At Denverite we’ve been privileged to be allowed by the Denver Public Library to dive into their Western History Collection, a massive archive of Denver and Colorado history with photographs stretching back as far as the mid 1800s. But in delving into the library’s collections one cannot help but notice a lack of diversity in older images.
Thank goodness for Burnis “Mac” McCloud, a prolific documentarian of African-American life in Denver whose work spans an impressive 40+ years. DPL researcher Randel Metz says in a blog post that McCloud’s work “stands alone” in its complete documentation of this community and time.
PREVIOUSLY IN THE HISTORIC COLORADO PHOTO SERIES: Donald Kemp | Sandra Dallas | Harry Mellon Rhoads | Charles Lillybridge
Photography is an inherently biased medium. Each frame is literally the perspective of the person behind the camera. This makes it all the more crucial that a member of a community is able to document it from within. Not only does McCloud’s work represent an era that was otherwise missed by cameras, his canon goes deeper, presenting a perspective that could only be captured by a deep intimacy.
According to Metz, McCloud was introduced to photography at 10 years old when he found camera pieces in a junkyard. The owner of a local camera shop said he would teach the boy to use the camera if he could put it together.
But McCloud’s work is most interesting in its day-to-day depictions of life, ranging from Manual High School proms to jazz-era nightlife.
The Western History Collection possesses around 100,000 negatives from McCloud’s body of work, 3,500 prints and at least one box of “audio-visual materials.”
Metz says about 60 percent of McCloud’s work has descriptors attached and asks that if you see someone in the collection that you know, to please fill them in.