MOP Denver: Shadows Gather: Shadow Banned at Leon Gallery
This week will feature photographers included in Denver’s Month of Photography festival.
In March, thousands flock to Denver, CO to immerse themselves in a month long festival celebrating the photographic arts. Month of Photography Denver (MoP), founded in 2004, brings photography exhibitions, talks, tours, and events to the Rocky Mountain region every other year. This year’s festival will run until March 31st.
As I was scrolling through the MoP website, Shadows Gather’s exhibition at Leon Gallery immediately caught my eye. I was drawn in by the edginess of Shadows’ images and wanted to learn more both about the artist and about her practice.
Shadow Banned explores the sordid underside of Denver that can be found in the clubs and bars in the surrounding area. Using an Instax camera, Shadows Gather photographs those that are not afraid to express themselves. Free of judgement and ridicule, those featured in Shadows’ images draw attention to the concept of censorship and modesty and how these ideas restrict our day to day lives.
The Month of Photography Denver is presented by the Colorado Photographic Arts Center (CPAC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering the understanding and appreciation of excellent photography through year-round exhibitions, education, and community outreach. CPAC is the headquarters of the festival and is located at 1070 Bannock Street in Denver’s Golden Triangle Creative District.
Participating spaces include museums, galleries, universities, community art centers, nonprofit organizations, public spaces, businesses and other venues. Most events will take place in the Denver Metro area, with a smaller number of events outside the city in Boulder, Longmont, Fort Collins, and other areas.
For working photographers and artists, the Month of Photography Portfolio Reviews are a highlight of the festival. During this two-day event, up to 72 photographers will have an opportunity to present their work to 30 of the most important people in the national photography community, including museum curators, gallery owners, editors, publishers, nonprofit directors, and other leading professionals.
Month of Photography Denver is committed to an open, inclusive, accessible, and supportive environment for all of its patrons, staff, and volunteers. Visitors in need of accommodations are invited to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org in advance of your visit so we can arrange accommodations to support your experience.
Month of Photography Denver is a member of the international network of photography festivals, the Festival of Light.
Often compared to Nan Goldin and Andy Warhol, Shadows Gather is a photography project that documents the alternative nightlife scene and the colorful individuals that thrive in it. Based out of Denver, Colorado, Shadow is a photographer who uses non-conventional techniques, such as pairing a Fuji Instax Neo Classic Mini with lighting from an iPhone flashlight, to create striking instant photographs that preserve and celebrate underground culture. In her photos, you’ll find energetic portraits from a mixture of scenes: gutter punks, drag artists, and creatures of the night.
Shadow has directly experienced the growth and cultural changes that have occurred in Denver and has focused her work on ensuring that the visual narrative of her subjects remains as the city continues to evolve. She celebrates the beauty of those on the cultural fringes and provides a sense of community and a safe haven to folks that have been deemed misfits by mainstream culture.
Following the project launch in March of 2019, Shadow has since become a staple in music venues, nightclubs, and bars across Denver, as well as traveling often to Los Angeles to further her work.
Follow Shadow Gathers on Instagram: @shadows.gather
Leon Gallery is both a non-profit gallery and creative space dedicated to mentoring emerging and underrepresented artists across multiple disciplines. Leon’s primary mission is to nurture and promote each artist, assist them in the development of their practice, and connect them with greater and more ambitious career opportunities.
Leon provides our local community with a casual, welcoming environment in which they can explore and discover the artistry of creative individuals from Denver, and beyond. In addition to art exhibitions, the gallery hosts intimate live music concerts, literary events, and produces an annual Performance Art Series.
The photographer known for her compelling portraits of Denver’s counterculture, Shadows Gather, will unveil her second solo show as part of Denver’s greater Month of Photography. Shadow Banned will be on display March 11th thru April 22nd at Leon Art Gallery and celebrates all that our culture keeps in the shadows–with a special artist reception Saturday, March 11th, from 7-11pm.
Shadow Banned showcases photos not seen anywhere else, photos that have been banned, flagged, and removed from social media. This forbidden collection raises questions about censorship faced heavily by marginalized groups: the policing of female bodies, the algorithmic flagging of everyday imagery in the LGBTQIA sphere, and the disproportionate censorship of people of color. For many Americans, social media is an overfiltered, glamourous representation of themselves and the lives they wish they lived. Shadow Banned is a raw, unapologetic peek into lives lived after dark.
On display along with a collection of over a thousand original Instax images, Shadow will also display her most iconic banned images, blown up and enlarged in a way that captures the details. From the scratches, lipstick smudges, and dirt from the alley, these photos capture a historic moment in time.
Gallery Hours: Wednesday through Friday, 10am – 6pm, Saturday & Sunday, Noon – 5pm.
Kassandra Eller: I would love to begin by discussing how your photographic journey began. What brought you to photography?
Shadows Gather: From the time I was a kid I always remember having a camera. In high school I was a yearbook photographer. Which I learned was the best way to skip class and go on school trips without actually being in sports.
From there it was always something that I always ended up doing unintentionally.
