A Mistake by the Lake: A Photographic Representation of Care in Greater Buffalo

Photographer Chris Mottalini brings to life what he calls architectural products of human concern and emotion with a visual depiction of homemade bus stops in Greater Buffalo.

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The Mistake by the Lake is a photographic collection of bus stops in the Greater Buffalo area. These curious structures were built by local parents to shield their children from rough Buffalo winter mornings. Chris Mottalini is a Brooklyn-based photographer who was raised in Buffalo. His work has been featured in several well known publications including Pin-Up and Architectural Record and exhibited in the Auburn University Museum of Art and the Julius Shulman Institute among other venues. His project, A Mistake by the Lake, was recently published as a book by the French publisher, Lozen Up.

- How did you get the idea for this collection?
I grew up in the Buffalo-area, but I’ve lived in New York City for the past ten years. New York is great and everything, but I really love Buffalo and miss it a lot since moving down to the big city. I wanted to make a type of photographic ode to my hometown…..thus, The Mistake by the Lake. A lot of my work tends to focus on architecture, so I couldn’t help but be drawn to these amazing little structures. And then I became pretty much obsessed with finding and photographing as many of them as possible. It took me a few months of just driving around, day after day, and I found about eighty-five of them in all.

- What surprised you about what you found?
Believe it or not, I actually never noticed a single school bus stop shelter the entire time I lived there. I guess they were rendered essentially invisible by my familiarity with my surroundings (and I’m sure the same can be said of many other area residents). The separation that came with my leaving Buffalo allowed me to finally notice the shelters. Anyway, all of a sudden I started noticing them. The discovery of this “new” aspect of my hometown (along with the fact that each and every shelter is one of a kind) definitely made the project all the more surprising and fascinating for me.

- How are these images and the story behind them an adequate representation of the city of Buffalo?
The Mistake by the Lake is, in certain ways, actually not a terribly adequate representation of the city of Buffalo. This project presents the viewer with a rarely seen, almost secret side of the greater-Buffalo-area and it is intended as a contradiction/rejection of the narrative of neglect that the mention of Buffalo often unfortunately invokes. My goal was to depict an unexpected and positive aspect of a once great city. Also, the shelters are obviously not located in downtown Buffalo, they are mostly found in the more rural towns surrounding the city (considered the greater-Buffalo-area).

- What would you like others to take away from viewing these photos?
I think that the shelters are evidence of a universal impulse of care, which, in spite of years of troubles, is still alive and well and a hallmark of my hometown…..the city of good neighbors. As far as the stereotypes go, Buffalo is about a heck of a lot more than chicken wings, urban blight, snow, abandoned steel mills, cursed football teams, etc. These shelters are, in their own way, evidence of the amazing spirit of Buffalonians. And they’re also just really cool and fun to look at. Please enjoy. Let’s go Buffalo!

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