Mike Pach got more than he bargained for when he set out to capture Colorado Springs’ past and present in photographs.
“I really didn’t know much about the history of Colorado Springs when I first started, and I thought wrongly, 150 years, how much could there be? Piece of cake,” says the local photographer and owner of 3 Peaks Photography. “Boy, was I wrong! There’s so much history packed here in Colorado Springs.”
Pach has spent the past two years curating historic photos, then shooting re-creations and re-interpretations. The results are an insightful collection called COS150 Then and Now. A gallery exhibit of 50 photographic pairs opens July 8 at Library 21c, then will travel to other library branches and galleries during the coming year. A coffee table book, Colorado Springs Then and Now, features 75 pairs of photos. “I believe these images reveal so much about Colorado Springs’ history and progress,” says Mayor John Suthers. “It’s another great way to celebrate our city’s sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary.”
The collection compiles an excellent visual history, but it’s the people and stories behind the frames that bring the project compelling depth, both past and present. It was a fact that surprised Pach early on and that quickly became the guiding thread of his work. “What I found to be most fascinating were the photos that included people because I wanted to know who they were. I wanted to know their stories,” Pach says. “And then I came up with the idea of featuring people who are doing great things in our community.”
Rather than simply photograph buildings to show how the local landscape has changed, Pach took a more personal approach. For example, when he found a 1915 photo of three women in Acacia Park, Pach saw an opportunity to highlight the women of the Downtown Partnership and their contributions to the city. Pach’s photo features CEO Susan Edmondson, Director of Urban Engagement Claire Swinford and Vice President Laurel Prud’homme sitting near the original location in Acacia Park.
That photo is a close match with its original. In others, Pach took more creative liberty. Early in the project, he made a conscious decision to shoot the new photos with his own style and vision, rather than try to duplicate the historic photographer’s work. Still, he found ways to connect the photos and stories somehow.
When he found a photo of the 1900 state champion tug-of-war team featuring members of the Colorado Springs police and fire departments, he thought of some other local champions. Switchbacks FC, the local pro soccer team, struck a modern pose similar to that of the original strongmen.
“His use of contemporary people shows that we are all creators of our own history, even today,” says Brett Lobello, director of regional history and genealogy at the Pikes Peak Library District.
Even the mayor took part in the project, donning his fishing gear for a photo to match one of Mayor George Birdsall. Birdsall reached Colorado City in 1896 after jumping a freight train in Missouri. He went on to serve as mayor of Colorado Springs from 1930-1944.
“It was great to be part of one of the photo comparisons,” Mayor John Suthers says. “I enjoyed helping to highlight our community’s love of the outdoors. General Palmer founded our city based on the beautiful scenery and potential for outdoor activity and adventure. It’s wonderful to see that passion continue today!”
REPRESENTING DIVERSE PEOPLES throughout Colorado Springs’ history and present was a priority for Pach, though he admits it was difficult to find early photos of some cultures. For example, he was surprised to find such little early representation of Asian residents, despite the fact that many Chinese immigrants helped to lay the railroad tracks of Westward Expansion in the 19th century. Then Pach learned that early laws preventing foreigners from owning property in Colorado Springs kept such workers from putting down roots locally. Pach chose to honor the Springs’ Asian culture with a 1956 photo of the Denver Chinese-American Club at the Golden Dragon, Colorado Springs’ second Chinese restaurant. Pach’s new photo features Paul Truong and his popular Saigon Cafe.
Another pair of photos features members of the Stroud family in 1929 and 2021. K.D. and Lulu Stroud moved to Colorado Springs in 1910 when they heard about a city founded by a Quaker general where schools were integrated and opportunities were equally open to Black people. The Strouds had 11 children and became a prominent family in the area. Their ancestors helped to sponsor Pach’s photo project. Unfortunately, General Palmer’s foundation of racial equality became obscured as time passed. As Pach notes in his gallery text, Lulu Stroud wrote in an account of local history, “Once Palmer died, things went downhill fast.”
