Michael Reichmann and Kevin Raber have both visited “Silo City” of course (Silo City comfort zone, Challenging yourself to see different) and in fact, my 1st trip was after seeing some of Kevin’s photos of the steam pumps in the Buffalo water pumping station taken during one of Mark Maio’s workshops. Mark started taking photos there in 2012 having been documenting the grain industry and community around the First Ward since 1989. He began offering the 2½ day Silo City workshop to give photographers unfettered access to the site. Silo City resonated with me immediately on my 1st visit and despite living on Cape Cod I’ve not missed a workshop since.
To touch again on some of the information presented by Kevin’s links and on Mark’s website. Silo City is a 6-acre site set on a bend of the Buffalo River, just south of downtown Buffalo. It contains 8 large buildings; a mix of grain elevators and processing buildings, 7 of them owned by Rick Smith, the Owner/CEO of Rigidized Metal that backs onto the site. Silo City offers ~1 million square feet of photographic opportunity, including all the floors in each building (which unfortunately you have to climb). In its heyday, in the 20th century, this area (and more) was known as Elevator Alley and used for storage, as well as processing grain as it was transferred from lake boats to rail, and to barges used to transport grain through the Erie canal. The opening of the St Lawrence Seaway in 1959 eliminated the need for the intermediate storage, so for that and other reasons, many elevators slowly fell into disuse with only a handful still running today.
At Silo City the last elevator to close was Lake and Rail in the spring of 2017. Rick Smith bought it and Mark now has access to it for the workshops. 1st-time workshop attendees are limited to the main site (Marine A, Perot, and the American elevators, the Malt House and the American Warehouse) which can scarcely be covered on foot in 2½ days, just exploring even without stopping for photography. In fact, the square footage is so vast it’s sometimes tricky remembering how to get back to a spot to take photos that you may have seen before in passing. Everyone is there to help, however, although it’s possible to spend almost the whole time without bumping into anyone if you prefer.
We see the back of the L&R elevators in the iconic shot from across the river at dawn. The site has been changing and the office which we used to squat in now contains a rustic bar made from many of the materials on site (called Duende and open 4 days a week), and it has heat, AC and bathrooms. Also for photographers, there’s plenty of power …
L&R includes large L shaped elevators and an attached flour mill accessible through an angled walkway. Inside the top of the elevators, the belts and machinery for moving the grain around are still intact.
A large part of Lake and Rail was shut down in the 80’s so rust and peeling paint abound even though some areas were still being used just over a year ago.
Some of the equipment has been removed, the rest is in various state of abandonment
This building has both dark and light places with some wonderful light … or nothing at all
From the base of Hamburg St looking at the back of the Lake and Rail elevator, we can see 2 of the corrugated marine legs originally used to load and unload grain. They are buildings themselves (although noisy in high winds) and contain many interesting features.
The original buildings of course still offer enormous photo potential. As with L&R many rooms are completely unlit, with no windows or power. I started light painting about a year before my 1st visit to Silo City and use it extensively
If you attend one of Mark’s workshops you’ll meet on Thursday night for intros and to share some of your work, and for alumni to greet friends made on previous trips. Some weeks after the workshop Mark hosts an online live share of images taken over the workshop. It’s great to see new photos and how other attendees who return are evolving their photography. Mark has occasionally offered addition workshops as part of the weekend, or appended to it, and while on a 2-day portrait class last June after one of Mark’s workshops finished the Manitoulin arrived with a cargo of grain to be unloaded into Standard, the ADM elevator across the river. The morning it arrived was bright and sunny. It clouded over and rained during the night, but then cleared again early in the morning allowing me this series (for me the portrait work was put on hold);
No article of Silo City would be complete without a photo of “Swannie” Jim Watkins, the on-site caretaker and event scheduler
As Kevin stated “I can’t get enough of Silo City” and these thoughts echo my own. Every time I visit I wonder if I’ll be able to see something new, and to date, this has never been an issue. It may in part be due to the size of the site and the variation of light, equipment, decay, and architecture. It may be me changing over the years, able to see more or the same places in a different way. In any case, I’ll just keep going back …
Next Silo City workshop
August 1-4, 2019