Fast paced to fine art
Open Shutter exhibits the photography of Gunnar Conrad

“Yellowstone Falls” a full-color print by local photographer Gunnar Conrad, will be on display along with more of Conrad’s fine-art photography, at Open Shutter Gallery through Jan. 7.

by Shawna Bethell

Durango photographer Gunnar Conrad may be best known for work involving outdoor sports or motor vehicles. Many of his most recognizable images include riders descending red dirt trails or skiers enveloped in sprays of white. A simple graphic landscape occasionally appears in the photographic mix.

In a show that opens this Fri., Dec. 12, the Open Shutter Gallery will show a side of Conrad that Durango rarely sees: fine art photographer. It isn’t a new role for the man who said he has always quietly sought beauty in the world around him. It’s just the first time the rest of us get to see it so clearly through his lens.

During a busy happy hour at Joel’s, sitting at a dimly lit back table, Conrad thoughtfully peels the label from a bottle of Negra Modelo and tries to articulate his perspective on his photography.

“I don’t know if what I do is art or not, or if what I do is creative or not,” he explains. “But it is similar to when Richard Feynman used to talk about creative thinking. I don’t know if that’s the best way to describe it, but it’s the way I feel when I shoot. I’m just finding things.”

The reference to rebel physicist Richard Feynman is best summed up in the quote: “The excitement is not in the fact you’ve created something, but that you’ve found something beautiful that’s always been there.” Conrad revels in the idea of finding a piece of the whole that may have gone unnoticed until the moment his shutter clicks. It is carving that slice of beauty from the larger scape that intrigues and challenges him. It is capturing that slice on film that makes it art.

Conrad started dabbling in fine art photography about a year and a half ago. From his perspective, the outdoor sports market had become glutted with young dudes with cameras who’ll sell an image for next to nothing just to get into print. To stay above the pack, he decided to make some changes. It didn’t take long to make the jump. In 2007, not long after he decided to try the competitive market of fine art, four of his images of Hovenweep took first place in the category of Historic Architecture in the Pilsner Urquell International Photography Awards. Also in 2007, he was accepted into the Art of Photography show in San Diego and was recognized by the United Kingdom’s International Color Awards. Conrad says he will continue to shoot for his industrial and motor vehicle clients, as well as the outdoor sports and lifestyle clients – they, after all, gave him his start 20 years ago. But his passion for his art remains with the abstract and nature.

Gunnar Conrad’s “Arizona Cloud”is evocative of the abstract work of local painter Stanton Engelhart, whose work Conrad has long admired. Such fine art shots are a departure for the local professional photographer, who looked to the natural world for inspiration

“My relationship with the natural world is one of awe,” says Conrad. “Nature is so visually incredible on so many levels. I love to just go look at things.”

He says he’s always had an eye for images defined by contrasts, whether it is contrast of shape or form, color or texture. It is also why he is drawn to the work of beloved local painter Stanton Englehart.

“It’s this abstraction of contrast, the abstract that evokes reality. Stanton paints my home,” says Conrad of Englehart’s depictions of deep red canyons or open plains under broad skies. “There is a comfort in those images for me. I can exactly feel the place. The abstract intensifies the place … That is what a great artist does.”

In his own work, Conrad replicates Englehart’s ideals in his own way. He calls it the simplicity of form upon a complex background. For example, one of Englehart’s paintings might include the rich blue of sky taking most of the canvas, a slice of horizon, and a deeper slice of the earth in contrasting color. But it’s when you start looking at that slice of earth and notice the single line of a river creasing the land and the ridges or canyons barely seen but all included as a real landscape, that’s when you understand the simplicity and complexity that gets to Conrad. In one of his more stunning photographs, you see that concept in a cliff-face, a waterfall, and a lone conifer growing from a crack in the stone. Upon closer inspection, you see the details in the patterns of flowing water and the contrasts against the wall. These are the types of images that will grace the walls of the Open Shutter.

“I’m really excited,” says Conrad. “Because I don’t get to do much work here in Durango, and it’s cool to show in my home town. The Open Shutter is a stunning gallery.”

The photographer feels it’s an honor to show in a space that has recently shown some of the giants in photography. As someone who watches the photography industry, Conrad thinks Open Shutter will gain a national reputation in coming years.

The opening reception at Open Shutter will dovetail with Conrad’s annual Christmas party, which is a fund-raiser for Project Merry Christmas, a local nonprofit that provides food and other items for families in need. It’s an event he’s sponsored for the past 15 years.

As for the future of his photographic path, Conrad hopes fine art will become a significant part of his career. For a man who prefers to be in the wilderness, awed by those unsuspected contrasts of visual beauty, it allows him to follow those ideals of art, science and nature that he values. And as he wryly observes, “All that beats hanging around waiting for the phone to ring.”

The Open Shutter Gallery, 735 Main Ave., will present the exhibit of color photographs by Gunnar Conrad and David H. Collier through Jan. 7. The show opens at 5 p.m. on Dec. 12 with Conrad’s annual Christmas party. Visit for details.



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