Stella Obscura

The current photo exhibit, Masterworks of Photography from the Collection of Hal Gould, at the Byers-Evans House displays a few of the finest, most recognizable images of the 20th century.  But in a real sense the exhibit is much more than the sum of its considerable parts.

Everyone in the Colorado with an interest in Fine Art photography, regardless of whether that interest is aesthetic or financial, everyone here who considers him or herself a Fine Art photographer, regardless whether one’s Art is displayed at a local camera club or hangs on the walls of a tony Art gallery, owes a debt of gratitude to Hal Gould, for it is Gould who gave Fine Art photography a place in the sun here in Colorado.

Those familiar with the history Fine Art photography in America know that it is Alfred Stieglitz who, by the force of his considerable will and because he published Camera Work and opened the Photo-Secession gallery in New York, is credited with getting the American Art world to accept photography as a legitimate Art form.  However, most histories of  American photography give the impression that the battle to recognize photography as an Art form was fought along a single front line that ran through 291 Fifth Avenue in New York. In reality there was not a single battle, but rather multiple skirmishes all over the country, or at least in those cities where there was a serious interest in Fine Arts.  There is no doubt that Stieglitz’ victory in New York in the opening years of the 20th century was the seminal event in the American history of Fine Art photography, and he deserves the lion’s share of credit for elevating photography to a place among the traditional Arts. If the battle had been lost in New York, then as now the center of America’s Art World, victory elsewhere in the U.S. would have been impossible.

However this did not mean that the skirmishes elsewhere in the U.S., here in Colorado in particular, did not have to be fought and won by local heroes. Hal Gould was the hero who fought for photography here in Colorado.  As interesting as it is, I will not cover his life story—you can read about that on Wikipedia or Facebook—other than to recount that when he could not convince the curator of the Denver Art Museum to include photography, Hal opened his own gallery, Camera Obscura, across the street from the DAM in 1979. Until its recent closing, Camera Obscura was one of the oldest galleries dedicated exclusively to Fine Art photography, and featured some of the finest work in the history of the Art.

The prints now on display at the Byers-Evans House gallery are from Gould’s personal collection of masterworks. Among the prints on display are portraits of Einstein and Churchill by Philippe Halsman, Ed Curtis portrait of Red Cloud, Osvaldo Salas’ news photograph of Hemmingway and Castro, Robert Capa’s iconic Death of a Loyalist Militiaman, Edward Weston’s anthropomorphic Green Pepper #10, Man Ray’s playful Le Violon d’Ingres, Paul Strand’s humanistic Man with Hoe, Los Remedios, and Alfred Stieglitz’ groundbreaking The Terminal. There is an exact replicate by Richard Benson of Edward Steichen’s The Pond—Moonlight; an original Steichen print of The Pond last sold at auction for almost three million dollars. Also on display are two portraits—one, a self portrait—by Hal Gould.  For as much as he is owed a great debt of gratitude for his efforts on behalf of Fine Art photography through his curatorship at Camera Obscura, Gould considered himself first and foremost a Fine Art photographer, and with good reason. In 2007 The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins exhibited a retrospective of Gould’s life work, featuring 40 prints selected by Gould himself. You can sample some of these images at

Recent generations of Fine Art photography enthusiasts may have lost track of Hal Gould’s contributions, may have let his star darken.  So if you take in the exhibit at Byers-Evans, not only admire the masterworks on display, give a mental salute to the man who did so much for Fine Art photography here in Colorado.  Let his star shine bright again.

Masterworks of Photography from the Collection of Hal Gould is on display at the Byers-Evans Gallery now through Saturday,July 30, 2011.

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