Art exhibit helps ease the anxiety of cancer treatment

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Rounded and slightly distorted, the photos give the feel of looking through a ship’s thick glass porthole or the domed eye of a fish at a view that is both wondrous and intriguing.

Two dozen pieces from the collection of regarded Wethersfield photographer Jack McConnell’s “Hartford Parallax: ‘Round Hartford” collection line hallways at Hartford Hospital’s Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center, offering beauty and distraction, soothing moments amidst the anxiety of cancer care.

“If I can distract them a little bit, I’ll do that,” the 82-year-old photographer says of patients experiencing the exhibit, organized by Dr. Andrew Salner, medical director of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital.

“Jack’s photos are beautiful and reflective of life in Connecticut,” Dr. Salner said of the exhibit, which features spherical images shot through an 8 millimeter fisheye lens. “Patients, family members and staff are often seen standing in front of his photos, almost lost in them. At such a difficult time in their lives, they deserve a few moments of escape and inspiration.”

McConnell has been professionally distracted by the views around him since he was a young man and borrowed his father’s camera to capture images of the feathering lines of ice forming along objects at the Mount Washington Observatory where he worked. He has done corporate work mostly, traveling to photograph for IBM, Xerox and UTC and snapping shots around Connecticut for the covers of telephone books.

He’s fascinated by what he sees through the lens – the pop of color granted by a few autumn leaves on a gray stone wall, the symmetry in curved lobster pots stacked by a shack, the contrasting colors and textures of urban signs and buildings.

“I hate the ordinary and expected. I do things differently in my old age!” McConnell laughed.

What’s different might be his subject matter, but it certainly isn’t the quality of his images, despite the fact that McConnell has been legally blind for five years. He revealed this information in front pieces from the first phase of, “Hartford Parallax,” a series of three- by five-foot shots of buildings in downtown Hartford. That exhibit covered the Gray Cancer Center exhibition walls two years ago and was also greatly appreciated by patients, families and staff.

As part of organized efforts to connect people in surrounding communities with Hartford’s offerings and charms, the photos were shot with his Canon camera in hand – no tripod – bearing a 500-millimeter lens with a polarized filter that captures colors and visuals he said are “beyond our vision.”

The lens, much like polarized sunglasses, turns different faces of each building brilliant colors based on the natural light hitting them. Shaded sections are bright blue, sunny ones a rich yellow and those in a mixture of light either lush oranges or soothing purples. The colors shift with the rotation of the filter.

“My life is wrapped up in the details of the things I see,” McConnell said. “I look for the extension of perspective – of shapes, forms and colors that transcend the visual reality of what’s there.”

On buildings, he zooms in on intricate cornices or smooth planes, highlighting the details with the polarizing lens.

“Hartford is an important place and I thought my photos might help promote it. People need to be more aware of Hartford, care more for it and understand that it encompasses all the towns around it,” he said.

The exhibit in the Cancer Center is free to view. In addition to the “Round Hartford” exhibition, a large series of McConnell’s Hartford area landmark photos are displayed permanently at the Cancer Center, located at 85 Retreat Ave., Hartford.

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