This is Day 5 of this series of historic Colorado photographers and I’ve thrown around the word “prolific” probably more than I should have. But in the case of Harry Mellon Rhoads, the word is not only appropriate but perhaps an understatement to describe his enormous body of work.
A Rocky Mountain News photographer with a career stretching across seven decades, Rhoads was a consummate man-about-town. His camera captured everything from presidential visits to breaking news to mundane city moments. His work demonstrates a mastery of daily life documentation. Many of the moments ingrained in his often glass-plated negatives seem too picturesque to be candid.
But candid they were, and according to Denver Public Library researcher Randel Metz, Rhoads was able to gain such complete access in his subjects because he was an active and known member of Denver civic life.
“As his fame grew,” says Metz in a short biography, “Rhoads became close with the Denver Police Department — they all knew him — and this no doubt enabled him to get some of his close-in shots of dramatic events.”
In Rhoads’ work we observe a true sense of what life in Denver looked and felt like in the early 1900s. The introduction of the automobile and airplane is a recurring theme in his work and is presented with a kind of miraculous viewpoint that must reflect of how these inventions were seen as they were introduced.
Rhoads’ eye did not shy away from harsh realities. Many images in the collection are omitted here because they document murders and suicides; one such image shows a man sliced in two on a railway.
In other cases, social issues are evident in what is not present. A portrait of Woodrow Wilson in the Denver Press Club depicts the president surrounded exclusively by white men. Whether or not Rhoads meant to depict this kind of homogeny is irrelevant. His photographs demonstrate it nonetheless.
Kevin Beaty is a media producer with experience in a variety of settings spanning Hollywood film sets to international backpack journalism expeditions. He is on a never-ending quest to meld artful imagery, functional design and intimate storytelling. His biggest struggle in any given moment is whether to shoot stills or video. Find him on Twitter and Instagram at @kevinjbeaty. View all posts by Kevin Beaty