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Picture Show: Buffalo, New York, All America City

It's weird that Buffalo, a city that seems so cold and bleak, with dying industries and a dwindling population, would be honored as an All America City.

It's weird that Buffalo, a city that seems so cold and bleak, with dying industries and a dwindling population, would be honored as an All America City. The award, given out by the National Civic League, honors communities "for effectively addressing their most critical challenges," and the Queen City has won it twice in the last 15 years. The photographer Joseph Tripi, noting the strangeness of the award, captures both the seeming desolation and remoteness and the bright young faces one might or might not expect to find in a fading community like Buffalo. In the course of creating his ongoing (and, he hopes, lifelong) photo project "All America City," Tripi plunges us into his sometimes curious world of bleak weather and harsh exteriors. What follows is a selection from that series, captions by the artist:


Intersection of Woodcrest and Colvin. There's a poetry here that I don't see in other parts of New York. There's an idea of it being lonely and dated… but there's a beauty to that.

This is a power plant a little south of Buffalo. It's interesting: this gigantic plume of smoke used to be looked upon as a good thing, as a bustling busy industrial city that's puffing away. In contemporary context, we look at it and think that it's a shame that we're polluting our environment, but taken 120 years ago, it looks mighty and American.

That is my mother's cigarette pile. She doesn't really throw out her cigarettes and she doesn't really smoke them all the way, as you can see. She lets them flower. It's neurotic, repetitive, grotesque, but there's a beauty to the organization.

This is porno place right off the highway. I appreciate the desolation. It looks like an outpost, and it reminds me of the short story by Joseph Conrad, The Outpost of Progress, about this last stand in the Congo where the men go mad for a little bit of sugar.

This is taken right outside of the downtown area south Buffalo. In the background is a Bethlehem Steel Plant, which was one of the largest produces of steel in the world. The whole community is very well kept, but there's a desolation to it.

Sarah is one of my favorite portraits. It was a warm Christmas day. She has this maternal look to her with this long, maiden hair that doesn't really go with her big fleece, but there's a utility to the way people dress [in Buffalo] that's really great.

This is on Amherst Street in North Buffalo. It's a working class neighborhood called Black Rock, right by the Niagara River. This image was a way to contrast two time periods and these two buildings: there's an old level and a new level that was built between two different periods.

Portraits of portraits on my cousin's wall. … These two kitschy photos on the right are pretty attractive. Then this weird chain that comes down by a surround sound speaker, and the next generation, with more 1990s style shots, is on the other side. I like the dividing line.

Dooley's Bar is by my mom's house. There's something to it, like a hidden suburbia, like Twin Peaks or something. You look at this town and you think nothing of it, but there's something just heavy about this place.

Land Co. Lumber is a lumber store in south Buffalo, and I think that the advertisement-the suggestions of Paul [Bunyan's] large package and Babe looking sedated-is hilarious. But the somberness of the image masks the humor.

It's funny that [the billboard] works with this insulated fear about some phantom storm coming in an wiping out the community. This place is so prepared. It gets a few feet of snow, and you wake up the next morning and everything's already plowed.

Kelly and I have been pen pals for a long time. The second or third time we hung out, I photographed her in her apartment. I think that there's something beautifully awkward about it. There's a tenseness, but also a sincerity to the image.

That's also on Amherst Street in Black Rock. This Bronco… someone loves this Bronco-there's not a spot of rust on it. I love the way that it matches the house it goes with.

This is my friend Nick on a friend's property. One of the reasons I include [my friends] in this series is to say "we are here." I think the people add a human face.

The Kenmore Utility Lot is across the street from the police station, just north of Buffalo, on the border. It was taken just when the thaw was happening. There's a season's worth of dirt and snow. The row houses sort of grow out of it.

My current girlfriend was visiting Buffalo with me this past summer and this was taken right after she was released from a holding center. She was wrongly arrested-for a crime she didn't commit-and placed in holding for two days. It was basically two dirty cops who roughed her up.

It's important to be warm in Buffalo, but there's something about stockpiling wood-there's a neurotic [quality] to it. But it's also like the trees are birthing the wood, next to a wood palate, on top of wood chips.

This is not a particularly original image. But I think that in the context of the series, it helps paint a whole portrait of the place. This looks like the ocean, but it's not the ocean. I grew up between two lakes that you can't really see the ends of. The end is miles and miles away.
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