Picture this: a photography center that hosts juried exhibitions featuring the work of international artists, and which nurtures photographers at every stage of their careers, especially early on, when professional launching pads are few and far between.
And picture this: a prestigious nonprofit organization known for giving attention to artists’ observations of the world around them, featured in beautifully curated shows that have broad audience appeal and refuses to shy away from complicated or controversial imagery. And this: a gallery that facilitates learning, inspiration, and connection through photography; where the playing field is equal and stipends and scholarships are offered to every level—from youth programs to portfolio reviews to solo exhibitioners.
That exists in Fort Collins. Perched on the northern fringe of the Creative District, the Center for Fine Art Photography (C4FAP) has been presenting impactful exhibitions in its three galleries since 2004. Executive Director Hamidah Glasgow seeks out renowned jurors and curators from all over the world to explore a wide variety of themes and social issues. An exhibition featuring portraits isn’t going to be all about smiling, happy faces. You might see a goat. Or a woman courageously baring her mastectomy. Or photographs that deeply explore the vulnerability of gender identity. Individually, each image is a strong statement; a unique perspective, a point of view. Collectively, they are masterful.
But there is so much more to the Center than being a showcase for fine art photography. For many photographers who are just starting to ping on the edge of the radar, it is an opportunity to jump start their careers. Often, inclusion in a C4FAP exhibition is the first time a photographer is showing his or her work. “The Center is known for bringing emerging artists to the forefront,” says Hamidah. “These are very talented artists who are not yet ready to be taken on by a museum or a major gallery. That’s our specialty. Oftentimes we’ll see people [who have exhibited at C4FAP] moving onto other juried exhibitions. Then we’ll bring them back to do a solo show. Then they have more solo shows—they’re on to bigger and better things. A lot of people in the industry talk about the Center as a launching pad. Curators and gallerists watch what’s being shown here and they’re noticing the artists we hang.”
That’s been the experience for Fort Collins photographer Katie Kalkstein. Her work is largely based on environmental issues and has been exhibited at the Center several times. “When I found the Center for Fine Art Photography, it was like a bacon of light in the photography world,” she says. “Hamidah has been able to bring in so many people from all over the world and so much wonderful photography. And she has the ability to connect people on a global level and start conversations on subjects that really matter.”
Katie has seen her career advance. She has met curators and important figures win the photography world that would have been out of reach without her relationship with the Center. Those people have introduced her and her work to others, resulting in having her photography exhibited in galleries, festivals, and public art installations in Denver, San Diego, Portland, Scottsdale, Austria, and China. “I wouldn’t have had these opportunities without the Center,” she says. She’s received additional guidance in portfolio reviews and advice from peers.
The Center is entirely funded through memberships, donations, grants, and artist entry fees for exhibitions. “We’re not a for-profit gallery, though people can purchase artwork we exhibit,” explains Hamidah. “In that respect, we are not a museum. But we’re more like a museum space than a gallery, because we are a 501(c)(3) public non-profit organization. We’re here to serve the community and the photographers.”
A typical artists’ reception at the Center is populated with patrons, jurors and curators, and exhibitors, who often travel long distances to attend. It’s not unusual to have artists from China, Scandinavia, and all over the United States rub elbows with art photography enthusiasts at these events. The artists talk about their work—what inspired it, their approach, challenges they faced, and stepping outside their comfort zones. At a recent reception, Montana artist Matthew Hamon described his experience taking portraits for his project “Gymnosophy” at a naturists’ community in Ontario, Canada, where all residents are nude. Even visitors have to follow the rules, so Matt disrobed and then created imagery that commingled “aesthetics and techniques associated with both journalism and formal portraiture to capture authentic, narrative images of the culture.”
The Center for Fine Art Photography is truly a gem in northern Colorado’s art scene. It rivals similar centers in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and is much easier to get to. Added bonus: there’s on-site parking. It’s worth the time to visit. You’ll be inspired, challenged, and enthralled. Promise.