Whether we’re rushing to get to work on time or heading to the latest musical, it’s not often that we stop and appreciate the beauty that is Hartford, but Wethersfield-based photographer Jack McConnell set out to do exactly that and more. McConnell reinterprets the monotone Hartford cityscape to reveal a vibrant, colorful scene – a newer Hartford made possible through a parallax technique. His latest exhibition, a bright collection of Hartford photographs, aptly named “Parallax” is now on display at the Arts Council’s 100 Pearl Street Gallery (and available for sale!).
We spoke with McConnell to learn more about his creative process and all things Hartford. Read on and stop by to meet McConnell during the Capital City Festival Gallery Crawl on September 24 from 6p.m.-8p.m.
What inspires you about Hartford?
Its wonderful sense of community. For a young man who grew up in a small paper mill town in Northern New Hampshire, and whose first job was as a backpacker and weather observer on top of Mt. Washington where record winds blew up to 231.8 miles per hour, it was a contrast to move to the warmer flatlands of Connecticut, and to the City of Hartford. That was in the mid-’60s just after a stint in the 82nd Airborne stationed in Missouri, and four years working in remote ice fields in the Arctic and the Medicine Bowl as a research photographer documenting ice core samples.
So coming to Hartford and working at Pratt & Whitney Research Labs and as Chief Photographer and Cinematographer at Aetna Life & Casualty, and then directing my own freelance photography business for the next 43 years, was daunting. Because Hartford is such an urban hub, with 40-50 suburban towns surrounding it, it’s so easy to find good friends and neighbors who are only 10-20 minutes away. My immediate community was a creative community of artists, writers, and photographers, who worked in the advertising and marketing fields. But my photography assignments let me dip into the financial, manufacturing, and most recently, the farming communities. Hartford is a small-town, regional marketplace, with big-city amenities. Connecticut is only two hours north to south, and two hours east to west, and Hartford lies at the heart of that.
Describe your technique for taking photos.
For 50 years, I’ve traveled the United States and Europe shooting advertising campaigns and corporate annual reports for Fortune 500 companies. And I always attempt to go out with no expectations, letting the subject tell me what and how to shoot. I’ve photographed thousands of images of Hartford through the years and it’s been an enormous challenge to see if I could SEE the city with fresh eyes. So I walked around downtown several times a week for the past few months, looking and looking. Armed only with an extreme telephoto 400-550mm lens, an extreme wide-angle 8-15mm lens, and a multi-colored polarizer filter, I came back with an amazing new sense of the city; not the same-old, same-old beige and gray, but vibrant, colorful lines and forms, proving to myself that Hartford is truly a dynamic place. My changed perspective, using only those two lenses, created the Hartford I knew it could be, a parallax shift, so to speak.
What’s your vision for a newer Hartford?
That people believe it to be the great city it was always meant to be. As one of the oldest cities in America, Hartford has an incredibly rich history of immigration and invention. When I did my Walk Down Park Street collection a few years ago, I learned about the cultural enrichment in just that one neighborhood alone as immigrants from Europe, Asia, South and Central America traipsed through on their way to better work and a better life.
In 1976 I photographed a film about Hartford called the Renaissance of Hartford, using the reconstruction of the Bushnell Carousel as a metaphor for the rebirth of Hartford. Since then, I’ve experienced the ups and downs of Hartford striving for the brass ring. At this time I feel we’re on the cusp of achieving an upsurge in spirit that will carry us to new heights. I hope this new work will inspire and encourage folks to really believe in Hartford.
Which one of your photos from the current exhibition is your favorite and why?
Ah, that would be like a father pointing to his favorite child. Impossible. But I will say that these City Abstracts are the best work I’ve ever done. I like the simplicity of the images. In many of the photos, even though there’s barely anything to give away the identity of the buildings, there’s just enough, and most viewers seem to know that it’s City Place, or the Goodwin, or the XL Center.
The color comes from the shadows and light of early dawn or dusk and the reflections of one building in another, or the clouds and sky, or by tilting the angle of my camera, or by rotating the polarizing filter on my lens. When I process the files I can push or pull the overall color tones to make the color stronger or softer; but I’m not changing any one portion of the image as you might expect. It’s trusting the serendipity and enjoying the moment of tripping the shutter and processing the file.’
If you had to describe Hartford in one word what would it be?
The exhibition is on display through September 26, 2015. For more information on 100 Pearl Street Gallery, visit LetsGoArts.org/Gallery.
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