Colorado Springs is drenched with history.
Photographer Mike Pach didn’t realize how historically rich the Pikes Peak region was until he started diving into old photos for his exhibit “COS 150: Then and Now.” The show is part of the city’s sesquicentennial celebration, and opens with a free opening reception Thursday at Library 21c. It’s up through Aug. 31.
“I thought 150 years would be easy for me to portray and I was so wrong,” Pach said. “There’s so much history here and with a project like this, it’s impossible to represent everything. I did my best to showcase things people would enjoy, things people might not have known about, and selected some things just for fun.”
The show is a feast for the eyes, making use of the playful photo re-creation trend, in which old photos are restaged with new people in the same locations with as close to original props as possible. The exhibit features 50 pairs of photos — the old, historic photo alongside the re-created photo.
Most of the old photos are from the Pioneers Museum, though some come from the Pikes Peak Library District’s Special Collections. A few others are courtesy of sources such as the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and personal collections.
Pach originally intended to focus on showing the old and new versions of buildings, but as he pored through the photos, he liked the photos featuring people more, and began to wonder who they were and what they did. Sometimes the information was there, sometimes not. But it inspired him to think of people in the community who could stand in for the historic residents.
One such photo featured three women sitting on a bench in Acacia Park in 1915. Immediately, three women from the Downtown Partnership popped into his mind: President and CEO Susan Edmondson, Vice President of Communications Laurel Prud’homme and Executive Director of Downtown Ventures Claire Swinford. He gathered the trio in Noveber for a photo in the park.
“I made the decision to focus on people doing great things in the community,” Pach said. “When I found a photo I thought would fit with somebody I know or knew of who was doing something for the community, I selected those images. That’s something I’m proud of with this exhibit. I’m able to tell the stories of these people who are doing things in our community and their part of our history moving forward.”
One of the most challenging photos to re-create involved famed Springs inventor Nikola Tesla, who built his lab in the Knob Hill neighborhood and worked there for about eight months from 1899 to 1900. He once famously blew out the city’s power grid.
Pach, a former engineer long fascinated with Tesla, was inspired by old photos of the inventor in his lab, surrounded by lightning bolts and the Tesla coil. They were taken in his Springs lab. He decided to do his best at re-creating the images, and asked a Tesla historian to pose as the historical figure.
“I went to Tesla Hill 15 times to photograph lightning,” Pach said, “and the last time I was treated to several hours of storms. The image combines 40 photos, 38 of which include lightning strikes. It’s supposed to be a crazy, in-your-face, make-your-head-explode type of photo.”
His favorite shoot stars the Colorado Springs Fire Department. He re-created an image of Fire Station No. 1, near downtown, built in 1925. The original photo has the ladder truck and engine in front of the building. The re-created version shows the modern versions of the vehicles, along with the crews.
“Everybody should give back to the city or town where they live,” said Pach, who volunteered to do the photo project. “This is my gift to the people of Colorado Springs. The more you get involved in your community, the more you improve life, not only for yourself, but for other people.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270