March marks Denver’s biennial Month of Photography, a tremendously successful, multi-venue event founded by photographer and photography advocate Mark Sink in 2004. Each iteration of MoP sees many of the area’s exhibition spaces mounting shows at least tangentially related to photography. The Arvada Center has already opened two of them: Double Exposure: An Exhibition of Photography and Video, a large group show, and Stop/Look/See: Photography by James Milmoe, a major solo. Both were put together by Collin Parson, the center’s director of the galleries, and exhibition manager Kristin Bueb.
For Double Exposure, the pair issued a call for submissions from artists working in both photography and video for what was essentially a juried process. Even so, some of the artists were clearly more or less pre-selected, since Parson and Bueb were already familiar with their efforts. But Parson says they also chose artists whose work they didn’t know, as well as others who were already recognized for other mediums, so some of the photo and video efforts came as a complete surprise to them.
The show in the enormous lower-level galleries begins with a series of lyrical, photo-based collages by Heidi Neubauer-Winterburn from her recent “The Universe” series, in which she imposes cut-outs of historic images, including those of the figure, on top of other images. These collages bracket a video projection with parts surgically removed, but with subtitles that tell a real-life story of a family committing suicide. On the opposite side of the entry is an enigmatic video and accompanying photos by Chrissy Espinoza that record a performance in which a man goes into the wilderness with a shovel, disrobes, buries his clothing, digs it up and puts it back on; the pointlessness of the exercise harks back to the neo-dada videos of the ’60s. In between is one of Dave Seiler’s updated, hand-cranked animation machines that he calls phrenitiscopes; this one is beautifully made with clear acrylic sheets and shiny metal. The viewer turns a handle to flip photo cards arranged so that they simulate movement when the wheels of images get going. There’s also a heavily censored Seiler video that’s nothing more than big blocks of color moving on the screen.
In the gallery to the left, Shannon Kelly shows work from three series. The most striking piece — and one of the show’s standouts — is “Wake,” a video of buildings shot from a car and then reflected in a pool of black water. More deeply personal are Ryan Ruehlen’s meditations displayed via an aerial map of the spot where his father was killed in a plane crash, with projected videos shot by his father.
A couple of major installations occupy the atrium. The two-story-plus-tall wall is covered with scores of random street photos by Dylan Scholinski; lined up on top are monitors with equally informally conceived videos, including one of a plastic bag caught in a bush blowing in the wind. The whole thing has been aptly dubbed “EXTRAordinary.” Opposite these are exquisitely beautiful images of translucent bulbous shapes that turn out to be blown-up wads of bubble gum — which is funny, since the photos are so elegant. These works, by Debra Sanders, are from her “Swell” series; she’s also represented by an unusual installation made up of shifting stills emanating from many floor-mounted projectors. Sanders first displayed a piece of this type fifteen years ago, but she has periodically changed the 35mm analog shots that she projects, which for her are evocative of dreams.
Beyond the atrium is one of the most unusual sections — in a show with a lot of unusual things. Here are the “Madame Eroshenko” photos of a deformed butterfly, paired with a video of a computer animation of it, all by Yoshitomo Saito. This work is somewhat unexpected, since Saito is known as a bronze sculptor — but just like his three-dimensional pieces, these are sublime. Saito shares the gallery with two artists, including Sonja Hinrichsen, who’s famous for her snow drawings, in which footprints are used to create patterns that are photographed from above with drones. A few representations of the finished works are displayed, along with a video of volunteers making the marks. In the opposite corner is a narrative documentary about an organic farm in Hawaii, along with some stills, by Dana Forsberg.
The last section of the show is in the adjacent gallery. Facing the viewer is a selection of pieces by Edie Winograde, including a video recording that’s been in production for more than twenty years of a cross-country train trip she took, as well as stills of that trip. There is also one of Winograde’s photos of historic reenactments, her best-known series; this one is of a re-creation of the meeting of the railroads in 1869 at Promontory Summit in Utah, with two restored steam engines facing one another on the same track. To the left are some intriguing linear abstractions in photos and video by Krista Steinke made over a long period using pinhole cameras so that slits of light form the lines. Opposite the Steinkes are the most visceral images in the entire show, done by Kari Treadwell: photos of high heels filled with food, including lime Jell-O and cherry filling, and a video of Treadwell (no pun intended) slipping her feet into a pair of high heels loaded with lemon pudding.
Beyond the focus on photography and videos, Double Exposure is a real free-for-all. Aside from Kelly’s equally strong photos and video, the stills in the rest of the show are better than the movies — a persistent issue for fine-art video.
In the upper galleries and extending into the Theater Gallery, Stop/Look/See at first looks like a group show because there’s so much material with so many different styles and approaches. But this staggering volume comes from just one photographer, James Milmoe, and it represents just a tiny fraction of his output. The scope makes sense, though, when you consider that the Golden-based photographer has been active for more than fifty years.
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This isn’t a retrospective; there are no dates on anything, so the show isn’t intended to explicate Milmoe’s stylistic development. Instead, work is displayed according to theme or subject, with Milmoe returning to certain topics again and again over the course of several decades. The black-and-white photos of gravestones from his highly regarded “Cemetery” series have a poetic subtlety that ironically captures the timeworn symbols of eternity. The photos showing the colorful details of vintage motorcycles are entirely different; they have the graphic power of posters. Falling somewhere in between in sensibility are the close-ups of flowers and metal valves in public restrooms. And the lineup of photos of aspen groves reveals Milmoe’s skill at getting unique results even with overworked subjects; each features a different dominating shade as the trees go through the four seasons — blue, brown, green and gold.
With such a strong start to the Month of Photography, March should come in with a roar.
Double Exposure: An Exhibition of Photography and Video, Stop/Look/See: Photography by James Milmoe, both through March 26 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org.