Many photographers have captured the City of Hartford with images of the impressive downtown sights: Travelers Tower, the Old State House, the gold-domed State Capitol, the Boat Building, the Candy Cane Building, City Hall.
Pablo Delano looks for a different view of Hartford. The Trinity College art professor wanders Park Street seeking out lively, brightly colored storefronts. In residential neighborhoods, he stops in front of Perfect Sixes and less architecturally distinctive, even dilapidated, apartments. On busy main roads, he photographs car-repair shops, mini marts, old synagogues transformed into other houses of worship.
“If you look at contemporary images of Hartford, there’s this kind of chamber of commerce aesthetic, let’s make Hartford look good, Hartford the rising star,” Delano said. “I have a lot of affection and love for the city. I think it’s kind of saccharine when a photo just makes everything look pretty.
“In reality, the city is undergoing a huge transformation. Work is going on, a dump truck there, a pile of earth there. I don’t see that as blight. I see that as part of the process of change. … I don’t want to present a cheery, cheerleader perspective to a city that deserves more than that.”
In the book, Delano’s images show working-class homes and businesses, most of them lived in by a series of residents over generations or even over a century. These include retail strips, repurposed buildings and buildings “that are sort of in between ugly and beautiful.”
In “Hartford Seen,” Hartford actually is seen, the real Hartford, not the squeaky-clean downtown Hartford that is bustling with white-collar workers on weekdays and vacant on nights and weekends, when those businesspeople retreat to their homes in the suburbs.
Delano lovingly depicts the built and lived-in residential and retail environment of the Capitol City, home to 122,000 people, most of them Black and Latinx. Interestingly, few of Delano’s images include people.
“It was not a conscious decision to exclude people. That was something about the repetitiveness of driving by same place every day. The same people won’t be there. Buildings are always there,” he said.
“Buildings take on personalities the way people do. The people who occupy those buildings leave their identity embedded into the structure as they change them to suit their needs tastes,” he said. “That structure may have been a very somber gray, then transformed to a bright color or different textures. Those kind of changes embody a story or narrative about the city.”