Y/OUR Denver Photography Exhibit Shows Beauty of Mile High Architecture

“Justice Center Dome” by Ernie Leyba won Best in Show.
“Justice Center Dome” by Ernie Leyba won Best in Show. Ernie Leyba
Five years ago, the Denver Architecture Foundation and Colorado Photographic Arts Center decided to collaborate on a Doors Open Denver Photography Competition, a juried photography contest that resulted in an online exhibition focusing on local architecture. The concept was such a hit that it's become an annual event; this year's winners can be seen online through February 28 in a digital exhibition titled Y/OUR Denver.

The photos were selected by CPAC executive director and curator Samantha Johnston, who combed through 233 submissions before whittling them down to the thirty shots seen in the show. She's been jurying the competition since it began, and each year she's learned more about Denver.

"It's been fun for me over the years to see all the different sides of the city," says Johnston, who moved to Denver from Boston in 2010. "And this year, we made changes to the call and said that people could submit work that was taken outside the city of Denver. ... So that was exciting for me this year in the jurying, to be choosing things that were both in and outside the city."

Johnston, who worked as a high school and middle school photography and arts teacher before joining CPAC in 2015, says that when she goes through submissions, she looks at several key factors, such as how the photographer worked with light and angles, and the environment surrounding the architecture.
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Carol Mikesh's "Camouflage," which won Best Detail.
Carol Mikesh
Carol Mikesh's "Camouflage," which won Best Detail in this year's competition, is a perfect example of all three of those factors. The photograph shows the windows of a Denver high-rise reflecting the surrounding blue sky and clouds, with viewers only able to discern the building by indentations in the window framing. "There's the architecture, but then there's the play with the environment," notes Johnston. The Best in Show photograph, "Justice Center Dome," by Ernie Leyba, also compels viewers with such play, balancing interior and exterior with the gold dome of the Capitol as seen through the dome of the Justice Center.

Each year, Johnston says she finds herself asking, "What building is that? Where can I see that?" It's helped her not only to see the city through the lenses of others, but to discover areas she wants to explore herself. Sometimes she even finds herself asking those questions about a building she already knows but is now seeing in a new light or angle.

"What I hope other people enjoy about the exhibition is that it's the city and our region through other people's eyes. And I love getting to see things where I'm like, 'Oh, I've never seen it from that angle,' or, 'I didn't know that existed! Where is that in our city?'" she says.

"There are so many iconic spaces — Union Station, the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Library, the Cash Register Building," she adds. "Also, I think what's so interesting is seeing how things are changing, and how construction has changed the skyline of the city that had a very different skyline ten years ago than it does now."

Through the years, the competition has documented a changing Denver. Some buildings that were photographed for a specific contest may not be there by the time the exhibition is mounted, as was the case with Mark Stein's "Breaking a Bridge," which won Best Exterior this year.
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Mark Stein's "Breaking a Bridge," which won Best Exterior.
Mark Stein
"There is a lot of construction and change that has been occurring," says Johnston. "The image by Mark Stein is of the old University of Colorado Health Sciences Center that doesn't exist anymore. And so you're seeing pockets of the city that have holding structures that are not there anymore, but I think that's just part of the growing pains that the city is in. That's also the nice thing about the exhibition: getting people to sit, to look and think."

Y/OUR Denver is online through February 28.
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Emily Ferguson is Westword's Culture Editor, covering Denver's flourishing arts and music scene. Before landing this position, she worked as an editor at local and national political publications and held some odd jobs suited to her odd personality, including selling grilled cheese sandwiches at music festivals and performing with fire. Emily also writes on the arts for the Wall Street Journal and is an oil painter in her free time.
Contact: Emily Ferguson

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