Veterans Tell Their Stories Through Photography in Relational Ground

"After Giotto: The Red Lady of El Mirón" by Devon Wiggers
"After Giotto: The Red Lady of El MirĂ³n" by Devon Wiggers Devon Wiggers
Relational Ground - Personal Projects by Veterans showcases work by nine veterans who were students of the most recent Veterans Workshop Series at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center. The exhibit marks the fifth year of the program, in which select participants attend free classes for five months under the mentorship of Frank Verney, Patti Hallock, Paul Weinrauch and CPAC director and curator Samantha Johnston.

Devon Wiggers was a student in the 2021 class, and he's the youngest member by about two decades. After serving as an equipment officer in the Navy from 2013 to 2018, Wiggers enrolled at MSU Denver, where he is pursuing a BFA.

"I fell into taking some art classes, and that clicked with me. I picked up a camera, and the rest is history," he jokes.

Still a year out from graduating, Wiggers found the Veterans Workshop an invaluable experience. Through one-on-one mentorships, group critiques and skills workshops, Wiggers developed the series "A Natural Religion." The collection of six photographs explores humanity's relationship with mushrooms, as well as women's prominence in the field of mycology, sometimes referred to as the "Queendom Fungi." Wiggers created three still-life pieces and three portraits that draw from historic religious imagery and use his partner as his subject.

While most of the photographs were taken on his own time in his homemade studio space, the Veterans Workshop helped Wiggers hone his craft and theme. With a community of veterans who have an "instant rapport" because of shared experiences, Wiggers says he was encouraged to "delve into the meat" of his original idea and shape it into a more thoughtful expression. "After Herself" is the capstone of his series, displaying his partner draped in white robes, holding flowers in one hand and appearing to levitate mushrooms in the other.

The eight other projects in Relational Ground vary dramatically in theme but all have the same depth. Eating disorders and body dysmorphia, gentrification, water pollution, climate change, PTSD, the evolution of the Longhorn cowboy and the uphill battle of trying to conceive are brought to life through the photos in the CPAC gallery space.
click to enlarge "Avian Perspective," by Todd Fichtemaier, at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center. - TODD FICHTEMAIER
"Avian Perspective," by Todd Fichtemaier, at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center.
Todd Fichtemaier
The other artists include Clifford Carter, Richard Caldwell, John Diani, Todd Fichtemaier, Amy Gamm, Maureen Hanrahan, YAh Kadesh and Mike Teubner.

The Veterans Workshop series has no artistic prerequisites. Some participants may have hardly touched a camera before, while others, like Wiggers, might be studying the art in other spaces. Wiggers says one of the most invaluable aspects of the workshop is how it fosters community with other veterans. He also touts its mentorship and being given access to gallery space for the show, which is a "really difficult thing to accomplish on your own," he says.

Wiggers won't be leaving photography behind any time soon. "A Natural Religion" may be expanded for his thesis project in the coming months as he returns to school. Wiggers also has found himself increasingly interested in alternative processes of photography, such as camera-less photography like anthotypes and cyanotypes, around which CPAC has themed numerous shows in the past.

None of the veterans are ever done with the program: Each year, CPAC invites past participants to join in special critiques of current student work. A Facebook group for alumni also helps keep the community strong well after the workshop has ended and the photographs have been taken down.

Relational Ground - Personal Projects by Veterans is on view Friday, January 14, through Saturday, February 12. Colorado Photographic Arts Center, 1070 Bannock Street. Opening reception: Saturday, January 15, 5 to 8 p.m. Learn more on the Veterans Workshop website.
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