Looking up at Pikes Peak from Colorado Springs, you see an 8,000-foot vertical differential, says photographer Barbara Sparks. "But in the Himalayas, the peaks are 28,000 [feet], and sometimes you're at 4,000 when you see those, so it's like three times the vertical that we see here. ... The elevation gain is absolutely incredible."
Giving viewers a sense of what that looks like, Coalescence: Photography by Barbara Sparks will debut at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center this weekend. In chronicling "unique cultures in unique geologies," the show of black-and-white photographs will take viewers to Nepal; Cappadocia, Turkey; northern Italy; Mayan villages in Guatemala; Taos, N.M.; and back to Colorado.
"Like everyone else, I want to remember," Sparks says. "But also, if I come upon an unusual situation of light, I instinctively want to photograph it." This gets at the show's title; in a good photograph, Sparks says, "the right light and the right moment coalesce."
The self-proclaimed "semi-native" — she moved to Colorado Springs from New Jersey 50 years ago — began her craft by photographing her four children. It led her to enter (and win) photo contests, study under neighbor Myron Wood, and take photography workshops. Her work has appeared at The Broadmoor's Hayden Hays Gallery since the 1990s.
With the FAC show, she also expands her publication repertoire. After the exhibit comes down, Sparks' photographs will remain, recorded in a hardcover book published just weeks ago. Far Flung Places: The Photography of Barbara Sparks will have "a life of its own long after the exhibition is gone," says FAC museum director and curator of American art Blake Milteer, who suggested Sparks seek publication. (For more on the book, see this.)
Of all the places Sparks has been, she says her 1986 trip to Nepal's Kali Gandaki River valley was especially memorable — and not just because those mountains made Pikes Peak look "like a hill."
"I was six walking days from the nearest road," she remembers, "and because there were no vehicles, I felt like I had a view of what the Middle Ages were like."
And the things the Nepalese carried came as a surprise. "You just never knew what you were going to see next," she says. "The amount of weight they carry on these trails ... that amazed me, what the human body can do."
Wherever Sparks goes, whether it's four flights and a three-hour drive away, like Cappadocia, or right here in Colorado, "the consistent intensity and thoughtfulness behind the photographs is apparent," Milteer says. "And it's what bridges the vast scope of Barbara's travels."