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Picture perfect

Historic Standley photos at the Pioneers Museum

Harry Standley photographed several decades of life in Colorado Springs. This one, titled Street Scene, shows Pikes Peak Avenue in 1917.
  • Harry Standley photographed several decades of life in Colorado Springs. This one, titled Street Scene, shows Pikes Peak Avenue in 1917.

There must be something about Colorado, and Colorado Springs in particular, that draws great photographers. You could, as a collector, specialize in historic Colorado Springs images and build a significant collection of fine American photographs. You'd acquire works by William Henry Jackson, Laura Gilpin, Myron Wood, William Hook, Charles Emery and, of course, Harry Standley.

Standley, who lived and worked in the Pikes Peak region for the first half of the 20th century, is the subject of a fascinating and lovely show currently hanging at the Pioneers Museum. A prolific and successful commercial photographer, he created literally thousands of images during his long life. Like many photographers throughout America in the early years of the century, he found a ready market selling hand-tinted landscapes to the tourist trade. And although his commercial work has a certain faded appeal, much of it is formulaic, trite and banal -- like your mom's painting of Elvis on black velvet.

But it must have been a pleasant and harmless way to make a living, and it may have freed Standley to do some of the extraordinary work that's currently on display.

Standley was proficient, workmanlike and occasionally brilliant as a landscape photographer. A noted mountaineer and a founder of the AdAmAn Club, he was the eighth person to climb all 51 of Colorado's fourteeners. More importantly, he was the first photographer to capture all 51 on film. At the Pioneers Museum, the photographs are displayed as small slides in a light box, with an accompanying photo album that Standley created.

Some of the commercial photographs are strikingly beautiful; take a look at the hand-tinted image of Pikes Peak from the Mesa, framed by a field of blooming yucca.

But Standley did his best work by far as an urban photographer, capturing the look and feel of Colorado Springs in the '20s and '30s. In 1930, he was commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce to photograph daily life in the Springs, presumably for use as a business recruitment tool. The images are accessible, lively, perfectly composed and just as immediate and vital as if they'd been shot yesterday. Consider "Colorado Springs High School Students Leaving for Lunch through Acacia Park" -- a trio of smiling girls walking the diagonal path to downtown. How many of us have made that journey, I wonder? Close to 25,000 kids over the years, including me, my daughter and a host of friends. The park hasn't changed much, but the resplendent Victorian buildings to the north and east are all gone, victims of change.

Most of Standley's richly detailed street scenes are unposed and natural, as revealing as the Parisian street scenes of his contemporary Brassi. Some are delightful set pieces, like his "Street Scene" from about 1917, showing four then-contemporary open touring cars (looks like two Model T's, a Mercer, and a Pierce-Arrow) arrayed across Pikes Peak Avenue just west of the post office. One or two other cars are visible, as well as several horse-drawn conveyances. It's an interesting, sophisticated composition -- asymmetrical, busy, vibrant.

In sum, this is a gorgeous little show. You'll love it if you're a native, a photographer, a historian, a mountain climber, an architect or a preservationist, or if you're looking for the next hot collectible. Remember, Standley sold thousands and thousands of photographs, most of them signed -- as of this writing, there were four available on eBay. Just don't try to outbid me ...

-- John Hazlehurst


Capturing Colorado: The Photographs of H. L. Standley

Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, 215 S. Tejon St.

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Show runs through June 13.

Free; Call 385-5990 or visit SectionIndex.asp?SectionID=9


Eric Paddock, curator of photography at the Colorado Historical Society, will present "H. L. Standley and Colorado Landscape Photographs"

Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, 215 S. Tejon St.

Saturday, April 24, 2 p.m.

Free; Call 385-5990 or visit tionIndex.asp?SectionID=9

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