A colorful life shown in black-and-white imagery | PostIndependent.com

A colorful life shown in black-and-white imagery

Stefanie Kilts
Colorado Mountain College
George Stranahan Photo
Staff Photo |

Few people who know of George Stranahan’s life would say it’s anything less than creative and colorful. Among other accomplishments, he founded the Flying Dog Brewery, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, the Aspen Center for Physics and the Woody Creek Tavern, and has long been active in the arts, philanthropy and education in the Roaring Fork Valley.

But one of the less colorful, and even more creative, aspects of his life has been his love for black-and-white photography. Stranahan has been a photographer for 70 years, ever since his mother handed him a Leica 111g.

“You can’t stop, it’s like eating,” he said.

An exhibit of Stranahan’s own black-and-white, 1930s-classical-style portraits, landscapes and geometric imagery will be shown at the Colorado Mountain College ArtShare Gallery in downtown Glenwood Springs through Sept. 25.

Stranahan said his mother, Virginia, was an early user of 35mm film and produced her work in a darkroom. When the younger Stranahan was 11 years old, he inherited her camera and the key to the darkroom. Since then, he’s photographed people and landscapes from places as far away as the Himalayas and Mexico and as close as his backyard in Aspen and Carbondale.

His photographs have been influenced by his early work with large- and medium-format cameras and the unreal and abstract look of some black and white images.

He has always been inspired by the work of the photo greats. For the past 30 years, Stranahan and his wife have accumulated a stunning collection of 81 classic black-and-white photos from renowned photographers, including Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Margaret Bourke-White, Andrè Kertèsz and Edward Weston. Several years ago the Stranahans donated their collection to CMC to display at its campuses and to enrich the education of the students in the college’s photography program. Part of the collection is currently on exhibit at the college’s campus in Steamboat Springs.

Stranahan focused on photography, education

Just like the classic images Stranahan has collected, each of his photographs tells a story. For example, he said, eight years ago he asked a kindergarten class at the Carbondale Community School to bring in props for a different take on the formal “school portrait.” The resulting image he created, “Alligator Boy,” is a comical portrait of a boy standing against a generic backdrop in an alligator mask and sombrero hat.

He said it was a fascinating exercise to have the children “think about who I am,” by both choosing the props and viewing the final image.

Stranahan is especially passionate about education, having been a professor and a high school teacher in California and an interim head of the Aspen Community School in the early 1970s. He recently published a book of portraits and essays titled “A Predicament of Innocents: Might the Schools Help?” The collection, including his portraits of school children taken over six decades, explores the art of teaching, the minds of children and how the educational infrastructure stifles the growth of both.

Another photo featured in the exhibit is “Aspen Alley,” an image he took in the 1970s. The lines and shapes of the window and pipes, the varied textures, and the way light hits the alley wall dominate the image. But an observant eye will catch the few beer cans scattered on the ground.

“Back doors tell more about people than the front door,” he said. “People put their garbage by the back door.”

The exhibit will be on display through Sept. 25 at the CMC ArtShare Gallery at 802 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs. An opening reception is set for 6-8 p.m. Friday, July 12. The reception is free and open to the public. Stranahan will give a brief talk at the beginning of the reception.

The ArtShare Gallery is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 947-8367 or visit cmcartshare.com.

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