Rochester Photographer Captures the Undiscovered Patina of a Rust Belt City

Photo by Arian Horbovetz

Photo by Arian Horbovetz

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A Rochester wedding photographer recently trained his lens on a different kind of subject. Now he finds himself one of the most talked about people in the Mohawk Valley.

Arian Horbovetz photographs weddings for a living. But sometimes, he says, that’s not enough.

“My belief is if you are going to do art for an income then you also have to break away from that construct and do art for the sake of art occasionally,” said Horbovetz.

So Horbovetz had an idea: Take his electric scooter to upstate cities, and motor around looking for hidden visual gems. First stop — Utica.

“I kind of did it on a whim. A bunch of people have asked me why Utica? And I’m not quite sure to this day,” said Horbovetz. “But it turned out to be an amazing thing.”

The moment he stepped off the train, he was surprised by the beauty in a city that to many people, seems to define the term “rust belt.”

“I walked into the most gorgeous train station, places like the Stanley Theater, which is one of the most remarkable theaters I’ve ever been in in my life. The Munson Williams Proctor art institute…”

 

But Horbovetz was intrigued by more than Utica’s architecture. He kept hearing a story of hope and revival in a city that’s lost almost half its population and much of its economic base. Last month he posted his pictures and thoughts on his barely-read blog.

“I posted it late one night, and literally by the next afternoon I had something in the neighborhood of 5,000 to 6,000 views. In two days I had 25,000 views,” he said. To date, his blog has had 56,000 views.

Horbovitz received hundreds of emails from Utica residents thanking him for his post.

“And these people aren’t writing a sentence or two. They’re writing paragraphs about why they love their town.”

Sixty-four of them, the photographer says, told him they cried.

The blog was suddenly a must-read in Utica. It was shared on Facebook, tweeted and re-tweeted. Horbovetz was featured on TV and in the paper, and he was a guest on local radio programs.

A week after the post went viral, he came back to Utica, this time as a bit of a celebrity.

 

He had lunch with the mayor, and a tour of new loft apartments, and the hundred-year-old library. And he took pictures, this time for charity.

Chris Talgo brought his wife and daughter to the photo session.

“I read his blog. Loved it of course. So I figured I’d come down and meet him. Plus it’s always good to get a family shot,” said Talgo.

Donna and Matt Getzchell came because they liked what he said about Utica.

“We’ve seen a lot of transition in our lifetime and it looks like it’s turning the corner again,” said Matt Getzchell

Horbevitz’s positive comments validated what many people in Utica feel about their city, said resident Joe Caruso.

“It’s flattering and it’s true,” said Caruso. “I think that this is one more way to say we can do it again. We can become what we have the potential to be.”

While Horbovetz came to Utica to refresh his art, he left with a glimpse of a deep, almost inexplicable, devotion to place.

“In other cities, people live there. Here, people are their city. It’s part of them,” said Horbovetz.

Next stop, Schenectady, later this month.