Tired of all those "100 Best" shows on MTV/VH-1? Sure, but they're pleasantly addictive, aren't they? The 100 best dance tunes, the 100 best one-hit wonders, the 100 greatest embarrassing TV rock 'n' roll moments -- they all make you want to figure out your own 100-greatest lists.
And here's a category: the 100 greatest photographs of Colorado. Let's make it even more specific: the 100 greatest photographs of Colorado Springs. It'd be an interesting little competition, far more so than you might suspect.
That's because the people, buildings and landscapes of Colorado Springs were exhaustively photographed by three of the greatest photographers of the American West: William Henry Jackson, Laura Gilpin and Myron Wood. Jackson worked in the 19th century, Gilpin in the first half of the 20th, and Wood, the second half of the 20th.
Myron Wood lived here most of his life. He was extraordinarily prolific, a master of composition, and a skillful technician. At his worst, he was good; at his best, he was astonishing.
A new show devoted to Wood's work opens tomorrow at Phototroph Gallery, Elaine Bean's recently minted gallery under the Colorado Avenue bridge in the Depot Arts District. Don't miss this show. Let's say it again: Don't miss this show.
Elaine has assembled several dozen of Myron's greatest images, all of which are for sale.
The photographs are stunning. Take a look at "Fishing Camp, White River Plateau near Meeker." A stained hat sits on a windowsill. Through the rain-spattered window, a pair of horses stand quietly in the drizzle, while in the distance we see the flattops rising in the mist. It's a quiet, evocative, deeply satisfying picture -- beautifully composed, brilliantly printed. It seems as easy and spontaneous as a wraparound goal from Peter Forsberg, and who knows? Maybe it was.
"Sheep Storm -- South Park 1967" may well be Wood's single finest landscape photograph. Beneath a lowering sky, a herd of sheep huddles against the approaching storm. Myron loved to create darkly atmospheric images, using natural light and the darkroom in equal measure. He'd push film to its outermost limits, shooting when there was barely enough light to define his subject, hoping to retrieve a usable image. "Sheep Storm" is simply amazing, a masterpiece among masterpieces, black-and-white photography transformed into the highest art. How good is it? Well, de gustibus non disputandum est, but if I could only own one photograph, it'd be tough to choose between this and Jackson's "Canon of the Rio de las Animas."
A few years ago, Myron did a series of photographs of Georgia O'Keeffe in her New Mexico home. Both O'Keeffe and Wood were near the end of their lives; perhaps that has something to do with the focused intensity and power of these works. Myron showed me some of the images a few weeks after he shot them -- it was a remarkable experience, as if Bach had sat down at the harpsichord and played his latest fugue for you. One, which has become the iconic photograph of the painter, shows O'Keeffee standing next to an abstract sculpture, proudly erect, disdainful of the infirmities of extreme age.
"Just look at her," Myron remarked, "She's blind as a bat, and look at those eyes, just boring into you!" I could have bought a print, but didn't -- too intense, too uncomfortable, too powerful.
Versatile, unpretentious, interested in virtually everything, Myron documented half a century of change in the Pikes Peak region. Want to have your heart broken? Look at "Pikes Peak Avenue -- 1958," Wood's affectionate portrait of downtown Colorado Springs at midcentury. Shot with a long lens from the intersection of Pikes Peak and Nevada, it's all there -- the old Antlers, the Burns Opera House, the lively streetscape of the mid-'50s. Myron's photographs, which documented the destruction of the Burns, are all we have left of that beautiful structure, whose site, 35 years later, is a parking lot.
Sadly, many of Myron's photographs have an elegiac and regretful tone. The landscapes have altered and changed; sheepherders no longer tend their flocks in South Park, quiet fishing camps have been replaced by gargantuan vacation homes for the Ken Lays of the world. The slow, peaceful, not very prosperous state that Myron so loved has been replaced by something altogether different. And that gives you yet another reason to go to Phototroph -- to recapture, for a moment, a lost time.