Alex Martin

Most New Haven coffee shops have espresso, free Wi-Fi and tables full of students immersed in their studies. On Sunday, Fussy Coffee had these elements and one more: a photography show.

The show was part of a recent program Fussy has developed that features a new artist every month. November’s featured artist showcased the work of David Pilot, a photographer and New Haven native. His artwork covered the walls, and on the weekends, he hosted shows to speak with customers about his work and sell photographs to interested patrons.

“Fussy has helped me tremendously,” Pilot told the News. “I think coffee shops are excellent art galleries because people sit here — they aren’t expecting to see art, yet it’s there and they can take time to casually look at it.”

The opportunity for Pilot’s work to be featured presented itself when he brought in images and showed them to Meg Rattanni, a barista at Fussy. She gave them to the owner, David Negreiro, and he invited Pilot to be featured for the month.

“An artist comes with their own community, so [showcasing them] is my way to connect multiple communities together,” Negreiro told the News. “It keeps the art fresh, never sterile, ever changing, and supports local artists and helps them build their network through the community we have.”

On Sunday, the coffee shop was packed full with New Haven residents and Yale students, and Pilot’s chosen photographs were arranged in the back corner. Some attendees came just to look at Pilot’s exhibit, while others came for coffee but stayed for the photos.

Bobcat Caruthers, who came to see Pilot’s last show, explained that he doesn’t visit coffee shops often, but found the art show a worthwhile visit and spent his night talking with friends, strangers and Pilot.

“I used to do photography and love these kinds of things,” Caruthers said.

Caruthers is an example of one of Negreiro’s hopes for the shows — to “bring in a community” that never would have visited Fussy Coffee otherwise.

Pilot focused his exhibit on a few photographs in particular. One was a vintage shot from his childhood, where his brother is pictured jumping off the diving board at his family’s home in New Haven. He brought it to the exhibit because he said it brings to mind the “carefree nature” of childhood. New Haven matches this, as he said it has a “spirit of freedom, of serving people, of creating” which defined
his childhood.

Another of the photographs is the opposite of carefree — it is a tragic story of change, a photograph of the Debonair Beach Motel, which used to be a bustling hotel near the shore in West Haven until it became abandoned in 2014. He described its descent from “a fancy place for debutantes for getting engaged and married” to a “place of squalor and illicit affairs and drugs.”

While showcasing this photo and describing the story, Pilot also warned that his exhibit — “Opening New Haven” — is designed to open up others’ minds about what New Haven truly is, rather than confirming biases they might have had initially.

“People see New Haven as this dangerous city,” he said. “But I see the beauty of it and the iconic imagery that still remains here. Growing up next to East Rock, I now understand how consequential this place was to my life.”

Pilot added that the problem of wealth inequality that existed then still remains to this day. In returning to New Haven as an adult, he sees his role as a path to eradicate divisions between different classes and communities.

“If art can give people a way to express themselves and form a conversation, that’s the beginning of eradicating prejudice and division, through mutual appreciation or a conversation that brings them together,” he said.

This Friday at 6 p.m., Fussy Coffee will feature the work of local artist and photographer Jay Haas.

Fussy Coffee is located at 290 Winchester Avenue.