Gary Reed’s “Equitable Building Staircase” focuses on the interior details of one of the oldest buildings in Denver (provided by the Denver Architecture Foundation).
The online-only “Y / OUR Denver” exhibition is rare in that it gives viewers the opportunity to appreciate two art forms that exist in the city today. It’s half photography, half design.
It is entirely a tribute to the Mile High City and the characteristics that make it unique: those unique buildings that define its personality, the special way our lush sunshine illuminates the atmosphere, the current events that define it You who we are right now.
The annual picture competition, in which the exhibition is selected, is open to all photographers, amateurs and professionals. 225 archers have submitted work to 2020 co-sponsors, the Denver Architecture Foundation and the Colorado Photographic Arts Center. This time, 30 images after the final cut by juror Samantha Johnston made it into the slide shows that will appear on both organizations’ websites through March 1st.
The photo show is currently getting a special response. For one, it can be enjoyed from the safety of our living rooms, where sentimental distractions like these are especially welcome when people stay home waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to spread.
But more importantly, it pays homage to the great urban nature that we have all come to appreciate this year as people have spent so much time running, jogging, biking, and themselves outdoors to connect with others. The photos here recognize the good looks many of us have enjoyed lately in the city’s street corners and skylines, in its bourgeois monoliths, parks, lakes, homes, office buildings and secret alleys.
And in its church buildings, which feature prominently in some of the most memorable photos in the exhibition.
This year’s Best in Show award went to Scott Wilson’s “Crossed Paths,” a monochromatic image that offers a view of the city that many of us have never thought about. In the front and center of Wilson’s picture are the capped towers on St. Cajetan’s Church on the Auraria campus. In the background rises the upper part of Republic Plaza, the tallest building in Denver.
Architecturally, the photo captures a century of design history, juxtaposing the old-world formality of the 1929 Spanish colonial church with its cornices and ornate decorations to the sleek and relentless geometry of the 56-story skyscraper, the city’s best example of modernism , Designed in 1984 by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the country’s leading 20th century architecture firm.
As a photo, it does what black and white images do best: we focus our attention on the lines and shapes that come together to shape the world around us, while illuminating how light and shadow affect our sense of sight.
This shot has the added benefit of telling a social story of Denver as well. St. Cajetan’s was a cultural hub for the Denver Latino community until the campus area was swallowed up and local residents evicted in the 1970s. The mix of architectural styles – the way they blend and, indeed, the tension that exists between them – reflects the tension between the different factions of the city as they have weighed the dominance in the power structure. Wilson’s image gives all players an equal and important role.
In this way, many of the photos capture the history of the city even if the photographers did not intend to. Faina Gurevich’s “Reconstruction of the Denver Art Museum” was named the best outdoor photo. The image is divided into the new circular extension of the still-open Denver Art Museum complex and the DAM Hamilton building. The addition is covered in a series of shiny, concave glass windows that mirror the postmodern outline of the Denver Public Library across the street. Gurevich gives us three buildings at once.
Laura Phelps Rogers’ picture of the Colorado Education Association headquarters captured a beleaguered building. (Provided by the Denver Architecture Foundation)
But it also records the progress of the important Civic Center district and the forward-looking growth of our most valuable institutions. We can also tour three of the city’s most important structures: the 1995 architect Michal Graves library, Daniel Libeskind’s 2006 titanium-clad Hamilton building, and the brand new extension best designed by Denver’s Fentress Architects became known for the design of the large Denver International aAirport tent.
Similarly, David Hull’s image of Denver Central Market at dusk captures one of the city’s rediscovered alleys in the River North neighborhood. Old school brick buildings are enlivened by freshly placed neon signs and public art. Embedded in the shot is the saga of a neighborhood that remembers its past while plunging into the prosperous era it enjoys today.
Other photos in this exhibition show a more present and urgent story. Laura Phelps Rogers’ picture of the Colorado Education Association building on Colfax Avenue freezes the beleaguered structure of the racist protests that ruled the news in the summer of 2020. The place is boarded up to protect its glass from potential rioters and black lives. Matter slogans adorn the plywood panels.
John Deffenbaugh adds another chapter to this drama. His “Say Her Name” shows the graffiti-covered Colorado State Capitol, which has “Breonna Taylor” written in memory of the 26-year-old Louisville, Kentucky woman who was shot dead by police at her own home in March incidents, that preceded the social unrest.
The two images play a dual role, showing the journalistic superpower of photography to record the day as well as its ability to stop us for a moment and consume scenes and environments that we often take for granted. The architecture is well worth our attention in these photos, and the deeds they record are well worth remembering.
Juror Johnston has the big picture here, but also the details, and this exhibit finds depth by focusing on small moments of architecture that subtly make the city interesting. She included Kevin Gilson’s close take on the facade of the concrete grating on the outside of the Sheraton Hotel (designed by IM Pei & Partners in 1958) on the show. Gary Reed’s close-up of the ornate, curved banister of the Italian-inspired Equitable Building (designed by Andrews, Jacques and Rantoul in 1892); and Vicky Ballas’ tight design of the roof lines of the Denver Convention Center (designed by Fentress in 2004).
There are grand buildings in the mix, like Robert Anderson’s nighttime setting of Union Station, and humble accommodations, like Peter Wayne’s picture of low front doors to six row houses in Five Points. The show has a good balance between big and small and between wide and tight.
In a sense, the city of Denver too. “Y / OUR Denver” can be played back like a series of snapshots that a viewer can quickly click through. But it also has the potential to slowly unfold, like a rich and intricate biography of a place where the narrative continues. See it quickly or see it slowly.
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