The image I keep of Alvaro Delgado Velez is that of a fast-paced, fast-paced man with a black briefcase over his left shoulder and a camera or two around his neck. This briefcase and these cameras were part of his being, an extension of his fiber and the essence of his craft.
I met him in late 1996 down Calle de la Mantilla, where Alvaro Delgado had a studio, office and development room. In this space I went in search of a photograph, perhaps one of the artistic and funny Rodolfo Valencia, perhaps of the maestro Hector Rojas Herazo, perhaps a scene from a play by the theater director Eparquio Vega, to illustrate the pages of the literary supplement of the El Universal newspaper.
Alvaro Delgado spoke in a crushing and prophetic tone. He introduced repetitions that revealed a well-disguised vanity. He presented the photos with a story, between technical comments and short phrases that were little reporting lessons. He would say, for example, “Take this, this, this one by Rojas Herazo, great, great writer, I did this for him there at the Café Book Gallery, it went well, it went well, it would have gone better if I had made it famous time. a little, a little later, maybe with one more stop of the aperture, but I had to go take another picture in the governor’s office and the light went out.”
In that 1996, comments about digital cameras, new technologies, the disappearance of the developing room, the lack of negatives neither kept him up late nor confused him in his work: “Ombe, one adapts, photography is not the camera. It’s the light, the frame, the moment, the waiting… that won’t change, it just is”. He immediately gave a nervous laugh and immediately announced that he had to be somewhere else in a few minutes and that he had to leave.
Alvaro Delgado Vélez died on April 5, 2015. The next day, in the afternoon, new generations of photojournalists in the city honored him with raised lightning bolts, just as his casket left the courtroom. They were glimpses of a being who still enlightens us with his memory and photographs.
Alvaro Delgado Jr. had an idea to honor him this year. Show some of his father’s work in the book The Cartagena I loved. He collects prints from the 70s and 80s. We spoke with Alvaro Delgado, son, also a photographer, about his father’s memories and, of course, the work of collecting unique moments for posterity.
How long have you been thinking about this tribute to your father and how was the book process?
Well, the book was his dream since childhood, but making a book is not easy…after his death, this idea became a goal for me. I had been scanning negatives for some time until the opportunity finally arose, and with the opportunity came the inspiration to assemble the book by chapters and invite some of my father’s friends and clients to write about him and his vision of a particular subject. This is how great characters like Humberto Rodríguez, Adela Colorado, Eparquio Vega, Mildred Figueroa, Boris García, Sonia Gedeon and Raimundo Angulo, who writes the prologue, appear. This concept included the architectural part of the city in the 70s and 80s, as well as the human part that was very important to him.
Do I always remember how your father used to walk around the Center, what he said about the city and how many shops there were in the walled city?
He declared himself in love with the city… and facts speak louder than words, he did some things that seemed exaggerated to have it in his eyes and in his heart. We had 4 stores, we started at Foto Delgado, it wasn’t his but they rented him the enlarger and the phone, then the store on Calle de La Mantilla where we became a family united around work. I arrived there on many afternoons, after school or during my holidays. It was the happiest stage of my youth. Finally we find ourselves on Calle de La Bomba.
I love the insight your father had about photography and the presence of people in it. What could you say about this idea, very present in the book La Cartagena que amé?
One of the things I remember most about my father’s teachings was the reference to human element as he called it. It was so important that he once told me that in pictures without people, almost everything is still life. I could tell he loved people. He was always waiting for someone to embellish his shots, like the photo of the bike going down the Tenaza tunnel.
The book covers two decades, the 70s and the 80s, are we thinking about other books, maybe for later?
Well, for now I have to say no. It just so happens that the folder he keeps the most is from those times, a little bit from the 90s, almost all black and white. We are still working on this project and haven’t set any new goals yet, but we hope to have the digital version soon.
Are there clear themes in Cartagena that I loved, such as the development of the city, the crafts of the people, the popular market or the street vendors, did you ever talk to him about how to approach different themes and stamp Thin?
Yes, of course, that was one of the problems I had in getting a concept for the book. I didn’t want the book to just be a collection of pictures that looked like tuttifruits. That’s why the idea of dividing it into chapters and having a narrator outside the family, yes, close to him, it was all decided there.
The curation process was extensive, finding Delgado’s soul was easy but time-consuming. We knew about my dad’s feature documentary filmmaker DNA, identifying him in the photos as we selected them was a very satisfying process.
What can we say about that great photo of Joe Arroyo among the people, you know what your father said about music, there are many photos in the book about the defunct Caribbean music festival, Circo Teatro?
Well, this photo was a surprise like the many surprises that came from the Music Festival photos. Robert De Niro, Chocolate Armenteros and others. There were many important things in my father’s life. The music festival was one of them. He was his photographer from the first day to the last and enjoyed the affection of Mono Escobar, Freaky Torrance and others. I have memories of all these songs. The truth is that I felt very loved by my father and I remember very much that we all went to the Caribbean Music Festival, my mother and I accompanied him, but he was the only one who worked, so he would go, take pictures, come back, dance with my mother, she would go away, come back, tell my mother the stories and she would enjoy them.
There are constant references in the book to Sonya, wife, companion, mother, how could we define this relationship in terms of love, of devotion?
The truth between us created an almost unbreakable bond. We went through many difficult times, there were many times when we wanted to separate, but at the end of the day, my family decided to stay together until the day fate, for obvious reasons in life, separated us. But if I have to tell you one thing, it is that we went through very difficult times… Many tears accompanied the process. The good thing is that we dried our tears with cheap whiskey and a piece of cheese, the three of us, on a rainy Sunday…or a sunny one. Until the Lord came and calmed us down.
We talk about multiple generations of photographers and legacy, but how far have you explored those generations, in those works, are there works that we can recognize from generations before your father?
Legacy is a very important word to me. I am happy to say that I am a man of heritage. We have a very beautiful story that Adela Colorado helped us a lot to build. The story begins around 1870 with Luis A. Delgado portraying the 5-time president of Colombia, Rafael Nunes. Since then, there have been 5 generations of photographers. If we consider that the oldest photograph in existence is from 1826, we can understand that my family is strongly connected with the history of photography.
There is one peculiarity, in the 60s and 70s the brothers Manuel and Enrique Delgado had separate photography businesses. Enrique Delgado (El pollo), my great uncle, was the owner of Foto Delgado; Manuel Delgado, my grandfather, owned Foto Hollywood, on the passage Dáger. The legacy is maintained by Manuel (Manolo), who is my father’s father.
So most of the Delgado signed photos that I have been able to see belong to my uncle Enrique, my grandfather’s were signed as Hollywood.
The Cartagena Historical Photo Library has several photos of various Delgado’s… I hope one day mine will be there too.
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