The last exhibit of street photography at Real Art Ways emphasized the lighthearted, colorful side of Hartford, with pictures of parades, festivals and street parties, their festive participants dressed in all manners of ethnic costumes.
A new photo exhibit at Real Art Ways shows a different side of Hartford, reflected in the exhibit's title: A Sad and Beautiful World. Street photographer Erik Williams (known as Eaze) aims his lens at the city residents many prefer to overlook as they go about their daily lives. Shooting exclusively in black-and-white to focus on the faces instead of distracting colors, Williams sees beauty where others may see squalor or despair.
"Sometimes you look at people in these situations and feel pity for them. You think they hate life, that their outlook must be the worst," says Williams, who was born and still lives in Hartford. "But it is beautiful. These people still have life. They still have smiles. In these communities you still see beautiful things."
When Williams came across a wheelchair-bound man who couldn't enter a barber shop, he didn't see the wheelchair or the inaccessible shop. He saw the barber who cared enough to bring his equipment outside to cut the man's hair.
When he saw a man who camps out on the same street corner every day, he didn't see an idle life. He saw a lively face and a man who took pride in his appearance: a designer sweatshirt a leather jacket, a gold chain.
Williams doesn't shy away from the truly sad elements of life in the city. A police car is parked at a murder scene. Officers round up drug suspects, one of whom glares at Williams with hatred. A man walks home from work, slumped with fatigue. Sometimes Williams shoots and walks away. Sometimes he stops to chat.
"It's hard to explain beauty. I just know it when I see it," Williams says. "I love it here. The city has character and a lot of untold stories. I feel people tend to focus on the end goal. There is no end goal. Your entire life is a journey."
Also at Real Art Ways, through Jan. 21, is Tom Smith's "Secondary Harvest," an exhibit of paintings and sculptures made from branches, grape vines and twigs. Both exhibits were curated by David Borawski.
A SAD AND BEAUTIFUL WORLD will be at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St. in Hartford, until Jan. 14. Gallery hours are 2 to 9 p.m. daily. realartways.org.