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Chronicles of a Scene: Brandon Oleksy's Distinct Work Comes to Area 54 with 'Rust Punk' Exhibit

(EDITOR'S NOTE — Photographer Brandon Oleksy has become part of the fabric of Buffalo's hardcore scene, and his work is as instantly recognizable as it is compelling. Now, his art will be on display throughout November at Area 54 as part of his exhibit titled 'Punk Rust,' a reception for which will be held at 6 p.m. this Friday Nov. 3. Brandon was nice enough to speak with 1120 Press about his upcoming show, his work, influences and a wide range of other topics. We're grateful for his time, and we're thrilled to run with this story Brandon's photography below, featuring Torture Agenda and Tossed Aside, respectively. )

1120PRESS: Thank you for speaking with us and congratulations on your upcoming show, this Friday, Nov. 3, at Amy’s Place! How did the show come about and what are your feelings heading into it?

BRANDON OLEKSY: Well, this is my first solo show out here. I had one while I was in college, but that was years ago now. I did have one in Maryland for a completely different body of work I did back in California. Thought it would have more “mass appeal” but that fell flat. I really feel like this is my first proper solo show I’m having because I have a full concept that I’m proud of rather than having one for the sake of doing it. I’m more excited than nervous. I put a lot of work into printing these all in a darkroom the old-fashioned way. The thing I’m probably more nervous about than anything else is if people will want to buy them!

1120: Just merely organizing and/or cataloguing photo work is a taxing and time-consuming process, let alone preparing for a show. What have the last few weeks been like for you in terms of preparing; and how difficult has it been — if at all — to determine what makes the cut?

BRANDON: Oh, this had to be months in the making at this point. I’ve pretty much known which photos I’ve wanted in the show since the end of August. Really the hardest part was editing down from a year-and-a-half worth of concerts to just 14 photos. I’m actually doing this show in conjunction with a zine I’m publishing through Brown Owl Press called “Rust Punk.” All the photos in the show will be in the zine with some extras. However, most of the photos I chose for the show are more focused around Buffalo, and Amy’s Place in particular, as that’s where it’s being held.

The majority of the time when I was selecting photos, I was primarily thinking of the photos that I remember sticking out to me when I initially took it and edited it. Those decisive magic moments when you get somebody diving upside-down into a crowd and stuff like that. Once I got down to around 50-60 photos, that's when I had to start making some difficult choices. The biggest concessions I had to make were probably for my Science Man photos. There are so many great ones I’ve taken of just that band. It also helps that I've photographed them live, like, 15 times, at this point.

1120: What are you hoping people take away from your show and is there any theme in particular?

BRANDON: If people were to take away a theme from “Rust Punk,” it’s that it further instills importance in the local scene here in the Nickel City and our neighboring rust-belt cities. I’ve told this anecdote before, but a lot of my experience being out in California was that people would be nice to your face and screw you in the ass later. People out here will bust your balls but will be your best friend for life. It’s a bit funny, but I really like that sense of community. It really makes it feel tight knit.

1120: Your work has become a staple of Buffalo's hardcore scene. What is it about that genre that appeals to you as a photographer?

BRANDON: I think a harder question would be what doesn’t appeal to me! Hardcore inherently has a lot of dynamic band and crowd interaction that really make for some magic moments if you time it right. Sometimes it’s not even about if I like the music or not. I see a bunch of people going crazy over it and I figure that this has got to be important to somebody. I just want to document it and make the bands, and the fans, feel seen and represented.

1120: Did you know anything about the Buffalo hardcore scene before arriving here and what are your impressions of it?

BRANDON: Yeah, the only things I knew out here were Snapcase, Every Time I Die and Clear Focus. Snapcase and Every Time I Die are kind of obvious for anybody that’s spent a couple of years in hardcore. Before I moved here in December 2021, I was a volunteer putting on shows at the Che Cafe in San Diego. Clear Focus came through on a tour stop. They were a straight-edge band playing with like three-to-four other straight-edge bands. Didn’t even realize their singer was Brett Biro until I talked to him. I know it sounds bad but, my impressions weren’t really that great at the beginning. I mean, the main band that I knew from Buffalo, overall, that I always thought was the most famous band from here was the Goo Goo Dolls. Didn’t even know they were a punk band at one point before moving out here.

