Photography

The photography department is recognized for its extensive holdings of nineteenth century work, notably of the American West. Collectively, the museum’s works of early photography reflect both the achievements of the medium’s outstanding practitioners and the shifting environmental attitudes of nineteenth century Americans. The collection also has strong holdings of European and American modernist photography.

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Anthony & Delisa Mayer Photography Gallery, Level 7, North Building

The Anthony and Delisa Mayer Photography Gallery, which opened in 2010, has allowed the photography department to present works from its holdings—from Denver Art Museum favorites to pieces previously unseen—and to display photographs on loan from outside sources in a series of celebrated exhibitions.

The Collection

In 2008, the DAM established the photography department to consolidate future acquisitions, exhibitions, and care of photographs in a dedicated curatorial department. Despite being a young curatorial department, the photography collection holds works of nationally noted significance and objects which guide new opportunities for collecting.

The department’s inaugural exhibition, Exposure: Treasures from the Vault, was recognized as Denver’s best group photography show in 2011 by Westword, while the Denver Post awarded Eric Paddock the honor of “curator of the year” for the exhibit. The department also has hosted major travelling shows, such as Robert Adams: The Place We Live—A Retrospective Selection of Photographs, organized by the Yale University Art Gallery.

Robert Adams: The Place We Live—A Retrospective Selection of Photographs exhibition

September 25, 2011–January 1, 2012

In 1937, the Denver Art Museum made a far-sighted decision to begin collecting photographs with the native arts department purchase of a complete set of Edward S. Curtis’s landmark photogravure series, The North American Indian. From that year until 2008, seven curatorial departments within the museum formed independent photography collections—in the process compiling more than 7,000 images that span the history of photography, from 1845 to the present. Although a large number of photographs were collected during this time, acquisitions were frequently conducted without coordinated oversight or collaboration.

Edward Ranney, "Bath of the Nusta," Ollantaytambo, Peru, 1975. Gelatin silver print. © Edward Ranney

Edward Ranney, "Bath of the Nusta," Ollantaytambo, Peru, 1975. Gelatin silver print. © Edward Ranney

The photography department is recognized for its extensive holdings of nineteenth century work, notably of the American West. The Daniel Wolf Landscape Photography Collection encompasses the work of photographers from Maine to California, and gives special emphasis to Western landscapes by acknowledged masters such as William Bell, W.H. Jackson, Timothy O’Sullivan, Andrew Joseph Russell, Adam Clarke Vroman, and Carleton E. Watkins. Additional nineteenth century holdings include recent acquisitions of masterworks such as William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1845 A Scene In York and several Henry Bosse cyanotypes from the album, Views on the Mississippi River. Collectively, the museum’s works of early photography reflect both the achievements of the medium’s outstanding practitioners and the shifting environmental attitudes of nineteenth century Americans.

European Modernism is an additional strength of the photography collection, and one with significant affinity to artworks and other materials in the museum’s Herbert Bayer Archive. Important photographs by Bayer, Frantisek Drtikol, Jaromir Funke, Gyorgi Kepes, Man Ray, and others express the spirit of Modernist vision and show the remarkable command of technique instilled through experiment. Works of American Modernism by Berenice Abbott, Laura Gilpin, Edward Weston, and others show how similar approaches to light and form expressed in quite different responses.

Photographs in the collection from the second half of the 20th Century respond to changing perceptions and values, both in the art world and in the world at large. The museum’s substantial collection of Robert Adams photographs addresses environmental dilemmas in the American West through plain-spoken images of human-altered landscapes. Works by Diane Arbus and Larry Clark find dignity, frailty, and pathos in the marginalized. And the museum’s extensive holdings of Garry Winogrand photographs cull generous, humorous, and sometimes startling, stories from the chaos of everyday life in the streets.

Garry Winogrand: Women are Beautiful exhibition

January 29, 2012–September 16, 2012

Since 1970, photographers have frequently blurred the line between the medium and other artistic disciplines. The department has collected outstanding examples of contemporary photographic work to parallel the DAM’s modern and contemporary art collection. Works by artists such as Chuck Close, Petah Coyne, and Tom Friedman display the rich cross-fertilization that occurs when painters, sculptors and conceptual artists explore new ideas through photography. Other pieces, by David Levinthal, Cindy Sherman, and Lorna Simpson push the conventions of photography to new limits and expand our understanding of what the medium can be, while photographs by international artists, such as Shirin Neshat and Liu Wei exhibit the exchange of ideas that is possible in today’s universally connected world.

Publications

These DAM photography publications are available in the Museum Shop and online.

  • Prairie. Adams, Robert. Denver and San Francisco:  Denver Art Museum and Fraenkel Gallery, 2011. 
  • Robert Benjamin: Notes From a Quiet Life. Benjamin, Robert. Santa Fe and Denver: Radius Books in cooperation with the Denver Art Museum, 2012.

Robert Benjamin, Sun Drying Tomatoes, Boulder, 1990s. Chromogenic color print. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Robert Benjamin, 2009.738. © Robert Benjamin

Robert Benjamin, Sun Drying Tomatoes, Boulder, 1990s. Chromogenic color print. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Robert Benjamin, 2009.738. © Robert Benjamin

Current Staff

  • Eric Paddock, Curator
  • Micah Messenheimer, Curatorial Assistant
  • Lisa Steffen, Master Teacher

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