The Making of "The Man in the Darkroom"

DocumentaryShannon Reed

I thought I’d share a little bit more about why I decided to make this feature-length documentary on Hal Gould - outside of the fact that he is just a very special person who many Denverites and photographers truly cherish.

According to recent statistics, over 200 million images are uploaded to Facebook each day. On a strictly fundamental level, this tells us that – while we are not necessarily a discerning bunch – images are important to us. In fact, with the boon of digital technology, the sharing and exchanging of images has become unarguably the most prevalent means of communication we’ve yet to experience.

Through imagery (whether we are consciously aware of it or not) we expose our beliefs; emotions; things we find beautiful, funny, important – even boring and inane; the changes and developments in our lives as individuals as well as with our families; milestones and celebrations – and the list goes on. On a more global level, images provide a common platform which allows us to break through language and cultural barriers making our small world even smaller and more accessible than ever. In fact, we’re even able to bear witness to our ever-changing climate thanks to the important work done by photographers such as James Balog.

If you’re my age, you remember a time when you had a film camera – maybe, like me, you had a little Kodak Instamatic with a Magicube flash. You remember photo albums and having to look things up in the encyclopedia or referring to the National Geographic Magazine to see what people from other cultures looked like. Your parents maybe had a handful of pictures from their childhood and even fewer pictures of their parents. Unless you were a professional photographer, the taking of pictures was typically reserved for special occasions – and those pictures probably ended up getting tucked away in a shoe box on the top shelf of a closet next to the empty photo album you’d meant to put them in.

I don’t need to tell you what people are doing with images nowadays – you’ve seen it. You’ve seen your best friend’s lunch because he posted it to Facebook right as the waiter set it down in front of him. You’ve seen the six inches of snow that collected on your sister’s patio furniture and the budding flower or cup of coffee on her kitchen table.

It’s easy, then, to forget how we got here – how photography actually got started. As you already know, or will learn in this film, photography is a magical art form – a phenomenon, really. When Hal Gould was born in 1920, photography was already 89 years old, but photography didn’t start to get any real recognition until just before the turn of the 20th century. Alfred Stieglitz was probably one of the better known proponents of photography back then and can fairly take credit for progressing the ways in which photography was used and even exhibited.

So, here we stand on the threshold – the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.  Hal Gould turned 92 on February 29, 2012; he’s among the last of a generation who’s not only “been there and done that”, but he may very well be the last who spent the bulk of his life championing fine art photography.

I believe that Hal, an already very successful professional photographer, was largely inspired by "The Family of Man" exhibit in 1955.  After having seen this exhibit (curated by Edward Steichen at New York’s Museum of Modern Art), he came back home to Denver and approached Otto Bach (the director of the Denver Art Museum at the time) to see about bringing the massive exhibit to Denver.

Of course many know of Bach’s famous response, “As long as I’m the Director of this museum, photography will never be shown here.”   Hal contends that this was not an exhibit about photography. Instead, these images reflect relationships – humanity.  They are not necessarily “art”, but the moments captured do tell a story, share a heartache, or otherwise give us a glimpse into the daily goings on of our interactive existence as a species.

While others may have made attempts in the past, Hal contends that he was really the first in the United States to organize and register a business with the sole intent to exhibit and sell master works of photography.  This happened in 1957 when he and a couple of friends rented a vacant pharmacy on Colfax Avenue and they held an exhibit of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston’s work.  It would not be until 12 years later that a gallery in New York (Marlborough) would follow suit.

To wit, I'd initially wanted to do this film for a fairly simple reason; to honor Hal Gould’s life, his mission to get photography acknowledged as fine art, and to ensure that we do not pass over this threshold without carrying his legacy with us.  However, now that we've spent several months with Hal working intensively on this project, a larger and much more wonderful story has evidenced itself:  Hal Gould, the man, is a tremendous source of inspiration - his fortitude, dedication, passion, and sense of adventure are the driving forces that have seemingly permitted him to live a life truly fulfilled.  Not with money or any type of financial gain, and not even with the recognition that he so rightfully deserves - but this man had a mission in life and he, with the acknowledged help and support of some wonderful people along the way, not only accomplished his mission, but he was instrumental in setting the stage for others to continue the effort as well.

We also know that Hal's work is not yet finished and that he has plenty of items left on his Bucket List that require his attention.  Since we started this project in January, we've sort of gotten Hal out from underneath the burden of having moved the contents of The Camera Obscura into his home (he's had a lot of wonderful help from friends and family with this)  and back with his beloved cameras - in fact, he has begun making pictures again.  We've helped him restock his darkroom supplies and have gotten his two favorite enlargers back up and running again so that he can get back to printing.  We've done our best to remove any barriers or stress so that he can feel free to create and concentrate on his passion  - and it has been a truly wonderful gift to witness. 

Hal Walking 1-30-2012.jpg

It's easy to sit and talk with Hal about what is important to him and what he would still like to be able to do while he is still healthy and fairly independent; it's another thing entirely to mobilize him and to make his dreams a reality.  We are constantly inspired by Hal's determination and joie de vivre and have no doubt that anyone who sees this film will feel inspired as well.

Because we are not a fantastically wealthy bunch (or even modestly wealthy, for that matter), we’re relying on donations and grants to fund this project.  Whether through the  crowd-sourcing fundraising platform (Kickstarter) or private donations, we will do our best to ensure that each of our contributors feels as though they've brought this project to life - because they did - and that they are recognized accordingly.    

We are incredibly proud that this is a Denver-centric project and are very excited to share with the world the talent and dedication to the arts in this city.  Many, if not all, of those interviewed for the film, including Governor John Hicklenlooper, stand firm in their thought and word that Denver is world-class when it comes to matters of art and that we're in a very fortunate position to be able to trace the beginnings of our photographic arts community back to Hal Gould and his vision to get photography recognized as fine art.

Thank you for your time; if you know of anyone who might be interested in helping fund this project, please feel free to share this and don’t hesitate to drop me a line with questions or thoughts.