Old World

Capturing a town’s living history.

Before he moved to Hoboken, New Jersey, in 2007, John Delaney, now 50, had little experience living in close-knit communities—he’d spent most of his career as a darkroom printer in New York City. Immediately fascinated by Hoboken’s historic businesses—butchers, bakers, and comic book shops—he was disappointed when many of them closed soon after he found them. «The economy was crashing, rents were going up,» he says. «A lot of these shops that had been here for ages weren’t surviving.»

Delaney’s photography work was likewise in transition. He’d had a successful darkroom business, first as a master printer for Richard Avedon — for whom he’d worked as an assistant— then for such clients as Annie Leibovitz and Bruce Davidson. But the advent of digital led him to a masters program in digital printing at SVA. For his thesis project, now titled Hoboken Passing, he chose a subject close to home. «I wanted to celebrate the survivors who are making their way through the recession.»

This also gave him a way to know his new community better. The shop owners he met were all thrilled to hear about the project.

Delaney would usually take a few test shots with his Canon EOS 5D Mark II at each location, then return with his Elinchrom Ranger Quadra lights for a scheduled session. To avoid disrupting business, he shot in the quiet moments—learning some interesting tales along the way.

At Dom’s Bakery, owned by Dom Castellito, he heard that Hoboken native Frank Sinatra had been such a fan of its bread that supplies were regularly flown to him in Hollywood. At Chickie’s Luncheonette, a local news depot for 30 years, he got the scoop on more recent events. He had to put one shoot there on hold so that a Hoboken police officer, who refused to be photographed, could dine at his regular spot.

Delaney wrapped his thesis project in the spring of 2012. A few months later, Hoboken was dealt a new blow: Hurricane Sandy. Many shops suffered damage and some, including Chickie’s, remain closed, unlikely to reopen. This makes his project all the more dear to Delaney, and he plans to keep working on it. «These communities are a part of the city’s identity,» he says. «And each time one of the older spots closes down, you lose part of that history.»

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