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Postcards From a Place You Know

Michael Mulley’s photographs at Buffalo History Museum’s Community Gallery

At Allentown’s First Friday gallery walks, one may well end up at College Street Gallery, the bright beacon of west Allen Street, where the last passing patrons fetch up tp view the co-op’s wide variety of artworks, enjoy live contact, and have a couple of beers. The unassuming host of these monthly mashups is Michael Mulley, longtime gallery owner (going into its 15th year), also of Queen City Gallery in the Market Arcade downtown, and a fine visual documentarian of Buffalo in his own right. His work is prominent in both locations, especially at Queen City, where his gallery is open during business hours.

Presently Mulley’s work is on view at the newly renamed Buffalo History Museum in the Community Gallery wing on the second floor off the expansive Immigration Exhibit hall. His is as fine a selection of local Buffalo sights as might be brought to public view, but there is more to see in a longer look: His choice of lighting, color, and vantage point sharpen a viewer’s senses in a secluded gallery, building a feeling of witnessing real places. Mulley’s most commercial photography is of buildings and landmarks that most immediately stand out in reverie of the last half century, but are seen so personally that even the most familiar sites come to the eye in fresh perspective. His images bring a viewer into a scene, a selected few: the Harbor Inn, its lighthouse fixture looming like a bow spirit over the wedge-faced door to that long-gone sailor’s rest; the long, ribbon-like stretches of vast vacant Broadway, enfilades of light poles fading into pale pink distance as two green traffic lights beckon; the pointy twin towers of the Richardson complex arching Gothic behind backlit spindly trees; Eddie Brady’s pub, a welcome breath of life on a desolate block of Genesee; the, from the tracks, back streets of the Old First Ward; Allentown’s polychrome Arlington Park; a wonderfully peaceful scene of Amish girls at a lakeside picnic in pale watercolor shades. Mulley’s earliest work from the late 1980s through to the present shows an artist striving to commit to image the poetic and factual interface of contemporary still photography.

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