Back in 2003, photographer Armando Geneyro was in the Air Force and stationed in Cheyenne. He was on leave at home in California when a cousin told him he should visit Denver. Geneyro was a sneaker head, and the Nike store on the 16th Street Mall was a sportswear mecca at the time. So he came to the Mile High City, shopped on the mall, then climbed the stairs to the Millennium Bridge.
“You could see the skyline,” he recalls. “There was nothing but tracks and Union Station. That was seventeen years ago.”
After six years in the Air Force, he was ready to settle down. But California was too expensive, and by then most of his family had moved to Florida. Geneyro had no desire to land there, so he settled in Denver, which had become his party destination while he was in Cheyenne and was the closest thing he had to home.
He used the GI Bill to study political science at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “It’s a pretty worthless degree," he admits.
In his last year of college, though, he took a couple of photography courses. He'd been around cameras since he was a kid, shooting photos of his large extended family, playing the part of documentarian. When he served in Iraq in 2005, he took his camera along and captured the conflict. But his Metro course in photojournalism shifted the way he thought about photography and set him on a creative journey that continues today as he documents the city’s communities that are being pushed toward extinction by predatory development.
In the ten years he's lived here, Denver has become a different place.
“I’ve seen the changes,” he says. “There’s a lot of good and bad with the amount of change that’s happened to the city. Some of the bad is the erasure of certain neighborhoods. A lot of new buildings are going up in places where eighty-year-old homes have stood. I try to keep a sense of that in my photos. I’m paying homage and respect to the people who've been here for so long.”
He and fellow photographer and friend Juan Fuentes have had long talks about what they call "digital gentrification" — the way communities are pushed out of a city, not just by being priced out of neighborhoods, but also by being ignored in the photographic record shared by urban boosters online.
“When Denver is marketed to people in other states, it’s hiking and craft brews and Yoga on the Rocks and the RiNo Art District,” Geneyro explains. “That’s all well and good, but that’s not all Denver is. There’s a lot of Latino culture here. When I go to L.A. and I talk to people out there, they have no idea there’s a lowriding scene here. They have no idea that this place is full of Chicanos who have been here for generations. Trying to tap into those communities and push them to the forefront as best I can — and as honestly and genuinely as I can tell their stories — is really important to my photography. That photojournalism class gave my photography a direction.”
Over the past decade, Geneyro has documented the west side’s working-class Chicano community, indigenous dancers, lowrider clubs, poets, artists, parks, activists and more. He has also gone to Los Angeles and San Diego, documenting Chicano neighborhoods and political movements in those cities.
Part photojournalist, part artist, he’s become a well-known figure in Denver’s cultural scene. But although his work is on display at Denver International Airport and has been celebrated by critics, most Denver galleries have snubbed his photography. A handful have tried to exploit it through pay-to-exhibit arrangements.
“I just won’t pay to be a part of a gallery,” he says. “That’s how a lot of galleries are. Even some brown galleries — they’ll take a huge cut. That’s cool and all, but that’s not for me. If you want my work, you’re going to come ask me to be a part of your show or gallery. You, as a gallery, are going to pay for that shit. A gallery show is expensive.”
Only recently have arts groups begun to approach Geneyro on his terms. Before the COVID-19 shutdown, he was looking forward to his first major exhibit, at the nonprofit Colorado Photographic Arts Center, which would have displayed his work alongside that of Fuentes, and also hosted related workshops, events and parties. Geneyro also has a book in the works — a document of all the things he loves about Denver — that was scheduled to come out this summer. But the show and the book have both been postponed to 2021, along with his commercial work.
“It’s kinda crazy,” he says. “Most of the jobs that I do professionally as far as photography goes involve being in spaces with a lot of people: weddings and concerts and nightclubs.”
His biggest disappointment resulting from the coronavirus shutdowns was the cancellation of a trip to San Diego, where he'd planned to shoot the fiftieth anniversary of Chicano Park Day, an annual event commemorating massive protests against the city for building a freeway through the Logan neighborhood in the 1960s.
“It’s like a pilgrimage, if you’re into lowriding and into Chicano culture,” he explains.
Like most artists, Geneyro is scrambling for additional work. Unlike many, he’s finding projects to keep himself occupied. He participated in Warm Cookies of the Revolution’s Virtual Gift Basket, and he’s been selling his photos both through a COVID-19 artist relief fund organized by ILA Art Gallery and on his own website.
He’s even collaborating with Denver City Councilwoman Jamie Torres’s office, using some of his photographs to create Zoom backgrounds for people living in District 3, which includes La Alma/Lincoln Park, Sun Valley, West Colfax, Villa Park, Barnum, Barnum West, Westwood and Mar Lee.
“I thought that was a super-creative way for her to reach out to an artist but also give back to her neighborhood and her district,” Geneyro says. Doing the project "kind of broke up the monotony of the day-to-day quarantine shit — being able to go out, walk around the neighborhood, see some places I’ve never been to before.”
Discovering those neighborhoods and capturing the communities that are quickly disappearing is what keeps Geneyro shooting.
“I do it because I love it. I do it because I’m inclined to,” he says. “To find that other people like it and find it interesting and want to purchase it is a bonus to me.”
See more of Armando Geneyro’s work online, where all of his photos are available for sale.