The life of one of Denver's first African American photographers

When we put our hearts and souls into something, the end results can be pretty amazing.  Burnis McCloud had that passion as one of Denver’s only African-American photographers dating back to the 1940s.

When we put our hearts and souls into something, the end results can be pretty amazing. Burnis McCloud had that passion as one of Denver’s only African-American photographers dating back to the 1940s.

“He really loved what he did,” said Terry Nelson, manager of the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Five Points “I mean passionately loved it.”

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Anything that happened in neighborhoods like Five Points, he was there to capture the moments, offering a perspective you wouldn’t necessarily find in major newspapers at the time.

“He took pictures of the things that people were doing every day to get their life forward,” Nelson said. “In those days, it was hard for photographers who weren’t African-American to capture nice pictures of us in sometimes just a casual way.”

McCloud would snap scenes at social gatherings, church events, and even weddings in many cases he actually put the year and some of the names of the people at the bottom of the photographs.

“People like to see what they look like, they like to see who was at the wedding and what went on,” Nelson said. “He kept a ton of people’s marriages, he even has my wedding pictures.”

McCloud was always willing to help out but didn’t drive, so either his wife had to bring him or someone had to go pick him up. And if that didn’t work out, he would carry all his camera equipment in a big case on the bus. He tried anything to capture those great shots.

“He would stand any place and you think ‘Burnis, you’re going to fall don’t do that,” Nelson said.

All that, just to capture those precious moments that are now part of the Burnis McCloud Collection of the Denver Public Library. His family donated about 100,000 of his negatives to the Western History Collection of the library. A collection that gives us a reflection of how everyday people lived in the past.

“He would have them all and because they saw that it was Burnis, they were comfortable,” Nelson said.

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A past that with time is being forgotten, like some of the names of people in these pictures. That’s why the library welcomes anyone who can tell them more about the people and places in these photos.

“We can come down and look at some of those and you may know some more people,” Nelson said.

People whose images were captured by a man who had passion, and left us history through his eye and soul.

“A gentle, kind man who really honored the community,” Nelson said.

If you would like to offer more information about the people and places in McCloud’s photos, please contact the library at (720) 865-2404 or http://bit.ly/1SPQFIG.