Photography is unavoidably linked to the summer, because nearly everyone takes a camera along on vacation. This point was brought home to me last week when, stopped at the light at Colfax Avenue and Lincoln Street, I saw a group of Buddhist monks in traditional robes taking snapshots of one another posed next to the cannon on the west lawn of the State Capitol Building.
Maybe this association was the subliminal impulse behind the high number of photo shows in the area this summer. Or maybe it's just the increasing presence of that medium in the art world. One thing is certain -- it's always worth the trouble to see a Hal Gould show, even if you have to drive all the way to the Foothills Art Center in Golden.
The show, installed in the Metsopoulos Gallery and the small gallery next to it, is called Fire & Ice -- Photographs of the Southwest and Antarctica by Hal Gould. "The pairing of the two different bodies of work gave me the idea for the show's title; it just had to be called Fire and Ice," says Foothills director Carol Dickinson with a laugh. Dickinson organized the show.
The octogenarian Gould, a longtime commercial photographer, curator and gallery director, in addition to being a fine-art photographer, has been a key part of this region's photo scene for nearly fifty years. In spite of this, his work was rarely exhibited until lately. At his own gallery, Camera Obscura, which he opened in 1980, Gould has presented his own work only once, last year.
Dickinson starts the show with the Fire part, which includes photos set in the Santa Fe and Taos areas and a few set in Colorado. Many date back to the 1950s and '60s, but some were done in the '90s. Though Gould has created experimental photos over the years, his best pieces are the traditional ones, and that's what's in the show for the most part.
Gould often takes the classic black-and-white approach made famous by the likes of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, in which the subject is treated iconographically. The earliest of these photos depict ranching life as seen in 1953's "Round-Up" and 1954's "Going Home." Both reflect not only Gould's aesthetic sensibilities but his background: Gould was born on a ranch in Wyoming and grew up on one in New Mexico. More clearly within the tradition of his stylistic mentors is "Taos Pueblo Ovens and Ladders," done in 1960, and "Shiprock, New Mexico," from 1986.
The Ice portion of the show is installed in the small corridor that connects the Metsopoulos Gallery to the rest of Foothills. But the photos, views of Antarctica, look good even in these tight accommodations. The pieces record two trips to the South Pole that Gould undertook just last year -- when he was eighty. He took a cruise on the Orient Line's Marco Polo, a former icebreaker. The ship was equipped with helicopters, so Gould was able to take photos inland as well as from shipboard.
A real standout is the stunning "Expeditionary Crew Scouting Possible Landing Site, Antarctica," which concerns, despite the title, a majestic, unidentified mountain peak in the background with icy water in the foreground. Less successful are the shots of penguins combined with written music.
But Gould is not only the subject of a solo at Foothills right now; he is also curating a show called Hal Gould Invites...10 Colorado Photographers, which is on view in the Waelchli Gallery. Most of the ten chosen artists have exhibited at Camera Obscura, including Golden's Teri O'Neill and Boulder's James Balog.
A surprise inclusion is Denver's Mark Sink, the director of his own photo space, Gallery Sink, and the founder and guiding force behind the Denver Salon, a loose association of contemporary photographers. This is relevant because the Denver Salon is itself the subject of a show at the Denver Art Museum. SevenPoint Perspective: Photography From the Denver Salon is in the Merage Gallery, which has been relocated from the first floor to the seventh floor.
The show, which closes in early September, was organized by Nancy Tieken, the well-known associate curator in the DAM's modern and contemporary department. Tieken holds a caretaker's role in the department's photo section while a replacement is found for Jane Fudge, the former photo specialist who left the DAM last summer. (Fudge, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, will temporarily return to town this fall to curate a show at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art.)
Instead of building a survey representative of the approximately two dozen current members of the Denver Salon, and the dozen or so who have come and gone over the last ten years, Tieken elected to sample only seven. This decision, intelligent and considered as it was, has caused hurt feelings among those who were left out, but it was inevitable for several reasons: Not every member of the Denver Salon produces credible work consistently, because credentials for membership are essentially social as opposed to aesthetic. Plus, given the space constraints of the Merage Gallery, there just wasn't room for everyone.
Luckily for Sink, the task of paring down the group was left to Tieken, so he's been spared the worst of the teeth-gnashing by those who were left out. But not all of it, especially since Sink wound up being one of the selected seven.
Sink's work is shown in depth with a group of photos in which silhouettes of bottles are seen in front of saturated black grounds. Within the silhouettes are smokey, atmospheric effects in various shades of gray.