For a while I worked as a writer for a local news outlet here in Denver. I was hired to do the business listings and fluff pieces until the editor realized I wasn’t that good at writing. They gave me a camera instead, letting me cover the concerts the serious photographers didn’t want. Which was perfect! Those were the ones I liked best anyways. I would come back with more photos of the crowd, than the actual bands.
It really wasn’t until recently that I realized I was actually a photographer, and not just someone with a camera.
KE: Having a show in Denver’s Month of Photography is such an accomplishment! How does it feel to be able to show this work in a gallery setting?
SG: During the Covid shutdowns I spent a lot of time in the art galleries. The clubs were all closed, but some galleries stayed open (with restrictions). During that time I met a lot of artists and gallerists and ended up developing a deep connection and appreciation for the Denver art scene.
Around that time is when I started curating my first solo photography exhibit, for MoP 2021. Now I’m having my second in 2023! Everything has fallen into place with this photography project, and I couldn’t be more excited. When you have a love and passion for what you do, it makes the work easy.
KE: How did the idea for Shadows Gather come about? What made you want to pursue this project?
SG: The Shadows Gather photography project was never planned, it just happened and just is. I have been a constant club goer since I was old enough to get a fake id and sneak in.
In 2019 I was given an Instax camera for my birthday. That weekend I took it out, shot about 9 packs of film at various parties of my friends and people I met.
After a late night of partying, I emptied out my purse and flipped through all the photos of our amazing night out. That was the moment I truly fell in love with photography.
That was a moment when I realized my photos were actually really good, better than any photos I had previously taken. Photos that were taken for no particular reason, they were taken out of true passion and love for my friends.
When I go out, I always have my camera with me. Some nights I choose to take photos, some nights I don’t. Right now, I have a collection of well over 1500 instax party photos taken between 2019-present.
KE: Your images are so raw and quite unique. How do you decide what to photograph? Do you create these compositions yourself or are these photos purely captured moments of the models?
SG: All my photos are shot in the moment at parties, galleries and after the sun goes down. Being immersed in the nightlife is when I’m feeling the most creative, with friends and cocktail in hand. People in the nightlife are unique, extravagant and love to dress for the occasion. This makes my “job” as a photographer easy and fun. If I see someone in the club that I would like to photograph, I’ll approach them, introduce myself, get consent to take their photo and possibly even enjoy a cocktail together.
I will give my friends and new friends a photo as well. A little “party favor” gift to remember our times. I take a photo and give a photo…conveniently I made stickers with my Instagram handle for the photos I giveaway. That way we can stay connected.
KE: The use of Instax cameras and flash inherently references the idea of an underground grunge scene. Your camera choice and compositions seem very purposefully chosen. In many images we don’t see a full figure, rather we see parts of the body. It reminds me of the way photos are taken when you are out with friends. Rather than worry about framing the subject, we just snap away. Would you elaborate on the choice to photograph in this way?
SG: The Instax camera is perfect for me and my party lifestyle. You don’t need a photo pass for a toy camera. I can literally take it anywhere and to any show.
The flash however isn’t great for low light photography. Thank goodness I always have my Iphone in hand for selfies and more importantly lighting my subjects. Lighting is done with my Iphone. Other photographers mock me and give me all the suggestions… but when you have a camera, phone, and cocktail in hand you work with what you got.
The photos that were sent to you are part of an upcoming collection that will be showing for MoP called Shadow Banned. It’s a collection that contains images that have been deemed inappropriate by mainstream media and Instagram, included are photos that have been flagged or targeted on Instagram. TBH, they are not even that bad.
For instance, I have a photo of a heavily tattooed woman with a finger in her mouth, it’s framed in a way where that’s basically all you see. That was flagged and deemed sexually explicit content.
A gogo dancer with money in their underwear, flagged because of the money insinuates “paid sexual services.”
The backstage photo of a band member doing cocaine off a switchblade, a favorite photo of mine that I cannot post out of risk.
Getting kicked off Instagram, is a real possibility at this point and not warranted. When you have over 1500 photos and memories that thought of getting taken down off Instagram is disheartening.
This exhibit is a way for me to showcase images that have never been seen out of fear of being shut down due to censorship. When it comes to nightlife and queer lifestyles it becomes “too much” for the general public. Those people and images are what I celebrate.
KE: Your artist bio discusses how you have experienced growth in Denver. What have you observed from the time you began this project to now?
SG: I’ve lived in Denver since 2000 and have seen so many changes. Good and bad. I’ve also lost a lot of friends, some who have moved because rent is too expensive or been pushed way out to the suburbs. People come and go, but I wish I documented some of those times that are gone. I’m doing that now to make up for it.
KE: To conclude I would like to ask what is next for you. Is there anything you are currently working on?
SG: After this show I’ll probably get a day job, see if Hot Topic is hiring. Film, printing and frames are so expensive!
In all seriousness this exhibit for MoP has had all of my focus. I’m truly living in the moment and taking it all in. Once it’s wrapped up I can focus on my next steps.
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