Fernando Boz ‘”DIA Moonrise” can be seen in the online photo exhibition “Y / OUR Denver”. (Provided by CPAC)
The Y / OUR Denver online photo show brings together many good things: a contemporary art exhibition; a chair tour of a city that is growing at warp speeds; an introduction to some of our best architectures; and nothing less than a 100-year history lesson on citizen progress.
And on top of that, it’s probably the easiest, high-quality cultural offering to consume this year as it’s available on the Colorado Photographic Arts Center’s website. A few clicks and everything is yours.
To see: breathtaking views of structural icons such as Denver International Airport, Republic Plaza and the Colorado State Capitol; intimate glimpses into quiet building interiors that are normally not open to the public; and close-up shots of architectural details that many of us pass by every day and barely notice.
It’s a quick and in-depth look at two subjects – building design and photography – co-produced by key proponents of both subjects, the Denver Architecture Foundation and CPAC. The two nonprofits worked together to solicit submissions to achieve their shared goal of helping people see the city in a richer way.
Peter Collins, “Angular Light”, was named Best Detail in the Y / OUR Denver Photo Show. (Provided by CPAC)
Their process of compiling the exhibition was purposefully democratic, giving both experienced professionals and hobbyists the opportunity to publish contributions, and expanding the media requirements to include “film, scanner, screen recording, digital camera and all means of mobile photography”. The only rule was that the photos had to be taken in Denver.
A little more than 200 entries were received; 30 made the cut. CPAC executive director Samantha Johnston made the final selection.
“As a juror, I looked at the architecture, but also the picture itself, how strong it was compositionally,” she said.
Johnston’s picks, of course, include images of well-known Denver gems with notable architects at their helm, like Gio Ponti’s original building for the Denver Art Museum, a staircase designed by Charles Deaton, and Philip Johnson’s Well Fargo Center, popularly known as the Cash Register Building and the most famous Feature of the city skyline.
Aside from choosing photos for their visual qualities, she hoped that the last set of images would include narration that would add pizzazz to the exhibition. She found that this was how the photographers organically documented both the city’s past and its current building boom.
The exhibit includes footage of ancient icons like the Denver Botanic Garden’s Tropical Conservatory, designed by Victor Hornbein and Edward D. White Jr., and South High School, designed by Fisher and Fisher. But there are also new attractions like the Triangle Building in the city center, which was designed in 2016 by the Denver company Anderson, Mason, Dale.
The timeline features romanticized portraits of native buildings like the Lake Steam Baths on Colfax Avenue, as well as various scenes of apartment buildings, churches, and office buildings.
Some photographers have hit the sweet spot of capturing old and new in one setting. Michael Rieger’s “View from the Bow” offers a view of the street of the Brown Palace Hotel with a ghostly Republic Plaza, the tallest skyscraper in Denver, floating in the background.
Hailey Cothran’s “Bold” focuses on a more colorful side of local architecture. (Provided by CPAC)
Similarly, the State Capitol takes its place in the background of the recently built Justice Center by Ralph L. Carr Colorado in Richard Eisen’s “Gold Dome” photo.
The exhibition shows mostly well-known structures, but often in surprising dimensions. This is certainly the case with the Wells Fargo Center, which is the subject of several photographs.
The “Iconic Site One” by photographer Francisca Morgan captures the building in strong black and white and offers a view that highlights the weight of the structure and the relentless grid pattern on its facade.
The same building is frozen as pure reflection in Roy and Lee Goettling’s “Reflections”. Her picture captures the familiar silhouette of the 50-story skyscraper as it appears on the glassy surface of another building next door.
Together, the two photos of Wells Fargo Denver offer a new way to see and appreciate a landmark. It’s functional and monolithic, but also part of a community of buildings that all contribute to our inner city.
“Y / OUR Denver” is not a complete picture of Denver architecture. The exhibition illuminates the best corners of our most beautiful structures then and now. It’s an optimistic turn to what we’ve built over the last century. It overlooks the difficult reality that we have also added many unattractive and uninhabitable elements to the local landscape. That way, it can feel like urban propaganda, a bit on the booster side.
Kevin Mohatt’s “Glass Ceiling” won the “Best in Show” award at “Y / OUR Denver”. (Provided by CPAC)
But it’s as easy to enjoy as a party. Buildings are physical evidence of a city’s ambitions, they measure its self-esteem and project its image into the world. There is a lot to be proud of in the exhibition of photographs.
It’s not just another online photo gallery to browse through. Y / OUR Denver offers many good examples of how beautiful design and construction can improve the quality of life. It encourages us to look around in new ways and inspires us to build better in the future.
“Y / OUR” Denver will be available through December 31st on the Colorado Photographic Arts Center website. The address: cpacphoto.org.