With the biennial Month of Photography well under way, it may seem like photo-based displays have taken over most of the city’s exhibition venues, including the intimate Sandra Phillips Gallery, which has a small group show, and the cozy Leon, which offers an engaging solo. Both are anchored by photos of exterior reality, whether in the landscape or the cityscape.
In No Boundaries, Sandra Phillips has turned over the front of her eponymous gallery to Evan Anderman, a well-known Colorado photographer. Anderman is chiefly interested in aerial photography, sometimes done from a plane, but for "Spring Creek," a series of images of La Veta Pass, he employed a drone with a camera attached. Last year’s Spring Fire took out much of the forest on the pass, and Anderman was interested in making poetically composed images of the aftermath. Since they take up the topic of ruined landscapes, Anderman’s photos technically fall into the new topographic style, but his unerring sense for the picturesque tends to put the work into a more straightforward category, free of irony or political undercurrents.
Though the Anderman photos are in full color, the shots dominated by stands of burned-out trees almost read as though they were done in black and white, until you notice a little rust color around the edges. In others, the damage is partly hidden by the beauty of what's been spared by the flames and the hills and mountains beyond. Perhaps most breathtaking, though, are the photos in which the winding path of the fire can be seen going through otherwise healthy woods, most strikingly in “Spring Creek [10/21/18, #85], La Veta Pass, CO.” In this photo, the foreground is charred, filled with blackened tree trunks, but beyond are ribbons of still-verdant evergreens punctuated by the ghostly white branches of the dead aspens. The combination of colors gives the landscape a tapestry-like character, with the different shades weaving in and out of each other.
With eight large photos hung on either side of the front space, the Anderman selection functions almost as a solo, but Phillips has devoted the back area to a collection of videos by Anna Kaye, Virginia Folkestad and John Morrison. Folkestad is represented by the tiny installation “Self-Portrait,” meant to be a teaser for her upcoming solo at the gallery. It’s sort of like a conceptual-art version of a dollhouse, with a cardboard structure that’s open at one end; inside is a warren of spaces divided by window screening on which tiny videos are being projected. Opposite, on a wall-hung monitor, is Morrison’s “Ineffable No.1,” in which views of downtown Denver are overlaid and sometimes annihilated by abstract forms reminiscent of those he uses in his paintings.
Circling back to the topic of forest fires are two works by Kaye, who for many years has used them as subject matter in her pieces; these both focus on the 2002 Hayman Fire. One is a time-lapse video taken over two weeks using a hidden camera; the view is a hillside with trees along the ridge that are recovering from the damage. This is the same view as in the charming “Sequestered Smoke,” for which she has done an ink-on-paper line drawing of the same scene and then, using digital animation projection, added movement in the form of rabbits, deer and birds, which are seen returning to the burn area. Kaye has been combining traditional realist drawings with projections for several years, but this is the first one in which she has used animation.
Another MoP show worth a shout-out is Nights: Jeff Davenport at Leon, a rich assortment of nighttime views that were shot in California, Oregon and Colorado. Jeff Davenport, whose day job involves app designing, now lives in Los Angeles, but he spent many years in Colorado, both in Boulder, at the University of Colorado, and in Denver before leaving in 2016. He came up through the Mile High City’s punk-music scene as a performer, but began taking photos of bands and individual performers. Four years ago, he started also taking photos outside at night, making the decision to use only ambient light — which is surprising, considering how well-defined the details are. The photos seem like they're illuminated by spotlights, but instead Davenport relies on reflected light from signs, floodlights and streetlights that bounces off the things he’s capturing, including buildings, cars and landscaping.
“Working only with the predetermined light of city planners, business and home owners, the work reveals how the transactional light of security and safety can transcend into the fantastic and the extraordinary,” Davenport writes in his artist’s statement.
Davenport tells me that he was inspired by movies, in particular those by Michael Mann. “L.A. is so noir — it’s where all those movies were made,” he notes, referring to the edgy character of L.A.'s streets after sundown, so often the setting for gangster films. This prompts the question of how safe it is for Davenport to take on a project like this, but he says that he can sense vibes and knows where to go...and where not to. He’s also very discreet, using a small handheld camera, typically without a tripod. And he doesn’t usually go out on a shoot alone.
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Beyond Hollywood, other sources for his aesthetic include the painters of the Ash Can School and photorealist painter Richard Estes. “When I was at CU in Boulder, I worked at the CU Art Museum, and one of the things I did was catalogue a collection of Estes prints; it’s an amazing collection," Davenport says. "And his work has been an ongoing influence on me ever since.” While it might seem strange that an artist who made paintings that look like photos wound up being an influence on an actual photographer, that's the case here — especially in the depictions of urban settings devoid of people, which intrigued first Estes, then Davenport.
With so many big exhibits associated with MoP, it’s easy to miss the small ones. Don't make that mistake with these shows at Phillips and Leon.
No Boundaries, through April 6, Sandra Phillips Gallery, 47 West 11th Avenue, 303-931-2991, thesandraphillipsgallery.com.
Nights: Jeff Davenport, through April 20, Leon Gallery, 1112 East 17th Avenue, 303-832-1599, leongallery.squarespace.com