Marking a year post-flood in Colorado, The Dairy Center for the Arts is exhibiting 33 black-and-white and color photographs captured by photographers who live and work on the Front Range. In FLOOD: A Thousand Year Event, unmitigated contrasts are presented: Destruction and rebirth; restoration after loss; calamity and, oddly, the center's Curator of Visual Art and Education, Mary Horrocks notes, beauty.
"It almost looks like a shoreline of an ocean," Horrocks said responding to an image by Richard Van Pelt taken in Boulder. "You wouldn't know that it's not a coastal scene, unless you are aware of where it was taken."
The exhibition's images were taken during, or immediately following, the floods in Evergreen, Jamestown, Lyons, and Boulder. The images, perhaps counterintuitively, are meant to provide an opportunity for healing.
"When you have a loss, when there's been a disaster, for us as the human race to be able to express that, to be able to talk about it is healing in and of itself," Harrocks said.
One of the photographers in the exhibit is scientist James Balog, who is well acquainted with the power of foothills floods. Forty years ago he wrote his master's thesis at Colorado University on the Big Thompson Flood of 1976. While he carried that knowledge, he said he photographed the 2013 floods “without an opinion."
"I was out there, just responding to the world as it was around me," Balog said. "And all I was trying to do was to make as thoughtful and poignant of a representation of what I saw in those places as possible."
Witnessing the immense power of nature, Balog said is an antidote to "natural amnesia" caused by technological distractions and artificial environments.
"The bandwidth that otherwise might have connected with nature is no longer there," Balog said. "It's almost like our brains have been colonized by all this other rubbish and we are forgetting, you know, who we are in relationship to nature."
The relationship of humanity to the natural world is depicted in the exhibition without framing people as subjects. Dairy Center Curator Horrocks said that was a conscious decision.
"We were very sensitive to not wanting to be blatant and ugly about the photographs and take advantage of the tragedy," Horrocks said.
The tragedy of the floods included claiming several lives, a point that can be inferred by symbolically presented by some of the images.
For instance, a gnarled piece of white bedding made dingy by floodwaters, as if still covering the person it once comforted. The photograph by Katie Harwood shows it is plumped and saturated, discarded amongst stumps and roots, perhaps miles away from its point of origin.
"It's just this little symbol that human society was here and it's sort of been re-claimed by nature," Horrocks said.
One photo diptych by Chuck Forsman shows a bedroom after the flood, with contents – if taken out of context – that would appear tossed on a sandy beach. The image to its right is placid; an engraved marble tablet, part of a private sculpture garden in Lyons, lying in the snow. Although broken in three, the inscription is intact:
"May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy."
Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, RMPBS, and KUVO.
Editor's Note: Full disclosure, the Dairy Center for the Arts is a nonprofit partner and underwriter of KUNC's radio programming.