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Bruce Jackson: “American Chartres”: Buffalo’s Waterfront Elevators

Jan 22 - May 1 2011

UB Anderson Gallery

Grain elevators were invented in Buffalo. For a much of the 19th and 20th centuries the huge structures along the Buffalo River and Lake Erie gave visual proof of Buffalo’s central place in American and international commerce. Now, only a few are still in use. The last of the wooden elevators burned down five years ago. The cement H&O Oats elevator was demolished in 2006 to make room for a gambling casino that was never built. Most of the others are derelict, slowly decaying while owners, politicians and environmentalists try to figure out what to do with them and the land they occupy.

The French poet Dominique Fourcade saw them during a visit to Buffalo a few years ago. He was awed by their size and beauty, and he exclaimed, “This is the American Chartres!” In 2006, Bruce Jackson photographed the destruction of the H-O Oats elevator. For the past year, working with digital Leica and Hasselblad cameras, he has been working on an extended project of documenting visually the elevators that are still standing.

Bruce Jackson is a photographer, writer and filmmaker currently on the faculty of University at Buffalo, where he is SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture. He is the author or editor of 30 books, the most recent of which is Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture (Temple University Press, 2009). He has had 20 solo photography exhibits, most recently at Galleri View (Oslo, 2009), Arkansas Studies Institute (Little Rock, 2009), Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, 2009), Documentary Studies Center (Duke University/Durham, 2008) and Circolo Gianni Bosio (Rome, 2007).  His work is in the permanent collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, George Eastman House, Library of Congress, Bibliothèque Nationale de France and other institutions.  In 2002, the French government named him Chevalier in L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.