- Associated Press - Saturday, October 15, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Sept. 2 fire that seared part of the Liberty Bridge and snarled traffic for weeks thereafter is no one’s idea of an event that would provoke laughs and merriment.

Just hours after it happened, though, Matthew Buchholz was able to provide some levity. The artist who lives in the Friendship neighborhood in Pittsburgh grabbed an image of black smoke pouring from the span and, using Photoshop, inserted an image of Godzilla belching flames onto it. In no time, it was ricocheting around the Web, being shared on social media and reminding people that, yes, there was some humor to be had in the face of near catastrophe and weeks of inconvenience.

“It just made sense,” said Buchholz, who shares his living space with an energetic dog named Otis. “I heard the news and saw multiple pictures of the bridge on fire with smoke billowing off it, and it almost looked like something I would have created. All it was missing was the monster . I was surprised as anyone when it blew up on social media.”

There are plenty of other images where that one came from. Since 2010, Buchholz has made a name for himself as the proprietor of Alternate Histories, for which he mostly uses aged maps and black-and-white photos unearthed at flea markets or from the recesses of the Internet as his canvas, and the computer program Adobe Photoshop as his brush.

Fusing his fascination with history and his affection for Z-grade horror and science fiction movies from the 1950s and 1960s, Buchholz. For instance, he found a photo of High Street in Columbus, Ohio, taken in 1905 with carriages being pulled by horses and people nonchalantly going about their business. He added, just above the scene, a flying saucer. It is using, according to a description provided by Buchholz, an electro-ray transporter “rather than having to land on the rough-hewn, horse-trodden streets of the still-growing city.”

Then there’s a mock movie poster he created for a movie called “The Revenge of Abraham Lincoln,” which has the nation’s 16th president as a 200-foot tall monster “back to settle his own scores.” His “movie” stars Peter Graves and Edward G. Robinson and is directed by Orson Welles.

The poster was “a very specific and very weird idea, to try to do the inverse of what I had normally been doing, which was to insert a 1950s-style monster into an historic image,” he said. “I had this idea that the reverse of that would be to insert an historic figure into a 1950s-style movie poster. Lincoln’s iconic look made him a natural for the idea.”

Growing up in Tucson, Ariz., Buchholz was nourished on a diet of monster and flying saucer movies that he stumbled across at local video stores or saw on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” on Comedy Central. His affection for movies like “Manos: The Hands of Fate” and “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” led him to New York University and its renowned cinema studies program, which served as a launching pad for filmmakers like Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Joel Coen.

“I was drawn to the excitement of New York City,” he explained. “Growing up in Tucson, we visited Los Angeles a lot, and I felt like I knew what to expect. New York was literally the unknown, and while it scared me, I was also drawn to it.”

Initially entertaining ideas of becoming a filmmaker himself, Buchholz settled into managing the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Cinematek theater, a repertory program known for its quirky programming and high-profile guests. Eventually, he grew weary of the unrelenting grind of New York City and the prohibitive cost of living there, and migrated to Pittsburgh in 2009.

It was during a stint working for Wildcard, a greeting card, apparel and jewelry emporium in Lawrenceville, that Alternate Histories stirred to life. He showed Rebecca Morris, the store’s owner, an image of a giant monster rampaging its way through downtown Pittsburgh in 1867. Morris liked it and suggested he make more like it for a show at Wildcard.

“I produced 10 new pieces and the show was a huge hit,” Buchholz explained. “We sold a ton of the pieces and it showed me that this could be something more than just a fun hobby.”

In the six years since Alternate Histories was launched, it’s placed him in the enviable position of being an artist, but not a starving one. Though his days are sometimes filled with conventional administrative chores like ordering mailing tubes, he said Alternate Histories covers 80 percent of his living expenses. The remaining 20 percent of his budget is covered through various freelance gigs. He sells his material at art shows and online at alternatehistories.com.

Sheila Liming, an assistant professor of English at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, counts herself among the fans of Alternate Histories. She first became acquainted with Buchholz’s work while doing graduate work and was taken by the way his prints fused “vintage print ephemera with whimsy and weirdness,” she explained by email.

“I feel that his work speaks to the experience of living in the postmodern Rust Belt,” she added. “His images remind you of the old buildings, spaces, monuments, scrap heaps, etc., that exist there are on the margins of your daily life, signifying rust and decay, yes, but also signifying potential: That old, abandoned building might once have been something great; that pile of bricks might yet turn into something great, given just a little bit of imagination.”

Another fan is Stamatis Marinos, who lives in the Highland Park neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He became hooked from the time he first saw his work at Wildcard and “was immediately taken by the quality and subtlety of the workmanship - many of the prints had a bit of a ‘Where’s Waldo’ quality to them, where you needed to search the frame for the gag, because the monster, robot, UFO or whatever it might be, was so carefully added to the original image. It wasn’t just a drag and drop Photoshop job.”

What’s next for Buchholz and Alternate Histories? He recently released a 2017 calendar. He also has a second book in the works and a line of housewares.

Having just turned 40, Buchholz said that Alternate Histories puts him in touch with the boy he once was.

“What I like about it is I can see a continuity to who I was back then,” he said.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2d0SJj0

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Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com

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