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Buffalo photography collective to host pop-up outside vacant East Side church

The Transfiguration Church is still in tattered condition. The East Side eyesore that - despite its designation as a landmark - has essentially been left for dead since closing fully in 1993.

The three-person local photography collective Buffalo Obscura is eager to shift the focus back to the once-bustling parish during a pop-up event dubbed the Big Tent Revival, from 6 to 11 p.m. July 26. The one-off boasts 18 artists at 929 Sycamore St. and is free to attend. There will be no access to the interior of the church, as the action will be under a tent on the grounds.

Buffalo Obscura comprises Chris Hawley, Molly Jarboe and Christina Laing, and Friday's event marks its seventh pop-up. In April, the collective examined Route 62, which crosses through the Buffalo area in its trek from Niagara Falls to Texas. On Friday, the photographers participating will bring 10 unframed images, with only five copies made of each; prints will cost $25 apiece.

While the event's surface appeal is quality local photography, there's an even deeper emphasis on place. "[It's] driven by the locations and the ideas they generate and possibilities they represent," Hawley said.

[Related: Smiles from Route 62 photography pop-up in Macky's Shamrock Room]

Daniel Seiders' photo of the St. Louis Roman Catholic Church. (via Seiders)

And the place, the deteriorated-yet-massive structure is one of obvious decay, but simultaneously hope. Buffalo photographer Daniel C. Britt, an artist in the Big Tent Revival and a photojournalist published in Playboy, the New York Times and several European outlets, purchased the church in October 2017 for $2,300 at a housing auction. The purchase was prompted partly by the nostalgia of running errands around the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood as a kid, helping his mother run an oriental foods store.

"[The church] was decrepit and scary when I was a kid," recalled Britt, who now works as a bartender at Patina 250 and teaches sailing lessons.

When he won the bid, initial shock set in. "I'd never owned anything," Britt said. "I lived out of a backpack for the last 15 years," traveling - largely for work - to Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

Told the Transfiguration Church was the "most dilapidated landmark in the city" in one of Buffalo's food deserts, Britt took that as a challenge, spending the last year clearing the site of asbestos and now planning to replace the roof - a mammoth undertaking - beginning in August.

Cross-section of the Transfiguration Church, purchased by Daniel C. Britt in 2017 and the site of a photography pop-up on Friday. (via Buffalo Obscura)

Britt's plans for the church mimic the themes of Buffalo Obscura's exhibition; he wants to keep the "spirituality and natural [characteristics]" of the site, but transform the church into a hybrid brewery, beer garden and cafe, with a printing press on the second floor.

More than anything, though, Britt sees a rehabilitated church as a gathering place for the underserved, diverse neighborhood, which has recently welcomed a swath of Bangladeshi and Rohinga refugees.

For Buffalo Obscura, Britt and the 14 other photographers, the Big Tent Revival serves as a discussion point for the changing urban landscape. In what ways is Buffalo still amid decay? Where are there beacons of hope, reasons for optimism?

Photographers involved in Big Tent Revival:

Daniel Britt
Dan Cogliano
Julia DeMartinis
Chris Hawley
Molly Jarboe
Christina Laing
Lydia Maybee
Matthew McCarthy
Greg Meadows
Matthew Measer
Kate Stapleton Parzych
J-M Reed
Daniel Seiders
Fr. Jud Weiksnar

The show will also feature visual artist Claudia Carballada, projection artists Dan Green and Jeremy Maxwell, and pianist Sarah Maybee, as well as special installations by Seiders and Reed.

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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