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Through the Lens of Alanna Airitam

Walking into The Fifth Avenue Hotel feels like stepping into an artist’s dream, where every corner is designed to evoke curiosity and wonder. This May, this dreamscape served as the perfect canvas for Alanna Airitam, a Tucson-based photographer celebrated for her evocative portraits. Her visit allowed us to view our space through her artistic lens, uncovering the hidden stories within our walls.

As a portrait photographer, Alanna Airitam is used to examining details to capture moods, feelings, and moments. The Fifth Avenue Hotel’s unique detail and consideration of the senses caught Airitam’s attention. She praised the use of color and space, adding, “The light and shadow set a mood; the textures, colors, and scents invoke a feeling. Slowing down and admiring the details allowed me to have many moments of falling in love with this place.”

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Airitam has dedicated her career to honoring Black culture and challenging stereotypes through her contemporary photography. Her series, The Golden Age, features Black Americans in the style of classic Dutch portraiture, offering a powerful tribute to her ancestors and addressing their historical absence or misrepresentation in Western art.

Queen Mary

One standout piece from The Golden AgeQueen Mary (The Queen) (2017)—is displayed prominently in The Fifth Avenue Hotel’s lobby. The portrait’s subject, Mary, hails from Saint Croix and shared with Airitam the story of Mary Thomas, who played a pivotal role in a successful rebellion against Dutch colonialism in 1878.

The placement of this work in our hotel lobby is no coincidence. Positioned near the concierge desk and front desk, the artwork symbolizes a welcoming gesture, with its subject holding keys that represent a vibrant and enriching experience. The symbolism of Queen Mary holding keys resonated deeply with Airitam, who noted, “She is saying you already have the key to all of this inside of you. You do not need to look externally for any of this. You are already all of this and more. She is a reflection of you. And I hope all who see her can see themselves in her.”

Guests are invited to reflect on the story of Queen Mary and find a piece of themselves within the portrait, creating a personal connection with the art and the space.

Eye-Capturing Details

During her exploration of the hotel, Airitam sought to capture its whimsical elements through her lens. Three specific spots especially piqued her interest, each telling its own unique story.

The Sconce at The Portrait Bar

Her first stop was at The Portrait Bar, which Airitam describes as a place with a story to tell. The cozy bar and exceptional art collection evoked her sense of wonder. “You can see it in the carefully curated elements. I particularly loved the wall sconces. Of course, I was drawn to the gorgeous glow against the dark wall, something I try to mimic in my portraits. There is just something magical about that illumination,” says Airitram. She observes it was here when she began to notice “a bird theme of sorts.”

sconce portrait bar

The Mansion Suite Wallpaper

While exploring her Mansion Suite, Airitam felt like she was “within the pages of a romantic fairytale at the Fifth Avenue Hotel.” The wallpaper, with its warm watercolor tones and subtle texture, reminded her of 16th-century paintings from India. “I don’t know what it was about this guy that made me want to photograph him, but I’m really glad I decided to take this photo. I like that guy. He reminds me of my time there.”

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Elevator Wall Sconce

Airitam’s attention to moody lighting is again emphasized by her notation of an elevator wall sconce. This moment of discovery highlighted Airitam’s ability to find beauty in the most unexpected places, transforming ordinary objects into sources of artistic inspiration. “The red ruching and the perfect glow of the wall sconce made it hard not to imagine the softness of the light and how it falls off so beautifully, the fingers wriggling just a little bit. I remember making this photo specifically to note the transition into the shadow. It’s moments like this that I draw from as inspiration when I’m in my practice,” she explained.

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Art for Understanding

Artists like Airitam have the power to change the way we see the world, awakening new perspectives, ideas, and values. Through her artful expressions, her portraits can raise awareness of social issues and foster discussions that bring cultures together for better understanding.

Reflecting on her visit, Airitam embraced the spirit of a true flâneur, weaving stories from the details she observed at The Fifth Avenue Hotel. “I took home so much inspiration from the beauty of this place. It felt like a treasure hunt, creating portraits of the elements that tell a story. I hope you’ll cherish the little moments that captured my heart.”

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Single Wallpaper