computer -- but they're not. Bridges uses natural and artificial light and sheets of glass to produce the images. Knowing this, it appears that what he has done is record the reflections of the flowers in the sheets of glass, and not the flowers themselves.

The effect falls somewhere between impressionism and abstract expressionism -- kind of like Monet meeting Hans Hofmann. This may lead viewers to forget that they're looking at floral photographs -- a craze in fine-art photography during the last decade or so. But Bridges separates his work from other flower photographers by writing in his artist's statement that his interest in flowers is metaphorical. For him, flowers "aptly symbolize...individual lives" in that they follow the same "perennial cycle of birth, death and re-birth." Reading this, we're not surprised to learn that Bridges, who lives in Denver, has formal training in theology.

In "Abstract #1," also dubbed "For Nana," which hangs just inside the main entrance to the gallery, Bridges allows smears of bright yellow and murky purple to peek through a mostly dark background. He uses the same technique and subject in "Abstract #4," around the corner, but the effect is somewhat different with bright red, yellow and white dominating the top half of the photo.

Bridges is a great color-mixer, but he could hardly go wrong with flowers, which are known for their pleasing tones.

Beyond these floral abstractions, in the back space, are two walls covered with hand-tinted photos by Karla Nicholson, who hails from the artsy little town of Basalt, not far from Aspen. Nicholson studied at photography workshops at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village and at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs.

Over the years she has been both a gallery director and an art teacher, and has experimented with a variety of photographic subjects ranging from a body of work that explored the psychological effects of domestic violence to painted landscapes and cityscapes. It is this last topic that we see in this show.

In color and composition, her photos here are all similar to one another. But there are two distinct subjects, and her work may be divided into one group that focuses on European city subjects, mostly Venetian shots, and another that comprises Southwestern landscapes. Her use of pale tints applied in thin washes links these photos to turn-of-the-nineteenth-century postcards, and surely they have been modeled after these classic shots.

The exhibit concludes in the front room with the altered photos and collages by Denver artist Jerry De La Cruz. Born in Denver, De La Cruz graduated from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in 1973. Like many fine artists, he needed a day job, so he began teaching at a number of local art schools, including his current gig at the Art Students League of Denver, which began in 1987. In 1989, he moved to Pueblo to run his own commercial radio station, but he sold it in 1997 and came back to Denver.

His pieces in Color Constructs are decidedly neo-pop art in flavor, and all come from his "Perceptions" series of portraits. Starting with black-and-white photos, De La Cruz alters the images in the darkroom. He further changes the photos once they are printed by using oil paint to obscure parts of the photos, while emphasizing other areas.

The most interesting of these are the two related mixed media on ragboard collages, "I Choose Door #1" and "Striking Movements." In both, he has arranged black-and-white photocopies across the horizontal ragboard and then linked the images with abstract painted forms done in toned-up colors like bubble-gum pink and taxi-cab yellow.

Though the three photographers in this show are only superficially linked by their use of color, their distinctive visions work well together. This will be the last of the unsung-talent shows at CPAC, however. Future programs will likely take a look at well-known local and national photographers. "We'll be getting more directed," Kohloff says.

Not far from the CPAC, experimental photo-based pieces are also filling up both of the main spaces at the Edge Gallery. In an unusual move, two longtime Edge co-op members, abstract painter Mark Brasuell and photographer Dania Pettus, have collaborated on a single body of work titled Everything Personal.

For Brasuell, this is the latest in a series of edgy -- or perhaps kooky -- ideas that address the nature of creativity and authorship. In the past, he's had others put titles to his paintings, he's used abstractions and extensive text panels to illustrate his experience of being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (even dedicating that show to his psychiatrist), and he's had other artists start drawings that he then completed (in some cases drawing over and eliminating the efforts of his would-be collaborators).

But Everything Personal looks nothing like his previous work, nor does it resemble the previous work of Pettus. Thus the two have been successful in creating truly collaborative art, an extremely rare commodity in the fine arts.

In the front gallery, Brasuell and Pettus have assembled a group of fifteen photo montages that have been digitally printed. Using a computer, the pair combines photographs of the figure with a wide variety of found printed images and drawn abstract forms. Meshed in this way, the details, even if sometimes elucidated by the titles, are difficult, though not impossible, to make out.

