Speaking a universal language
Simply thinking of three firemen raising the U.S. flag amid the World Trade Center rubble reminds us of the power of photography. In the hands of a talented artist, photography can open a window to new perspectives and insights into our world and the human condition.Local photographer Raymond A. Bleesz has always believed that photography is an important tool – the universal language of the world. Since he received his first camera as a child for Christmas, he has explored the many facets of photography and since high school he has looked at his photo subjects through a historical perspective.Take his candid portraitures, such as the photo of the vibrant old woman in France, or the irresistible photo of the engaging minstrel and his dog wearing sunglasses in Barcelona. Brief moments in time, but photos that immortalize man, his persona and his work in his habitat.Or look at Bleesz’ documentary photographs, which capture telling moments in a place’s history. The photo of an old-fashioned gas station outside of Moab and the photo of a dilapidated barn outside of Wolcott will keep these mundane places alive even after they fall prey to modernization."I don’t look for pretty pictures, although some are pretty," Bleesz says. Instead, Bleesz concentrates on expressing his own unique artistic vision, such as photographing a trio of animated people who, on closer inspection, turn out to be mannequins. "I am not an Ansel Adams, that is overdone."It must have been this unique perspective and talent which won Bleesz a coveted spot in the Fourth Annual Jan Pelton Photogallery show in Denver. For the month of November, Raymond Bleesz’ work will be featured along with the work of a select group of other photographers. Out of the six photographs Bleesz submitted, five were accepted into the juried show, and one won an award.Bleesz works primarily in black and white. "I don’t find color to be intellectually stimulating," he says.Black and white photography takes a much greater skill to capture the depth of a scene and the emotion on film, he adds. Bleesz also loves to capture paradoxes on film, such as the roadside image, which shows a "No Residential Dumping" sign posted near a lone tree and three dumpsters in the middle of miles of uninhabited land in Utah."I look for paradoxes, dichotomies or parallels – something out of context," he says. "That’s what a photographer is supposed to do. I don’t photograph pretty aspen trees on Gore Range."Bleesz prints, mats and frames all of his own artwork with archival techniques, and uses special Marshall pencils to hand-color and transform some of his black and white photos into color."I color it as I see it, not necessarily the way it is," Bleesz explains. For instance, in the Jan Pelton show, the pickup truck featured in Bleesz’ "Shade, Dead Horse Point, Utah," was hand-colored blue – but he says he could have made it any color which would enhance the entire composition. It received "Honorable Mention" in the show. In "Cottonwood Pass, Gypsum Colorado," the trees and shrubs Bleesz hand colored leap out in a surreal, enchanting way. Then, of course, there is the photo he took in his cousin’s house in New Jersey on the anniversary of 9/11. The U.S. flag filling the TV screen is indeed larger than life in this image, which also received honorable mention at the Jan Pelton show.This latest show is just one in a long line of shows for Bleesz in a diverse and uniquely focused career in photography. Bleesz’ interest in photography has been a part of him for as long as he can remember – an interest further spurred by travels across Europe with his family, first generation French Alsacians. But Bleesz’ historical bent started in a Connecticut high school, when a teacher inspired his interest in the social sciences, a passion he later married with his love of photography. After receiving a degree in the social sciences (history/geography), Bleesz taught the subject for a number of years, including a stint as a high school teacher in Idaho Springs, and he lived in Georgetown for 20 years before relocating to Vail in 1990."My photographic art depicts the interaction of people, places and things as a social science," says Bleesz. He views his photography as an extension of that science.By 1975, Bleesz was pursuing his photography full time, capturing the "Zeitgeist of my time and place."Over the past nearly three decades he has worked as the USA Ski Team Photographer and as photographer for the World Championships for the Disabled. Bleesz was involved in the first "Day in America" Denver shoot in 1986 and is locally known for his documentation the Georgetown/Silver Plume National Historic District. He was the contract still movie photographer for John Denver in 1987 and has had his photos published in numerous magazines, including "Colorado Homes & Lifestyles Magazine," "Outside," "Skiing," and in the French periodical, "Photo Magazine."Bleesz has won numerous awards along the way, including First Place in the Foothills Gallery show in 1984 and Honorable Mention in the Colorado Photographic Arts Center in 2001.Today, Bleesz owns and operates Brush Creek Dry Goods in Riverwalk with his wife, Faith. Although it seems a departure from both his photography and his work as a teacher, Bleesz says it is the ideal combination for him now. Not only does it provide another income, it allows him to display and sell his work in the clothing store. Here you will find, among many other fine pieces, his celebrated image of a cowboy, which was not only selected for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics Cultural Event, but also exhibited at the Millennium Arts Center in Washington D.C. last April.Brush Creek Dry Goods is located at 0175 Main Street in Riverwalk. Or, check out the Jan Pelton Photogallery show at 3947 Tennyson St. in Denver.
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