Also seen in depth is Susan Evans. Her signature style features lines of text in white put against a black background. The text often has an ironic content, and many times it appears to have multiple meanings, as in, "Do not touch front hold edges" and "Show proudly to others," both of which appear in "#423, 1994," a gelatin silver print.
More traditional are the night scenes by Christopher James and the prairie views by Kevin O'Connell. The James photos, a number of them taken in LoDo as the area changed, are gorgeous. He has a sophisticated vision that imbues each subject with a big-city glamour, even when it's a miniature building such as "Tiny House." The opposite of James's nighttime vistas are O'Connell's sun-drenched ones. He uses the simplicity of the plains, and their punctuation by utility and electric poles, to create nearly linear abstractions, none more so than "Black Earth With Poles," a platinum palladium print.
The remaining trio of Denver Salon artists don't stop after they take photos. Instead, they go on to combine the photos with several other elements for their installations.
John Hallin's "Recitative" is made up of multiple unframed photocopies arranged as a bas-relief collage that covers an entire wall. Hallin combines black-and-white abstractions with blurred color images of a figure.
Eric Havelock-Bailie's photographic bas-relief, "Gravitas," is closely related to Hallin's piece, both stylistically and conceptually; it is also monumental. Against the wall are what Havelock-Bailie calls "cameraless photographs," which are actually paintings done with photographic chemicals and photosensitive paper. Hung in front of these purplish panels are blurred color shots of nudes in movement that are digitally printed pinhole photographs.
David Zimmer's impressive wall-mounted installation, "Sleep," is made up of jars filled with water; photos of faces have been attached to the backs of the jars and are thus visible from the front through the water. The jars are intermittently top-lighted, and there's a sound feature -- an amplifier set on the garage-band-feedback setting. The Zimmer dominates the show owing to the flashing lights and the insistent sound.
Tieken did a good job of gleaning an interesting show from the large member roster of the Denver Salon, but I might have been tempted to include a few more of them than she did.
The William Havu Gallery in the Golden Triangle is also hosting a photo show. This is something of a surprise, because the gallery's stock and trade is paintings, sculptures and works on paper.
The exhibit has the rather blunt title The Photography Show, but the gallery, which is frequently over-installed, has never looked better. This is because of the relatively spare number of pieces and the use of distinctly separated areas, each devoted to one of the four artists in the group show.
The first artist is Scott Parsons, who is given the north half of the impressive main two-story-tall space. Parsons needs the room, because the photographs here have been blown up to monumental sizes -- one measuring over seventeen feet long. Parsons began with 35mm prints that were then digitized. The digitized images were sent to Zinc Studios in Las Vegas where they were enlarged and sprayed with ink-jets onto pre-primed canvas.
The photos concern a ten-year-long project the artist has undertaken to record the traditions of the Arapaho Indians on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Parsons is particularly interested in the seemingly unresolvable differences between the Arapaho culture and the Euro-American culture. The numerous shots of traditionally dressed Arapaho, sometimes on horseback in a Catholic cemetery, actually do represent the resolution of the differences. The Arapaho are there to perform a tribal ceremony over an Native American who has already received a Catholic burial. The Arapaho adhere to both belief systems simultaneously.
Parsons's photos are monumental and have a strong graphic impact, similar to a billboard -- which is surely the kind of thing the Vegas-based printer he used ordinarily does. Of particular interest are the portrait compositions of Indians and their horses, with many of the photos referring to both the old and new west.
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The work of Gunnar Plake, who lives outside Baltimore, is displayed in the center of Havu's. Plake's subjects, blurry color landscapes, and his presentation on burnished aluminum sheets, are urbane, not anthropological like the Parsons. The photos look like abstract paintings, and the sheets of aluminum that surround them enhance that quality.
In the back space, under the loft, are hand-colored black-and-white photos by Linda Voychehovski, from Signal Mountain, Tennessee. Voychehovski does retro images reminiscent of the 1930s. Some, like the one that shows Ronald McDonald in a Buddhalike cross-legged pose, with a phony -- and tattooed -- Buddhist monk standing in front, are pretty funny. Others, like the two that take us under the rainbow with scenes of the Scarecrow molesting Dorothy, are a little funny and mostly in bad taste.
Upstairs is a group of traditional black-and-white photos of buildings by Emilio Lobato. The photos were taken by Lobato when he visited Cuba a few years ago. Just like his mixed-media paintings, Lobato's photos show off his never-erring sense for a balanced composition.
The Photography Show looks really good. I hope when the gallery gets back to its regular offerings next month, director Bill Havu will carry over the same less-as-more idea he uses in this instance, because that was an important part of this show's success.