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Boats Against The Current

"Colored Fields" by Richard Nesbitt

Looking backward at CEPA's members show

A recurrent mood in the CEPA members’ photos on display in the Market Arcade is the elegiac. A number of works depict ruins or remnants of the area’s once vibrant commerce and industry. In the process, revealing beauty around us we hadn’t seen because we didn’t look.

For example, Doreen de Both’s strip collage of photos of Buffalo River abandoned or mostly abandoned grain elevators. Each photo showing copious river surface in the foreground—as if not to mention, but so note in passing, the absence of commercial or any other activity on this one time bustling main thoroughfare of the grain industry.

Or Frank O’Connor’s stunning crystal-clear bird’s-eye view of the city, centering on the environmental wasteland surrounding the huge green snake of the Buffalo River as it slides torpidly toward the relatively healthier waters of Lake Erie. If there was an award for best title, this work would have won it no contest: Ciarán fecit hoc.

Scott Gable’s work addresses Bethlehem Steel and ambivalence. A large central photo of trash and debris left and still lying on a locker room floor around a circular metal wash-stand is flanked on either side by head-shots of former steelworkers and brief texts summarizing each worker’s thoughts on his years at the plant. The one guy talks about how the work was dangerous. The other says it paid the bills.

"Power Struggle" by Jax Deluca
"Homespun" by Jan Nagle

The elegy can also be sardonic, as in Jean Linn’s photo of an abandoned-looking concrete-block shed structure bearing a large faded sign proclaiming: Welcome to…Buffalo “An All-American City”.

It’s hard to imagine the quotation marks ever not being ironic.

A lovely meditation on old Buffalo is Lesley Maia Horowitz’s photo of just the top story or so of the old Wonder Bread factory off Genesee Street, with vast expanse of sky and billowing clouds above. The significantly cropped view of the building emphasizes its dominant and handsome architectural feature of Romanesque arches reaching to just under the roofline, disemphasizes the sad state of the ancient structure, and environs, that would be conspicuous in the less selective view of an ordinary onlooker. But in the photo there’s that huge patched chimney reminding of reality. And antiquated rooftop “Wonder Bread” sign. More irony.

A few industrial Buffalo photos are irony-free. Just straightforward celebrations of noble form and color. For example, Michael Brown’s view of water, sky, grain elevator, and the Michigan Street bridge, in tones of deep blue among the natural elements, against clean and crisp off-whites among the structural.

In a show of about 100 works by about 100 artists—each entrant gets to show one work, with one exception—there’s something for just about everybody.

Nor are all the photos about Buffalo by any means. There are numerous beautiful semi-abstract works. Such as Kate S. Parzych’s paired photos depicting, in the one case, what could be a distant horizon over water, significantly obscured by dense fog, in the other, a vertical solid wall, streaked with further verticals, out of which emerges—not at once, but after a minute or so of viewing—a faint but insistent dark horizontal band. As if from a remote distance, from behind the opaque wall.

Or Ella Joseph’s painterly depiction of Black Angus cattle in a field of lush green and a few whitish possible rocks. Or Alex Williams’s multiple overlaid shadowy images of monkey wrenches and Stillson wrenches and other fulcrum instruments. A home handyman’s delight.

Then there is Karen Lee Lewis’s exquisite close-up of snow crystals caught in skeletal chalice-form terminations of desiccated plant stalks. A depiction of timeless beauty. But informed—as the idea of beauty is always—by the idea of the transitory. So elegy again.

The only entrant with multiple works is Connor Pace, with three photos, entitled as a group, Haiti in April. One shows two kids on a bench, one about four or five, smiling, slightly, for the camera, the other, about one, and not too sure. You just hope they both survived.

The show continues through March 20.

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