Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

Interlude: St. Louis Magazine

Posted in art, Jason Gray, photography, St. Louis Magazine, technique, Uncategorized by Jason Gray on April 4, 2016

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abandoned mailroom, former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department HQ

An old colleague and longtime friend, Chris Naffziger writes about the history of architecture for St. Louis Magazine and for his blog, St. Louis Patina.  Chris is easily one of St. Louis’ best minds on the subject, and occasionally, he taps my photography to illustrate his articles (particularly I think, when he wants to torture me with some extremely challenging photo scenario).

“Interludes” are the posts in-between the posts that this site focuses on, and provide me with an opportunity to share things that I find interesting. They are not archived like the core posts.

This interlude will showcase three such trips out with Chris, where I photographed the abandoned former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department HQ, the historic Franz Arzt house, and the lagering cellars of the long lost Cherokee Brewery.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters (former)

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the large building on the corner

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front desk

Exploring the abandoned Police Headquarters was really exciting, particularly because two generations of my family had offices in this building.  On our guided visit, we had a lot of building to explore and a limited time to do so, so I had to compose the images and set exposure on the fly.  Most of the rooms had poor illumination, as far as photography goes, so I had to work from a tripod.  Many of these images were shot in a single frame, which in retrospect was a silly approach, considering that I probably had just enough time to bracket.  Still, I am happy with how they turned out; I could have easily spent several hours shooting here though. Article here.

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one of the interrogation rooms

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part of the forensics laboratory

Franz Arzt House

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partial exterior

The Franz Arzt House was built for its namesake, a Victorian-era doctor and botanist.  This visit was pencilled in-between two other commitments, giving me only about 1 hour of shooting time.  Unfortunately for us, the new owner of the property was a bit delayed in meeting up to let us in, so my shoot time inside was less than a half-hour.  On top of this, Naffziger, in diabolical fashion, requested a shot of the basement cave grotto (a half pitch black/half specular nightmare exposure).  Not expecting this scenario, I had only packed a single speedlight, but it was enough to light paint what I needed. Article here.

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all of the woodwork is burl with inlay

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the infamous cave/grotto

Cherokee Brewery, newly Earthbound Beer

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If you have never been to Earthbound Beer on Cherokee Street, here is what to expect: the most delicious (and intelligently crafted) beer you have ever tasted.  When Chris invited me onto this shoot, to document the former lagering cellars of the long gone Cherokee Brewery, which Earthbound had recently acquired and re-discovered, I had expected there to be some sort of ambient light to play with (ie. work lights, old fluorescent tubes, etc.).  Unfortunately, this was not the case; the subterranean world that we descended into had no lights whatsoever -in fact, it did not even have electricity yet.  Doubly unfortunate, my second speedlight had recently died, so I was down to a single light source beyond my flashlights which were not powerful enough to illuminate anything this big.

What this meant was that all of my exposures were 30 seconds or more, and to light the whole room, I had to walk around while the shutter was open and manually fire the flash wherever I needed light.  I still use the slightly older Nikon D300, so in order to get clean images, long exposure noise reduction had to be applied, thus lengthening each shot to double its duration (ie. 30 second exposure + 30 second processing = 1 minute duration).  In terms of the environment itself, we had to descend a 20 foot latter through the floor of a Somali grocery store to access the first basement (shown above), and then descend another rickety extension ladder to a flooded subbasement, finally dismounting onto a waiting, inflatable kayak.

In this flooded subbasement, we paddled out to a rubble pile that poked above the surface of the water, where, standing knee deep in muck, I was able to make a couple of steady exposures of that space.  It should be pointed out here that Mr. Naffziger did not make the trip down to the kayak, but rather stayed high and dry in the first basement, I am only assuming, warm in amusement of the predicament he had placed me in.

All kidding aside, it was as amazing and fun as it sounds, and kudos to the EB crew for being total badasses. Article here.

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top of one of the cellars filled with debris

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descent to the kayak

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on top of the rubble pile

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an underground lake

A very special thanks to Chris and St. Louis Magazine for making all of this possible.  Please keep on challenging me, my friend; I look forward to our next adventures!

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2 Responses

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  1. […] writer, Chris Naffziger, whose excellent feature can be read here.  You might recall the earlier images, and my facetious complaining about photographing in complete darkness; this time around, the […]

  2. […] I tend to use the Loka for day hikes or for commercial assignments that are a bit tricky to navigate (such as these). […]


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