Paul Malinowski’s detail of the RiNo zeppelin station. (Provided by the Colorado Photographic Arts Center)
The online-only photo exhibition “Y / OUR Denver” is only in its second year, but the show has already emerged as one of the most exciting events on the Denver art calendar.
Part of that positive review is personal. The slide presentation with 30 images is a combined showcase for the two topics that I pay most attention to: architecture and art – in this case photography. Denver has a lot of talent in both areas, although neither gets the recognition they deserve. From a cultural point of view, “Y / OUR Denver” makes up for a lot of lost ground.
Y / OUR Denver runs through February 1 and can be viewed on its sponsors’ websites, the Denver Architecture Foundation, at denverarchitecture.org, or at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center at cpacphoto.org.
However, the real value of the show lies in its accessibility. Because it is web-based, viewers can watch it anytime, day or night without taking off their pajamas. You can quickly click through or take a leisurely, virtual stop-and-go stroll through the images. You can make multiple visits, return to the objects that stick in your memory and share the exhibition with friends by passing the link on.
And it’s all free; There is nothing commercial.
It’s not presumptuous either. The photos are from a competition jointly sponsored by the Colorado Photographic Arts Center and the Denver Architecture Foundation that hosts the annual Doors Open Denver event. Anyone can enter, and they do: professionals with expensive equipment, hobbyists with iPhones, artists with a sharp eye, and designers who know how buildings are built. The show is less curated than judged, and that responsibility falls to CPAC executive director Samantha Johnston.
Kevin Gilson took this detail photo of the Wells Fargo Center, popularly known as the Cash Register Building. (Provided by the Colorado Photographic Arts Center)
This year, she selected from 246 submissions and together, at a pivotal moment, the winners captured a portrait of Denver that blends more than a century of history with a documentation of the city’s rapid change.
So there are nostalgic images of old-school landmarks like the Fairmount Cemetery mausoleum that photographer Peter Collins reproduces in a sun-drenched glow. or the monolithic D&H tower frozen in red and green leave by Don Gardner; or the governor’s mansion, which Jesse Jorgensen looks at from inside.
There are creative views of the world-class architectural icons that define the city and its skyline, key sites like the Denver Public Library by architect Michael Graves, photographed by Travis Broxton; or Philip Johnson’s Wells Fargo Center, popularly known as the Cash Register Building, photographed by Kevin Gilson; or Daniel Libeskind’s Denver Art Museum, reduced to simple black and white geometry by Greg Matheny, who won the competition’s best-in-show title.
Importantly, there are photos that freeze the constant transition between new and old, like that of Lowell Baumunk, whose foreground is the ornate red-brick building that Denver was formerly known for, while black-glass skyscraper stalks it in the background; or Eric English’s wide-angle view of the city skyline, glimpsing 150 years of architectural advancement in a moment.
This downtown photo of Onat Kaplan was named “Best Exterior”. (Provided by the Colorado Photographic Arts Center)
But Y / OUR Denver is more than a college-level urban planning class, as Johnston took care to include images that go beyond noting formal styles and give Denver a more elaborate look.
In these photos we see how shapes combine to form patterns of a city and how these patterns combine to form a metropolis. For example, Gilson’s shot of the Wells Fargo Center doesn’t capture the building’s famous roofline at all. Instead, he focuses closely on the building’s relentless facade of square and rectangular windows that really give it its strength – as if to say, “Don’t look there; Look here. “It’s one of the most interesting shots of this building I’ve seen – and like all Denverites, I’ve seen a lot.
Paul Malinowski’s photo of the new zeppelin station in RiNo has a similar, remarkably attentive quality. Instead of retreating to the sprawling industrial building, he sits down on the repeated balconies. It looks like a painting.
The focus on patterns continues in Andrew Dolan’s unexpected view of the structural supports of a car bridge that spans the Cherry Creek Trail. in Nancy Myers a view of the balconies in front of the Buell Theater; and again in Risa Friedman’s close-up of the fish scale shingles that adorn a classic Victorian home.
Greg Matheny’s painting from the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Public Library won Best Show Title in the Y / OUR Denver Competition. (Provided by the Colorado Photographic Arts Center)
Johnston also draws attention to the architecture rather than letting distractions – like people – get in the way of appreciating design. No human can be seen in any of the photos in the exhibition. And some – like Lisa Jackson’s monochromatic image of the famous Cruise Room bar that has no customers – seem like a ghost town.
There is also a bit of symbolism to be seen. If “Y / OUR Denver” is meant to be a reflection of the city, that is reflected in photos that actually capture reflections, particularly Steve MacGregor’s shot of the glass skyscraper on 13th Avenue and Broadway that serves as a mirror of the federal courthouse complex on the other Street side. The shot is straightforward and psychedelic at the same time.
Of course, the experience of seeing “Y / OUR Denver” is a bit nostalgic. Some of the photos are difficult to identify, but most are familiar. They are the places we walk and drive every day.
It’s just more interesting than your everyday life because the photos pay homage to the little things, the tiny details, and the quick views of buildings that we take for granted. These images remind us to look up around and between the huge objects that mark our daily routes. You can really see the city there.
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