Photo Show on Architecture, Lost and Found

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November 19, 2008. Chris Mottalini’s architectural photo show, 29 Photographs In A Little Room In The Back Of A Shoe Store, does indeed open in a little room in the back of a shoe store at 10 Christopher Street tomorrow evening from 6 – 8 PM (running through December 20). 29 Photographs features portraits of a now demolished Connecticut home by Modernist architect Paul Rudolph (from the project After You Left, They Took It Apart) and a collection of school bus shelters built geurrilla-style by Buffalo area parents for their children. I.D. spoke with Mottalini about what it’s like to photograph architecture instead of people.

What’s your interest in architecture? You’re taking pictures of places and structures without people in them, so what do you want viewers to know about the subjects of your photographs?

I was always interested in architecture, but Paul Rudolph’s work really made me want to photograph it. I like the quiet, solitary, wandering experiences I have when photographing architecture. I want my images to allow the viewer to have a less straightforward experience than they might if people and distinct actions were involved. Also, I think architecture is actually pretty easy for me to photograph because I have more fun not having to control my subjects. Architecture controls me, in a way, and leaves me responsible for figuring it out. Not having to deal with people allows me to think and to focus on taking good photos. Since you knew that the Rudolph home was likely going to be demolished while you were shooting, did you feel as if you were photographing a person who was going to die? Even though there are no people in your images, they are very evocative of the absence of people.

The Micheels house in Westport, Connecticut was built in 1972 and demolished in January of 2007. I felt an extremely intense connection to this home (pretty much from the moment I first saw it), which led me to photograph several other Rudolph homes, just prior to their demolition. It didn’t quite feel like photographing a death, but I was definitely affected by thoughts of the family who commissioned the home and lived their lives there and the kids who grew up there and all of the moments and memories. To witness this fantastic home in such a state of neglect and abandonment was pretty distressing. The fact that I was able to photograph it, though, in its final moments, was a rare experience and my own personal form of preservation.

The bus shelters are a "grassroots" architecture that people are creating without the help of the city, for their children. How did you find it and why did you decide to shoot a whole project on it?

These school bus shelters, which I photographed for my project The Mistake by the Lake, are scattered across the greater Buffalo, New York landscape. I grew up in Buffalo, but I never actually noticed any of the shelters until about two years ago. I guess my familiarity with the area made them invisible to me. All of a sudden I started noticing these strange little structures and I became obsessed with finding and photographing as many of them as possible. In all, I photographed almost 100 of them and I wish I could find more. The project took about five months, during which I basically drove around for hours, every day, just trying to find the shelters. They’re fascinating because they’re repetitive, unique, strange examples of amateur architecture and of the universal impulse of care, which undercuts the narrative of abandonment and neglect that the mention of Buffalo usually invokes.