On the wall facing the entrance is a row of nine digital prints. In the red-tinted "pull baby face," there's a closeup of a man's distorted nose and mouth, the result of computer manipulations. In "big-hipped rubenesque woman," a thin and delicate woman's hand strokes her ample stomach. This piece is carried out in a palette of grays and ochres.

On the adjacent wall is another set of six digital prints. Among the prints are "patterned bottom scarab," in which a gray half tone of a scarab is laid over a nude done in a shimmering blue. This print is one of several pieces that combines images of insects with the very different form of the human figure or the face. The geometric elements of the beetle, with its rows of legs, are juxtaposed with the organic tangle of human limbs underneath.

The same kinds of images are also seen in the larger middle space at the gallery. In these pieces, the digital prints have been installed in roughly finished, black-painted shadow boxes that are back-lit. In fact, the only light in this space is that which emanates from the boxes themselves. The resulting mood is warm, even though some of the specific image juxtapositions in the pieces are slightly unnerving.

Most of the lighted boxes have been hung in groups of three to nine pieces, but one, "Flying Lying Lady," is hung alone and holds its own. This may be how Brasuell and Pettus imagined they would be displayed -- individually -- since they've priced each piece separately, regardless of how they've been installed at Edge.

Back-lighting shadow boxes is an art form that came into its own in the mid-1990s -- especially in Denver at 37th Avenue and Tejon Street. And though Brasuell and Pettus haven't made any improvements upon the form, their boxes create an atmosphere that fills the entire space. Even the tangles of white extension cords that hang below the boxes and clog the edges of the room are no real distraction.

Anything Personal is worth seeing, both because it is ambitious in itself and because of the ambitious goal of the two artists in attempting a collaboration.

If traditional black-and-white photography is more to your liking than experimental color work, the venerable Camera Obscura has just the thing: Years Together & Years Apart features the work of the late Imogen Cunningham and her son, Rondal Partridge. All the prints were newly done using old negatives; the Cunninghams have been estate-stamped.

Cunningham, who died in 1976, was one of the greatest fine-art photographers of the first half of the twentieth century. In 1900, at the age of seventeen, she began working as an assistant to legendary Seattle photographer Edward S. Curtis, and in 1903, she entered the chemistry department at the University of Washington and became an expert in the use of photographic chemicals.

Soon after, she joined the pictorialist movement after meeting Alfred Stieglitz, who was then a proponent of the style. "The Supplicant," taken in 1910, is a good example. It is a narrative photo concerning a nude male pursuing a reluctant nude female. It looks like a still from a silent movie. Cunningham gained easy success with this kind of work and was given a solo show at the Brooklyn Institute in 1917.

In the 1920s and '30s, she began doing the kind of work that made her famous and linked her to other West Coast photographers, like her close friend Edward Weston. In these signature photos, she captured the abstract qualities of flowers or the female nude. Examples of both types are included in this exhibit. "The First Magnolia," from 1923, shows a flower in bright artificial light set against a dark, recessive ground. In "Triangles," from 1928, Cunningham crops a nude woman's body to highlight the geometry of arms, breast and stomach.

All of these photos were posthumously printed under the direction of Partridge, Cunningham's son, a noteworthy photographer in his own right. In the 1930s, he worked as an apprentice for Dorothea Lange and later for Ansel Adams. He then embarked on a fifty-year-long career as a commercial photographer; his work has appeared in Time, Life and Fortune magazines. Retiring in the 1980s, Partridge dedicated himself to creating fine-art photos.

The earliest Partridge photos at Camera Obscura date back to the 1930s, but most are ones he's created since retiring. Stylistically, his work is akin to Cunningham's and, like his mom, he likes to capture the abstract quality of a single object, in particular, flowers. "My Magnolia," from 1999, could easily be mistaken for a Cunningham -- except for its recent date.

A special feature of Years Together & Years Apart is that everything is a platinum palladium print. Partridge enlisted accomplished platinum printers Richard Lohmann and Pradip Malde to make the prints. Ironically, one of Cunningham's claims to fame was her development of a lead salt substitute for platinum printing, a task no doubt assisted by her background in chemistry. According to gallery director Hal Gould, the platinum method is the best way to print black-and-white images. "The gradations in tonality are impossible to achieve in any other way," he says. "You certainly can't get the same effect using gel-covered photographic paper, like so many of them do today."

Camera Obscura is the first American gallery to present this exhibit, but it premiered last year in Germany. It continues Gould's decades-long tradition of presenting the world's greatest photographers in intimate and intelligent little shows.


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