1120: You definitely have a recognizable, distinguishable brand. Where does your style come from? What’s influenced it?

BRANDON: A lot of my influence I can trace back to three concert photographers. Alison Braun, Ed Colver, and Glen E. Friedman. To me, those three are the holy triumvirate of punk rock photography. Edward and Glen get a lot of the credit, rightfully so, because some of their images just became iconic. Ed with the cover of the first TSOL album and the cover of “Damaged” by Black Flag, and Glen with the iconic Minor Threat porch sitting. But I can go on for hours about how great Alison is as a photographer. One of the very few people not just in concert photography, but photography in general, that were in the right place at the right time multiple times. Like, she started as a teenager photographing the LA hardcore scene for Flipside, then in the late 80s moved to Seattle of all places. But a lot of those photographer’s compositions and ideas come from being concert photographers always looking through the viewfinder. A lot of the modern style is very quick to the point where the viewfinder isn’t necessary. I mean, why would it be when you got a big LED screen and auto-focus faster than a speeding bullet. One of the best photographers of this style has gotta be Rob Coons. But I like to see what I’m exactly about to photograph before I release the shutter.

1120: Your work is primarily black-and-white, but recently you’ve posted color shots. Is color something we may see more of from you; and is there any particular reason B&W is your preferred style?

BRANDON: Well, I primarily shoot with film cameras. It’s just something I learned to do and enjoyed doing it. Everything from taking the photo to developing I really fell in love with it. It’s not for any quality or aesthetic reasons. It’s just more fun. I learned to do that with black and white. And when it comes to film, black and white is more-often-than-not gonna be a lot cheaper and the chemicals to develop it at home are a lot more shelf-stable than color stuff. Recently, I was given a whole bulk roll of color-slide film and found some old color negative film for cheap at estate sales. So, I’ve been relearning how to develop that from home because sending it off is way too expensive. It’s like 10 bucks just to get one roll of color developed sometimes.

1120: You’re from Chicago, and then went to school in California. Now you’re in Buffalo where you've become a well-known presence on the scene, where your work is widely respected, and you are well-liked. Not being native to the area, what do you make of the support you’ve received here?

BRANDON: Well, I was born in Chicago and that’s where my family is from. I moved to California when I was a little kid and visited back there for the holidays essentially. I grew up in San Diego and went to college in Santa Cruz. Honestly, I’m super happy with the support I’ve received so far. At first it was about going to shows and discovering new music, meeting new people, supporting my new local scene. That turned into going to shows to photograph the bands as an excuse to see my friends. I feel like half the time now, I’m going to a show because I like the people and like taking pictures. The music is just a really nice bonus.

1120: Your own music —performed under the name Olexi – is nothing like hardcore. You released an EP earlier in the year. What’s happening on that front? Can we expect more music from you in the near future?

BRANDON: Yeah, that EP is definitely different from anything else I’ve been involved with out here. Would love to try and see people mosh to that. I used the name Olexi just as a catch-all for any current and future musical projects. I’d say expect more of that ambient electronic stuff in the future, but also expect something completely different under Olexi at the same time.

1120: Thank you so much for speaking with us. Is there anything more you want to say about your upcoming show and/or anything else that we haven’t touched on?

BRANDON: I’m making mac n’ cheese for the show and nobody can stop me. You’ll get to look at my photos and eat some bangin’ mac n’ cheese. Also, I really hope that people just enjoy being there for the opening. I know some people will miss it, but the photos will be there for a while. They’ll be hanging on the Area 54 walls for pretty much every show there in November. I also have boxes and bags full of old prints, framed and unframed, that I’d love to sell on the cheap from years of photographing and printing. I’ll drag them out to the opening too.


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