in Buffalo, NY
Since 1950 the City of Buffalo, New York lost 55 percent of its population. Today this loss can be seen across the city in vacant lots. 15.7 percent of all land in Buffalo is vacant, amounting to approximately 16,000 vacant lots. Over 6,500 of them are owned by the city. On their own those statistics are abstract and have minimal power beyond the moment they are read.
In my project Visualizing Vacancy I set out to visual a statistic. I want to make the numbers palpable and visualized. I became enamored with the vacant lots, I see them as stuck in limbo, somewhere between a place and a non-place. For this project I photographed over 3,300 of Buffalo’s city-owned residential vacant lots. While photographing I took a very straightforward, sterile approach to the images. Similar to what a real estate agent would quickly snap to sell a piece of property. I felt more like a social scientist collecting data than a photographer. Instead of writing and article I created a maximalist art installation with 3294 photographs. Singularly each photo is inconsequential, but displayed together the statistics of the lots becomes visual. With the installation I envelope the viewer, making the issue difficult to escape. The installation thus becomes my info graphic.
From my very first day photographing for this project residents of the neighborhoods I was walking would stop to talk to me. When I told them about my project, they immediately would share their thoughts on vacancy in the city. Their responses through often focused on small-scale extremely localized solutions. The installation of my images is also meant to start conversations between the viewers and to spark ideas about the entity of the issue rather than just one lot. I hope people take their experience beyond the gallery.
While I was walking through each part of the city collecting data I began to see other scenes that also conveyed the story of vacancy. I was compelled to take them as well. Through these photograph I wanted to capture the emotional experience of walking in these neighborhoods. I began to look for small poetic details. The photographs were edited to construct a story, which became the book On Foot. I chose to use low quality printing materials to mimic drug store flyers, which often populate vacant lots. The paper in the book will break down quickly speaking further to transitory nature of the neighborhoods where the images were created. With the book I aimed to humanize the sterile photographs Visualizing Vacancy and are my artistic emotional response to walking among the vacant lots. These images speak to the resiliency of the neighborhoods I walked through. I saw lost innocence competing with childhood, religion binding people together, and hope battling frustration. Above all life continues on the East Side.
Laura L. Minor