Chris Mottalini: after you left, they took it apart

Chris Mottalini: after you left, they took it apart

mottalini_photobooth.jpg

Lest you are confused by these photo booth portraits of Chris Mottlalini, the dude is not an ax-murderer, or a contemporary of Johnny Cash. Though he does have a lyrical knack for naming his photo projects– winter city; the mistake by the lake; after you left, they took it apart.  In any case, Mottalini has been making some great work. I first came upon his pictures when several of his Buffalo bus-stop shelters (the mistake by the lake) were chose for AP24, and I’ve since become enthralled with his survey of doomed Paul Rudolph houses, and his recordings of some of the demolitions. I was appalled last week at that New Canaan lady who’s thinking about knocking down her Philip Johnson house, and these strike a similar nerve. Mottalini is a great sport and answered all of my questions, including the one about a sandwich.

How did you get started shooting the Paul Rudolph houses (how many are there), and what has the journey of photographing them been like? How did you gain access? Have you been present at any of the demolitions?

I
photographed my first Paul Rudolph house at the very end of 2006.  I
actually happened upon the project pretty much completely by chance; A
friend of a friend worked for the Paul Rudolph Foundation and needed
some photos of a Rudolph house in Westport, CT, which was about to be
demolished.  To be honest, I knew very little about Rudolph and
Modernist architecture when I first set foot inside of the Westport house. I was instantly hooked and fascinated, though, and I’ve
probably thought about Paul Rudolph and his work every day since. 

Rudolph completed
over 100 projects in his lifetime, from Texas to Singapore, but the
Westport house is my absolute favorite.  Even though it no longer
exists, my pictures at least serve as a sort of photographic
preservation. I was present (and sort of wish that I was not) at the
demolition….the street was blocked by the overly aggressive owners
and the cops, but I managed to catch a few glimpses of the garage and
the front of the house as they were being caved in. A McMansion is
currently being built on the site.

westport1.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Westport, CT 1972-2007

westport2.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Westport, CT 1972-2007

westport3.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Westport, CT 1972-2007

Over the past year I
photographed thirteen Rudolph projects, including the demolished homes
in Westport, CT; Westerly, RI; and Siesta Key, FL.  Many were iconic
projects and the existence of one of them was unknown even to the Paul
Rudolph Foundation. Once I realized that I was obsessed with
documenting these houses, I was able to gain access through the Paul
Rudolph Foundation (even still, though, I was ejected by cops from the
property of the Westport, CT house). The experience of just being able
to wander through these amazing, vanished homes all by myself and to
have that privilege because I take pictures, was fantastic.

siesta1.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Siesta Key, FL 1941-2007


siesta2.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Siesta Key, FL 1941-2007

siesta3.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Siesta Key, FL 1941-2007

westerly1.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Westerly, RI 1956-2007

westerly2.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Westerly, RI 1956-2007

How long will your project continue? What has your experience been with the foundation?

Seriously,
the project will probably continue as long as I am taking pictures. 
Even now, several other Rudolph projects are slated for demolition and,
unless some type of preservation-based legislation specific to
mid-century homes is put in place, it won’t stop and will only get
worse. Can’t stop the progress, apparently.

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Paul Rudolph House, Larchmont, NY

larchmont2.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Larchmont, NY

newtown1.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Newtown, PA

The Pennsylvania house is the secret, never photographed project the Rudolph Foundation didn’t even know about.  Apparently, the husband did a lot of the stonework by himself and his wife told
me a story about him doing the work on their bedroom, in the dead of
winter, while she read the entirety of Anna Karenina aloud from their
bed.

newtown2.jpg
Paul Rudolph House, Newtown, PA

Your recent series “mistake by the lake” was featured in AP24. How does Buffalo figure into your work, and why do you think you’re attracted to compiling photographs of similar structures? Is architectural history a specific interest of yours?

I
completed “The Mistake by the Lake” this winter, and it’s my first and
only project about my hometown of Buffalo.  It’s a photographic record
of the strange and amazing assortment of school bus stop shelters which
dot the greater-Buffalo landscape. Parents build these shelters in
order to protect their children from the brutal winters, though I’ve
never actually seen them being utilized. I guess I needed to be away
from that area for a while, because over the fifteen years I lived
there, I don’t think I ever once noticed a single school bus stop
shelter.  They just blended into the background. It took my living in
Colorado, Sweden and finally New York to finally notice them.

shelter1.jpg 

shelter2.jpg

I’m
really drawn to photo projects based on repetition.  I like documenting
things to excess.  There’s something about shooting a ton of similar
structures…I like the repetition and the simplicity and I like how it
allows for the slight differences in each picture to really become
noticeable.  The whole project was basically an exercise in repetition,
in that I just drove around every day, for months, just looking for bus
shelters.  Some days I would find ten shelters and some days none. 

I’ve
always been interested in architecture and structures but– until
recently, only superficially. This past year, because of my recent
projects, I’ve realized how much I like documenting these houses,
buildings and weird shelters. I set out to make portraits of
architecture and I really think it’s better that I not know as much as
I could about architecture and architectural photography. It keeps
things a bit more mysterious that way. 

 
You shoot digitally, and in 35 mm format, which is
not typical of architectural photography. How does it serve your purpose to be fast and loose with the imagery? It somehow seems fitting, with the danger these houses are in. The images seem more fleeting to me.

I
do shoot digital 35mm format (Canon 1DS Mark 111) and I really love it
when it comes to architecture and structures. I like using the same
format, same camera, even the same lens for every picture I take. I
hate tr ipods, I’m not really all that interested in the traditional
process, and I love being able to just roam freely around the houses. 
It feels more adventurous and emotional to me.  A little sneaky, too. 
I’m mostly interested in spontaneity (which is what I feel is missing
from most architectural photography) and being able to shoot quickly. 


What other projects are you working on?

In
keeping with my Scandinavian and architectural fascinations, my next
project will be about Leif Erikson’s Viking settlement in
Newfoundland. It’ll be cold there, too, so that’s a plus.  Otherwise,
I’ve been shooting a bunch of assignments, I’m trying to find a good
home for “The Mistake by the Lake” and I’m also putting together a
collection of photos I found of Hasidic Jews engaged in recreational
activities and basically living it up. They ‘re really beautiful. 


I hear there’s a sandwich named after you. Discuss.

That’s
my legacy you’re talking about. I used to work at Red Bamboo (a
vegetarian/vegan restaurant) in the West Village. One day the owner
was trying to cheat me out of something and I told him that he owed me
and that I wanted him to name a sandwich after me.  So, “The Mottalini”
was born. I didn’t design it, or anything, but I did have the pleasure
of hearing about fifty people-per-day totally butcher the pronunciation
of my last name.  Glad I don’t work there anymore.

See more Mottalinis (the pictures, not the sandwich) here.

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  1. Mary Ann Potter at 7:34 pm

    Look forward to your exhibit and remarks Feb. 18 at Jule Smith Museum at Auburn Univ. Are you aware Rudolph designed the Kappa Sigma fraternity house on our campus? Is now deteriorating while they live in another house and try to figure what they can do with it. If you are not already in touch, you can reach them through Greek Life Office – 334-844-4600. I teach interior design here, and take my students to the 2 Rudolph-designed residences in Auburn (1 was his thesis house), also to Tuskegee University chapel just 20 minutes away. Saw in Jan./Feb. Preservation mag (National Trust) that the John W. Chorley Elem. School in Middletown, NY he designed is threatened. Guess you better photo it in a hurry.

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