A Tribute And The End Of An Era For The Colorado Art Scene And American Photography
After nearly 50 years of educating and inspiring the public about photography and helping photographers develop their careers, Hal Gould and his staff have closed the renowned Camera Obscura Gallery of Denver, Colorado.
In 1963, Hal Gould co-founded the non-profit Colorado Photographic Art Center at 1301 Bannock Street in Denver, Colorado. The Colorado Photographic Art Center was one of the first galleries to exhibit photography exclusively. A total of 132 charter members and 200 regular members joined, officers were elected and Hal Gould became Executive Director with a salary of $1.00/year. Members hammered and painted a new interior and hung the first exhibition with Mathew Brady’s Civil War prints made by Ansco Corp. from recently discovered unpublished glass plates.
Ivan Dmitri was guest speaker at a fundraising banquet. He donated original photographs by Norman Cousins, Philippe Halsman, Ansel Adams, Ken Heyman, Walter Chappell and Bert Stern to begin what would become Camera Obscura’s permanent collection, one of the most diverse and extensive in a private gallery. Hal Gould explained in the January 2011 Camera Obscura Newsletter that the Colorado Photographic Art Center started 12 years before photography was first shown in a full-fledged fine art gallery—Richard Avedon’s “Chicago Seven” at New York City’s Marlborough Gallery in 1975. The Richard Avedon exhibition was a breakthrough for photography and a boon to the Colorado Photographic Art Center.
Hal Gould wrote that he began exhibiting the photography of the masters of the medium such as Imogen Cunningham, August Sanders, Philippe Halsman, Yosuf Karsh and others. As the market for photographic prints grew, the Colorado Photographic Art Center sold some prints to help pay the rent and salary for the gallery attendant. However, for a non-profit this began to create a conflict of interest. One of the Colorado Photographic Art Center’s board members asked Hal Gould, “Why do you keep showing all these people we never heard of? We want to exhibit our own photographs and those of local photographers.” The Colorado Photographic Art Center board then voted in a motion that prevented Hal Gould from selling prints. Hal Gould resigned from the Colorado Photographic Art Center and opened Camera Obscura Gallery at 1309 Bannock Street in Denver, Colorado.
On June 7, 1980, over 300 people attended Hal Gould’s first Camera Obscura exhibition: “Birds In Flight” by landscape photographer Eliot Porter. In the months and years following, Hal Gould exhibited many of the greats of photography including Howard Bond, Ruth Bernhard, Judy Dater, Robert Capa, and at some point as part of a touring group show, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde. For some years Camera Obscura was not able to hire any help and relied on volunteers for survival. Interns from the University of Colorado Denver, Denver University, Colorado State University, Art Institute of Colorado, Metro State, Red Rocks Community College and others helped develop Camera Obscura Gallery. Many volunteers worked with Hal Gould for decades including Loretta Young-Gautier, who started as a volunteer 18 years ago and quickly became indispensable and moved into a full-time paid position as Associate Director of Camera Obscura, working closely with Hal Gould as assistant curator, book buyer and editor of the Camera Obscura newsletter called “Photography in the Fine Arts.”
Hal Gould made many contributions to photography during his long leadership in Denver, Colorado. Camera Obscura was a center for photography education as curators and collectors received mentoring from Hal Gould. Hal Gould and his staff impacted and educated all of Colorado on the difference between pretty postcards and fine art photography. He also was one of the founders of AIPAD, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, now the leading international organization of top photography galleries for the perpetuation of quality, integrity and photography advocacy.
One of the last exhibitions at Camera Obscura Gallery was “Philip Hyde’s Mountain Landscapes” in the Fall of 2010. This unique exhibition showcased Philip Hyde’s vintage black and white prints, original dye transfer and Cibachrome color prints and photographer authorized archival digital prints made by Carr Clifton.
Both Hal Gould and Loretta Young-Gautier are accomplished photographers in their own right having each exhibited in many prestigious venues and published in major magazines. The last exhibition at Camera Obscura Gallery featured Hal Gould’s life’s work and a retrospective by Loretta Young-Gautier. In the exhibition, a sampling of Hal Gould’s photography including portraits, nudes, landscapes, abstracts and travel pictures. Hal Gould’s sensitive eye for people and unusual subject matter make his work a delight. Loretta Young-Gautier’s photography is more experimental and other worldly. She often combines many exposures, working both with the traditional film darkroom silver print process and with digital print methods. Her often metaphysical and surrealistic compositions defy categorization but sometimes represent a Western theme incorporating horses, or pieces of clouds, etheric lighting, the moon in various phases and waterfalls at night. The psychological and spiritual implications and unusual symbolism draw the viewer into her work. One of the reasons for wrapping up the Camera Obscura experience at this time is for each of these two photographers to pursue their own work and for Hal Gould to write his memoirs.
Today, April 30, 2011, Camera Obscura hosted an open house as a final farewell to friends, patrons and volunteers. Hal Gould at age 90 was the vortex of the crowd as he has been at photography openings for almost 50 years. The table in the gallery offered a wide variety of hors d’oeuvres while the wine flowed and Hal Gould’s famous champagne punch added sparkle to the event. Tears filled many an eye at certain points during the celebration, but there was also a spirit of hope, relief and new possibilities as those close to Camera Obscura looked forward to other projects. It was indeed the end of an era for photography in Colorado and the West and the whole world. Long live Hal Gould and his team and may his generosity and advocacy for photography often be emulated and never forgotten.