Art Review

Z Art Department salutes the nearly forgotten Winter Prather

During the Month of Photography, there are many fine shows around town focusing — excuse the pun — on the medium. But one stands out, if only in its aim to resurrect the reputation of a forgotten photo star who was once at the top of the heap in Colorado.

A few years ago, Randy Roberts, owner of Z Art Department (1136 Speer Boulevard, 303-298-8432, saw a handful of photos by Winter Prather in a show at the now-closed Gallery Sink, owned by Mark Sink (who, coincidentally, is a prime Month of Photography mover). A year or so later, a consigner approached Roberts with a hoard of Prather photos, as well as a stack of the photographer's private papers. The result is an over-the-top concentration of Prathers — nearly 200 photos — in the exhibit Winter Prather: In the Blink of an Eye. Most of them are undated, and it would make a neat project for some scholar or curator to carefully go through them and come up with some kind of hypothetical chronology. Though Prather made his living during the '50s, '60s and '70s as a commercial photographer, he was always, first and foremost, an artist, and his clients got much more than a simple recording of their selected subjects. Maybe that's why his fees were in the stratosphere: He billed at the staggering amount of $1,000 a day in the 1970s, when a Volkswagen cost $1,900!

Prather addressed various topics in different ways. There are atmospheric landscapes and cityscapes, many set in Denver; there are abstracted views of industrial sites and buildings; and there are experimental abstractions. It's hard to find a favorite among these photos, because every one is a gem. Apparently Prather found it impossible to take a bad photo.

So why have we forgotten him? Well, beginning in the late '70s and accelerating toward the end of his life, Prather suffered from mental illness and alienated his social, professional and business relationships, dying a pauper in 2005. This chance to remember — or discover — Prather at Z Art Department closes on April 9.

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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