John Denver’s photography in focus at Anderson Ranch
If You Go …
What: Sweet, Sweet Life: The Photographic Works of John Denver
Where: Gideon Gartner Gallery, Anderson Ranch Arts Center
When: Oct. 10-17; Opening reception Oct. 10, 5 – 7 p.m.
More information: www.andersonranch.org
Seeing the world through John Denver’s eyes, you might get a look at the Snowmass Ski Area below a rising moon, from across the Brush Creek Valley, or from a soaring hot-air balloon against a blue sky at the Snowmass Balloon Festival.
Those are among the images captured in Denver’s photography, which will be on display at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in an exhibition that opens Oct. 10.
The Anderson Ranch show includes a selection of the photographs Denver’s estate recently opened to the public for sale. It opens with a reception at 5 p.m.
“The ranch is happy to show his work because obviously he’s known all over the world for his singing, but people may be unaware that his artistic practice was even broader, and extended to photography and visual arts,” says Andrea Wallace, artistic director of photography at Anderson Ranch.
The talents of the iconic singer and founder of the Snowmass-based Windstar Foundation, it turns out, went beyond music.
“He was truly a photographer,” says Amy Abrams, of 7S Management, the Denver-based firm that has handled John Denver’s estate since 2010. “He was exploring what the camera can do and how he can capture the world around him..”
The photos, unsurprisingly, include some vivid scenes in the local mountains, like a group on horseback in the backcountry, cowboys and their horses at sunset, close-ups of a hawk, a coyote, aspen trees and columbines. In a “self-portrait,” Denver photographed his shadow projected against a stand of pine trees from a mountain ridge.
His work from his travels around the world focus more on people, with street scenes from Europe and Asia, and shots of the Apollo 11 astronauts’ parade in Manhattan and an anti-war rally at the Washington Monument in 1969.
“It’s all in keeping with what he stood for,” adds Wallace.
The photography show complements a slate of John Denver tribute concerts and related activities in Aspen and Snowmass Village this weekend.
He took photography seriously, and on tour he was known to bring along two 35 mm cameras, eight lenses and other gadgets.
“I get a lot of flack about it,” he said in 1983. “My camera bag is the heaviest thing on the tour.”
Abrams spearheaded the idea of showcasing John Denver’s photography, which has rarely been exhibited. The singer is known to have had just three photo shows during his lifetime, at the Hammer Gallery in New York in 1980, one in Denver in 1983, and one at the Aspen Art Museum in 1989, which focused on his photos of flowers and foliage.
Denver once said he felt less secure showing his photography than he did playing a live concert, “because my photography is about the way I look at things.”
Abrams and the curators from Leon Gallery in Denver went through the trove — an estimated 10,000 photos and slides — that Denver left behind in his private Aspen archive.
“We went through every single photo and slide and negative that the estate had,” Abrams explains. “That was the fun part.”
Denver also kept binders and notebooks that provided a look at his thought process and his approach to art, which in turn helped the curators decide how they wanted to present the work to the public. Those insights showed Denver to be more than a hobbyist when it came to photography.
“He was a total gear-head and really into experimenting with camera technology,” Abrams says, “keeping in mind that this was before digital.”
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