A timely and powerful set of images centers on the steps of City Hall. A 1965 photo shows protestors holding signs, such as “The vote for all in Selma,” and apparently gathered in response to the infamous civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, when 600 peaceful protestors were met with violence. Pach’s 2020 photo captures Black Live Matter demonstrators, gathered in the same location as part of nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
One of the first photos in Pach’s exhibit sequence features Native Americans past and present and is titled “Those Who Came Before Us.”
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that we’re on native land,” Pach says. “And that’s something I wanted to be part of the project.”
Pach says he wants viewers to see commonality in his photos. “I really hope people come and just see people,” he says.
PPLD’s Lobello sees commonality even in the photos that don’t feature humans as prominently. “The photos Mike selected illustrate a common experience,” Lobello says. “For example, his juxtaposition of the stage coach that ran to Denver with the Bustang illustrates the universal experience. While technology changes, we still experience the same joys and hardships of life. He shows the commonality and the continuity of our human experience.”
ACCORDING TO PACH, the seed for the project was planted five years ago during a casual conversation with Matt Mayberry, cultural services manager and director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Pach continued to bring up the idea, and when Mayor Suthers announced that the City would officially celebrate Colorado Springs’ sesquicentennial, Pach volunteered to create Then and Now. While he says he received great support from the City and other local organizations, he received no compensation. A Kickstarter campaign provided some funding.
“It’s my gift to the people of Colorado Springs,” Pach says. “I feel that if you contribute in some way to your community, you make life better for others as well as yourself. And since I don’t have large amounts of money to contribute, I can give my time and talent.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges and limitations that made some of his concepts impossible, it also brought serendipities. Because most of Pach’s photography business consists of events, classes and workshops, he lost 95% of his work. But that loss provided time to dig through archives from the Pioneers Museum, the Pikes Peak Library District, the McAllister House Museum and other sources. “If I had been really busy in 2020 like I had been in previous years, I probably would not have had the opportunity to make the project is as good as it is,” he says.
Similar situations allowed others the time and creative freedom to contribute as well. Local filmmaker Jamey Hastings, owner of You May Clap Productions, created a short film documenting the making of Then and Now. And the Australian band, Marcelle, who are friends of Pach, wrote and recorded a song and music video, “Your Colorado Home,” to accompany the project.
“I’m happy that Mike found inspiration in the history collections we preserve for the benefit of the community,” Lobello says. “When contemporary people and artists think about and engage with the past, it keeps our story alive.”
Of all the photos, there is only one Pach considers a masterpiece. His composite image of Tesla Hill is comprised of 40 photos, 38 of which contain lightning bolts. His favorite shoot was at the downtown Fire Station 1. “Not only did I get to play with firetrucks, but we got to block traffic,” he says.
The complete undertaking has given the veteran photographer a new perspective. “The whole project really has changed my entire perspective on photography because now I realized that whenever I capture an image, I’m capturing part of history,” he says. “Some of the things that I found fascinating were just everyday, ordinary things that we wouldn’t think twice about now, but when you see them 100 years later, it’s fascinating.”
Pach encourages people to share their personal photo archives with following generations of family or donate them to historical organizations such as the Pioneers Museum. He also hopes his project will inspire people about the past, present and future of Colorado Springs.
“I hope that they that they see how rich our history is here and that they also see all the good stuff that’s happening right now,” he says. “There’s a lot of good energy in the city at this point, with lots of interesting things happening. So I hope people really get excited about where they’re living.”
Experience Colorado Springs Then and Now
COS150 Then and Now Opening Reception — July 8
Join photographer Mike Pach at Library 21c for the debut of COS150 Then and Now. The opening reception will include light appetizers and drinks, and the program will feature remarks from Mayor John Suthers, PPLD Chief Librarian and CEO John Spears, and Pioneers Museum Curator Leah Davis Witherow. Talk with Mike Pach, explore the newly installed exhibit and preview Pach’s book Colorado Springs Then and Now.
Details at the Colorado Photography Learning Group Facebook
COS150 Then and Now
Explore the photo exhibit July 8 – Aug. 21 at Library 21c. Watch for it after that at other PPLD branches. And check the PPLD calendar for Then and Now Artist Talks with Mike Pach on July 21 and July 28.