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Phototroph's Hal Gould show rounds out short course in Colorado photographers

What do you do if you've just opened a gallery dedicated to fine art photography in a metropolitan area of half a million?

Ordinarily, you'd look over your competitors, and then figure out what niche to occupy.

And what if there are no competitors? What if there never has been such a gallery? The good news is that you have an enormous market to yourself. The bad news is that you have to create that market.

And how do you do that? You begin by mounting a different small, high-quality show every month. You give your potential clients what amounts to a cram course in Colorado photographers. You start with an exhibition of masterworks, you move on to shows by masters living and dead (e.g., Carol Dass and Myron Wood), thereby (you hope!) dazzling and delighting everyone lucky enough to wander into the gallery.

This month's show is no exception. Hal Gould, the Grand Old Man of Colorado photography, has consigned 15 pieces to Phototroph, all beautifully framed and modestly priced.

Gould, to borrow a phrase from a lousy song, dealt in fine photographs when photographs weren't cool. Born in 1920, trained at the Art Institute of Chicago as a portrait painter, Gould has been involved in the business and art of photography in every imaginable way.

For 25 years, he ran a commercial studio, where, according to Phototroph's Elaine Bean, he photographed "everything from babies to bank buildings."

In 1963, he founded the Colorado Photographic Arts Center in Denver, and then the Camera Obscura Gallery in 1980. Over the years, Gould has shown many of the great masters -- Strand, Adams, Cunningham, Weston and Curtis, just to name a few.

Judging from the photographs in the show, which span 50 years, Gould is a pretty fair photographer himself -- even, on occasion, a brilliant one. I particularly liked -- make that loved -- two iconic images of a vanished West. One, "Going Home; Grand Tetons, Wyoming, 1954," shows a dozen horses, walking along a Wyoming road beside a hay meadow, with the Tetons filling the horizon. The other, "Round-up: Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming, 1953," depicts cattle milling in a makeshift corral as cowboys brand the spring calves.

When Gould created these images, the mythic West -- so vast, so beautiful a land -- was about to disappear. What, I wonder, has happened to the country road where that file of horses walked half a century ago? I'd guess that the hay meadow has disappeared, replaced by the vulgar bloat of the big-money West: mega-houses, condos, ranchettes.

As you'd expect, Gould knows his way around a darkroom. Take a look at "Gone with the Wind," a 26-by-23-inch silver print of winged seeds flying from a milkweed pod. Velvety blacks, intense whites, and everything in between, all perfectly controlled. I asked Elaine Bean just how Gould put the print together (if you see it, you'll understand why I asked). Bean, always understated, airily replied: "Oh, if you're really good in a darkroom, you can create these kind of effects." That's fine, Elaine, but only about one photograph in 10,000 comes close to achieving what Gould has done so effortlessly. "Really good" is putting it mildly -- as in "Michael Jordan is a really good basketball player."

In conclusion: another great show. Thanks, Elaine, for installment No. 6 in "Bean's short course in Fine Art Photography."

-- John Hazlehurst

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