Hector Paul Primero preserves historical Phoenix buildings with his painstaking Photoshop tributes.

Artist of the Month: Hector Raul Primero

Written by Robrt Pela Category: Arts Issue: September 2017
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Hector Paul Primero. Photo by Stephen Goldstein.

Hector Raul Primero preserves historical Phoenix buildings with his painstaking Photoshop tributes.

Phoenix native Hector Raul Primero fell in love with the city’s architecture during boyhood in the 1980s. He’d walk through Downtown with his mother, who’d point out beautiful buildings and their design. “We’d go to Gordon’s Market at Third and Roosevelt, then to the laundry across the street,” he recalls. “We’d walk to Woolworth’s at Park Central and eat tater tots and a milkshake at the lunch counter. My earliest memory is Spanish-language movies at the old Orpheum Theatre when it was called the Palace West. I saw The Empire Strikes Back in Spanish there with my grandmother.”

Sad about the loss of his favorite buildings to developer demolition, and inspired by Amsterdam artist Jo Teeuwisse’s superimposed images of then-and-now London, Primero grabbed his camera a few years ago. “I wanted to get these incredible old buildings on film before we lost any more,” says Primero, a freelance television production assistant.

He starts with a vintage, public domain image of an old building in Phoenix, then sets up his tripod in front of the current site, where he painstakingly re-creates the angle and lighting of the old photo. (He makes hundreds of exposures, and sometimes has to return to the site if his angles are the slightest bit off.) Using Photoshop, Primero combines the new and old images into loving tributes to the Orpheum, the Westward Ho and the San Carlos Hotel. His limited-edition, large-format prints have shown in Downtown galleries and are collector’s items among historic preservationists.

These days, Primero is living in the historic Orpheum Lofts. “I love this city, man,” he says. 

— Robrt Pela