September 26, 2013

Photographer converts thought into image

By ROBIN CAUDELL Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Digital photography is a tool for business and pleasure, not an art form for Michael C. Hart.

Film is the medium where he converts thought into image, where art meets science.

“I just love the process, I love the combination,” said Hart of Pouring Light Studios & Gallery in Malone.

His new exhibition, “Time Slip (an observation),” which features 41 images of deindustrialized Malone, opens Friday at the gallery.

He shot a hidden Malone, the spaces that don’t get much light, with a circa ‘80s Nikon F3.

“I just bought it online,” he said. “I always wanted a really good camera. I always had B-model cameras. For a couple hundred dollars, I get a top-notch camera.”

The black-and-white images possess a surreal quality to them. It’s a distorted view that is familiar but not quite. Time, past and present, is fluid.

About the show, he writes:

“Like countless other towns and cities across America, Malone has had to deal with de-industrialization. There is evidence of a grander time in the periphery of our daily course. Perhaps this past imposes a nostalgic drag on the progress of our present. ‘Time Slip’ explores thoughts such as this. I approached this body of work like an archaeologist, digging to reveal a living past that has been eroded by the march of nature and the corrosive effects of man’s progression.”

He began shooting the images last November and worked through the seasons.

“I did have a concept, and I would go out and take seven or eight images and then come back and print them and go out again,” Hart said. “I repeated that process until I finished. As I did that, the show developed more and more. It’s really a nice way to work because it evolved.”

The prints measure 4 inches by 5 inches.

“They have all been toned from this toner I used for a stained-glass process for turning metal black. It’s a very harsh chemical,” Hart said. “I tend to beat up my pictures quite a bit with chemicals I find around. I did the whole show with this toner. It sort of reduces the image a little bit. It has the look, the mood, I was trying to create.”

He writes: 

“For many years I’ve been thinking about doing a work based on my experience of living in Malone but struggled with the angle that work would take. There are many stories that Malone could support. I’ve gone into the part of Malone that doesn’t get much light, a void in the sense that many choose to give little validity to these scenes. Filling a void is the thread that has consistently run through my work. The intent of this work is to provoke thought and dialogue through observation.”

Hart edits his images in a way that disorients viewers.

“That will throw a lot of people. They won’t always recognize their own town. That is the point of the show. A lot of these scenes are sort of forgotten,” he said.

When Hart arrived in 1980s Malone, he was seeking a haven from the industrial environment of Niagara Falls.

He finds Malone today not much different.

“There were more stores downtown, clothing stores and stores of necessity. The Flanagan Hotel was operating. There were quite a few restaurants, quite a few bars and music on the weekends. It was in pretty good shape. The Tru-Stitch factory was here. It was a big employer. It was really holding its own at that time,” he said. 

“Then, the factories started going. Storefronts starting shutting down, and franchises were popping up outside of town, and the downtown just took a dive.”

From his gallery, he has a bird’s-eye view of the Flanagan.

“When the Flanagan burned 13 or 14 years ago now, that was a big blow. To have a burned-out building for all those years, I think it affects the psyche of the town maybe. I see that out of my gallery window every day. I think I’m overexposed to it. It sort of taints you. There are three or four pictures in the show that address the Flanagan Hotel,” Hart said.

Another image is of a boarded up building. What was it used for? What is its story?

“There are a group of buildings like that, just storage spaces now,” he said. “They’re really beautiful, masonry stone. They’re straight and in great condition. The only problem with that site is the ground is saturated with oil and some kind of Super Fund kind of chemical. That whole property is tainted. It’s unfortunate. I would have set up in that building. I just love that building. There are lots of spaces in Malone that are attractive like that, but there is always some downside that makes it not viable.”

Hart draws attention to the Salmon River in another image.

“The river in Malone is really underappreciated. It’s not much access to it. It’s really a gem,” he said.

Toward the end of his latest collection’s production, Hart became profoundly aware (again) of what really drives him beyond the concept of the work.

He writes:

“It’s the immense pleasure I get from the photographic process ... gathering, composing, improvising. The beautiful union between art and science plus the solitary nature of the work makes for an ideal platform for me to convert thought into image.”

He addresses Malone’s future with “The Wry Hope,” a photograph of an unidentified person.

Hart writes: “To me this photograph puts a face on the enigma that is Malone.”

The stranger and Hart briefly met.

“He had that kind of lasting quality in him,” Hart said. “In my work, I tend to take on dark subjects. I always like to leave a sense of hope.”

“Time Slip” offers not answers nor opposing questions.

“I’m not really trying to make a statement, just trying to create some dialogue,” Hart said.

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IF YOU GO WHAT: "Time Slip (an observation)," a photography exhibition by Michael C. Hart. WHEN: Opening reception is from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. Show runs through Nov. 9. WHERE: Pouring Light Studios & Gallery, 432 E. Main St., Malone. CONTACT: Call 481-5150 or email