Return to 'press' menu


Published August 26, 2008
byline: James B. Meadow
Rocky Mountain News


Over his shoulder, the City and County Building is aglow in morning sunlight, but the smiling man with the fringe of beard and the Dixie Chicks T-shirt doesn't notice and just hangs near the teenagegirl with pink lipstick, gel'd hair and a mouth full of braces.

Meanwhile, just this side of The Park's flower garden, an intense volleyball game is being waged - although the handsome guy sitting on his motorcycle talking on a cell phone while he rolls a string of prayer beads between his fingers doesn't seem to care.

But you just might.

That is, if you make it down to the only mosque-like structure in The Park and experience Pictures of You, a moving and magical photographic exhibition that just might shrink 7,200 miles and maybe collapse an infinitely greater number of prejudices at the same time. At least that's what Tom Loughlin hopes. See, for the 39-year-old Crested Butte photographer, Pictures is not just a labor of love but of conscience.

Three times in the last three years, Loughlin traveled to Esfahan, a strikingly beautiful city in Iran, coming away with 8,000 images of Iranians playing, musing, praying - simply living their everyday lives. He distilled that pool to 48, printed them on translucent panels of synthetic silk and stepped back, hoping his artistic vision might inspire others to see.

"We're all made of the same flesh," he says, "But Americans have lost sight of that. We don't realize all the parallels between our culture and Iran's. The lines, 'A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou,' that are so popular here? They're from a Persian poet."

Loughlin may not be Omar Khayyam, but there is a visual poetry to his work. Not because his images are dramatic - they aren't - but because they are so human, so suffused with the mercies, joys and subtleties of life.

But what truly elevates Pictures is the way its translucent panels work. You can stand outside the 90-by-30-foot structure and examine the photos. Or, you can go inside and look at - then through - the photos, catching a glimpse of, say, the Capitol, or a tree, or a person, making the experience the polar opposite of static. Even better, stare at a photograph and watch someone on other side, staring at it, too.

"This show is not just about Iran," says Loughlin. "It's about Americans reacting to Iranians. It's about Americans reacting to each other, seeing someone else's experience on the other side of the photo. I like to discreetly watch people react."

Sometimes, he can just listen.

"It's marvelous, I was breathless when I saw this," says Mario Sewell, a 70-year-old visitor from California. "This is exactly what art is supposed to accomplish."

For his part, Loughlin is pleased to accomplish his vision in The Park, a place he calls a "crown jewel." Struck by the "resonance" of "media, art and government" that hums around its borders, Loughlin knew "there is no better place than this."

Even if Pictures shuts down at 11 p.m. tonight.Sweeping his arm around The Park, he adds, "This is spectacular."

In its own way, so is the photo of a girl in a bumper car, face luminous with joy. So is the boy with a 50 Cent cap. So is the couple so sweetly in love. So are moms and kids on a roller coaster.

Not that everyone agrees. One angry man insisted that Pictures smacked of propaganda because it paints such a one-sided picture of Iran, ignoring the repressive aspects of its theocracy. But Loughlin isn't seeking stark documentation so much as connection.

And he thinks he's found it.

"It's so rare," he says, "that an artist can make something in the real world that really looks like what he imagined it would."

It's rarer still that in The Park, a wandering soul has the chance to learn how people aren't so different - or so far away - once you manage to look through them.


related links:
Rocky Mountain News special report: "Civic Center Blues" "Manjushri Project Creates 'Mosque' in Denver"

view article in its original context at (includes images, video)



Donate now! 'pictures of you: images from iran' is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of pictures of you may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.