Arts District: Stories of Connection

Last Updated by Linda Kotsaftis on

Arts District

Caleb Alvarado saw a need in his community. A need for a people to be connected.

A first generation Mexican American, Alvarado grew up with Spanish as his only language. He used photography as his interpreter.

“My dad used to always take photographs of us. We grew up in a pretty poor family so we got a lot of stuff at garage sales. Most people get rid of film cameras because they don’t want them, right? My dad bought me one… and he was like ‘figure it out’… I couldn’t afford the film so a lot of times I would just look through the viewfinder as a kid and act like I’m taking photos. In my head I was like I took that photo- I took that photo so I started to learn to see things,” Alvarado remembers.

When he moved to Denver from Arizona Alvarado was immediately drawn to the diverse patrons of Whittier Cafe, a community driven African expresso bar.

“Of all the places I’ve been in Denver, it’s a true place of social exchange. You walk in there and see all walks of life and I would just go in there and I would be fascinated with just the people who would go in there...,” he said.

He asked cafe owner Millete Birhanemaske for a space to do a portrait series outside the building and set up a camera and lights. He asked people at the coffee shop or people walking down the sidewalk – people inside the coffee shop — he’d say “ hey I’ve seen you come before and I would love to shoot a portrait of you.”

“Caleb is really special because he’s doing something that is lacking in our culture right now. We have Facebook and all these different forms of social media that make you feel like you know people but you really know no one – there’s a lack of interaction, there’s a lack of depth to relationships so what Caleb did was take these portraits of folks where you can’t help look in their eyes and wonder, what’s their story?” Birhanemaske said.

These are people who see each other all the time but don’t really know each other.

Alvarado wants people to listen to each other and be vulnerable to other people and be mindful.

View more of Alvarado's work at

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