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What Has Happened: 15 Years of Pictures and Stories
by Nancy J. Parisi
This is a narrative I’ve told in part many times over the past two decades, yet never committed to page: the story of the creation and evolution of my column, “What Has Happened,” which ran in Artvoice from 1990 to 2003. This business—journalism and photojournalism—is one of forward momentum, ever focusing on the next story and its deadline. Self-reflection and analysis of the past is reserved for big and momentous anniversaries.
Buffalo ArtVoice, as Artvoice was first named, began in the summer of 1990. Before AV there was another arts paper where I first worked with Jamie Moses, who had moved back from Manhattan—I was a contributor there. Before that paper, Arts in Buffalo, I’d worked at several other free publications in Buffalo and at the University at Buffalo as a writer and photographer.
One sticky summer weekend Jamie called me at my upper flat on Putnam Street and persuasively asked me to join him at his new venture, Buffalo ArtVoice. Not wishing to burn a professional bridge, I wrapped up a pending assignment and joined the fledgling paper, never looking back. In those early days there was a handful of staff (me, Jamie, pasteup artist Dawn Mullen, and the columnists), many devotees, two Mac Classics (one of which I still own), a dozen floppy discs, a boombox and five CDs, a hand waxer (it would be a few years before a luxurious sheet-feeding waxer was purchased), and a whole lot of ambition—all in one small space.
When energy was seriously waning (usually at about 3am), our spirits would be lifted by one of the CDs—The Rhythm of the Saints by Paul Simon, created the same year as AV. Is there a more adrenalizing drum opening than that of “The Obvious Child?” I think not—it was our frenetic call to arms. Additionally, one of my mantras was “Let’s keep the vibes good and happy”—it helped me sustain energy when, every two weeks, I stayed up 48 hours to get my AV column, freelance work, and weekly UB shooting/printing gig completed.
Every other Sunday I’d stay up all night processing film, and at the height of the analog days I’d process 15 rolls of 36-exposure rolls at UB, where I’d volunteer filing slides for darkroom access. I had friends who would visit me in the darkroom and humor me for chunks of the five to eight hours I’d be in there. When AV went weekly I was still processing that much film, and when all went digital (cameras and layout) I spent five to eight hours hours in front of the computer instead of the darkroom.
The process of negative-to-newsprint was, in those seminal days, very artsy-craftsy: I’d make five-by-seven prints, photocopy the images at various percentages/sizes, wax those copies to pages FPO (for position only), tag them for proper sizing at the printer, get halftones back from the printer several hours later, replace the FPOs with halftones, cut thin black border tape around each image, and then sit down to turn copious notes into cogent captions encapsulating the varied events shot.
With digital I delivered “What Has Happened” to AV as a package, placing the photo spreads within the week’s issue in appropriate slots: visual arts coverage alongside an art review, a spread of music near a CD review, etc.
In the writing portion of “What Has Happened,” I strived for a voice that was respectful, knowledgeable, and with a dash of humor: “What Has Happened” diplomatically presented every quadrant of the city. I viewed “What Has Happened” as public service (I made part-time money for a full-time job that I created and loved), giving voice to organizations and creative individuals who might not otherwise get any ink as we say in this racket.
One thing I’ve always marveled at is that I never documented our all-night work sessions, the biweekly culling and creating of ads, columns, and headlines as supporters stopped by with beer, coffee, or food. On the office wall I taped up two folders that I decorated: “hate mail” and “love letters” that the “The Paper” (as we always referred to AV) had received. Within a year the latter was overfilled with notes from fans.
“Free to You” was our friendly tagline on the early banners—there was a blooper one issue when “Free You You” was printed, resulting in the question “What’s a ‘You You’?” that week. Club gossip columnist Eva Weiss (“Word Up”) and I presented a redesign of AV to Jamie in 1992, resulting in a more fresh look at that time, and the name change from Buffalo ArtVoice to Artvoice.
For many of those first few years we all did a little bit of every newspaper chore: writing ad copy and headlines, unloading the truck when the bundles of the new issue arrived, and delivering the newspaper on ever-growing routes. There were indeed occasional heated arguments amongst us, always forgotten by the time we made our way to Flynn’s for a drink before closing time.
I was sometimes the one who drove the flats (a neatly taped orange rectangular box of our spreads of pages ready for printing) to our printer, Buffalo NewsPress on Broadway, after, it should be charmingly told, fibbing to the man on the phone about its ETA. When the office phone rang late in the night we’d survey the scene, estimate completion time, give the awaiting man an answer, hang up, and work on hyperspeed: The cover story might need finishing, the last captions of “What Has Happened” might be in the works, and ads might need fine tuning—or all of the above. Usually it was all of the above.
“What Has Happened” emerged after documenting theater opening nights, and expanding to coverage of art openings, concerts of all genres and sizes, parades, galas, political rallies, and other curiosities and sightings in the community. Presidents appeared in “What Has Happened” alongside drag queens, images from a local festival, and local musicians captured mid-note. At times there were other shooters (Amy Kutzbach, Rob Hillyard, Joe Cascio, Dan Cappellazzo, Valerie Dunne) but it became solely my lens that told the stories: Also being a writer, I was equally interested in the written narrative.
In the very early days people would often reply, “No, thank you, I’m not part of the event” when I asked to make an image of them. I’d counter, “But you’re here, you are part of the event.” After a while, after AV and “What Has Happened” grew, that exchange disappeared: I knew the column was a success when after about a year of its existence people asked to appear in the column. A few artists (namely Gerald Mead and A.J. Fries) not only competed with each other to see who had appeared more times (to my memory it’s about a dozen times each), but brag still about the number of their appearances. It was not uncommon to go into someone’s home and see an image I’d made of them (or their favorite rock star) taped to their refrigerator—what I still believe is the greatest honor and compliment.
When delving into the massive archive (one two-inch three-ring binder for two months of each year, and CDs arranged by year beginning in 2000 when photography went to pixels—and yes, it’s all insured), certain images surface to the top amid the jubilant sea of faces and places. Depending on mood, or chance, the standouts are: departed members of the theater or arts community; lost landmarks and places of import; disbanded couples; disbanded bands; short-lived clubs; visuals that strike you for the sheer datedness of clothing and hairstyles; and just simple, fleeting moments.
“Buffalo’s girlfriend” is how a friend once described me and my devotion to this city, “What Has Happened,” and AV. Having fulfilled a lifelong wish and becoming a student in New York City in 2003, and completing a low-residency (read 90 percent online courses) Master’s of Fine Arts at Parsons School of Design in 2005, I was only briefly tempted to stay in Manhattan. Buffalo is where I belong, work, make images, and where in life everyone can make a difference. Just as the beginning was an evolution, so was “What Has Happened”’s ending: not quite imagined, and not quite complete.
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