Art Review


Roach Photos has been in its distinctive old building on Broadway and Ninth Avenue, just south of downtown, since the mid-1970s, but its long and proud history goes back way before that. The business, which specializes in the production of photomurals, was launched in 1936 by the late commercial photographer Otto Roach.

That was a long time ago, so it's no surprise to learn that over the decades, photos by Roach and his onetime assistant, Dutch Walla, to whom he sold the business in 1958, have piled up in the file cabinets. This embarrassment of riches ultimately led Walla, a retired commercial photographer and still the owner, to open Gallery Roach last month in the front space at Roach Photos (860 Broadway, 303-839-5202). The gallery is devoted exclusively to the exhibition and sale of work by Roach and Walla, both of whom captured a wide array of subjects during their long careers. But for the premiere exhibit, Two Men, One State of Mind...Colorado, selections were limited to landscape photos, which are seen in flawlessly done black-and-white prints.

Stylicstically, the two photographers' works are closely related, which makes sense because Walla learned his craft from Roach. "I got shipped off to Germany when I was in the service, and I bought a Leica there and started taking photos," Walla says. "When I got out, in 1953, I came back to Denver and showed them to Roach. He liked them and took me on as an apprentice." That on-the-job training was subsidized by the then-recently created GI Bill.

The most obvious similarity between their landscape photos is a shared instinctive feel for pictorial composition. The perfectly arranged photos depict majestic, pristine views of the Western scenery, as seen in Roach's "Hagerman Peak" and Walla's "Sunshine Peak and Wilson Peak Sunset" (above). Both were taken in the 1950s, but they have been newly printed specifically for the exhibit.

Though Roach and Walla went for the same kinds of shots -- snow-covered peaks, rugged canyons and twisted, wind-blown trees -- Roach also did nudes in the landscape. "I've got to be the only photographer in Denver who didn't photograph nudes," Walla says with a laugh. The pair of Roach nudes are really campy, showing a corpulent woman emerging from a dead but still standing tree trunk.

Two Men was slated to close this weekend, but because it's been so popular, Walla has extended its run through February 28.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia