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

Interlude: PFSTL Top Ten, #7. The Ville

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Photo Flood Saint Louis turns four this August.  This post is a continuation of a countdown to commemorate this exciting milestone.

St. Louis’ The Ville neighborhood was once widely known as the Midwest’s center for “Black Aristocracy”, and for good reason.  After all, this is where the stories of such luminaries as Annie Malone, Arthur Ashe, and Chuck Berry all intersect.  That legacy, though veiled in urban decay and abandonment, still exists there; my visit with Photo Flood Saint Louis felt often like I was walking a path, well worn and registered, where the present may not much resemble the past nor (hopefully) the future.

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Above: Front steps of the church where Chuck Berry’s father preached.

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This day was a warmish February morning, and the last winter morning Photo Flood before our annual switch over to the evening ones of the warmer months.  Since The Ville is a relatively small neighborhood, I was able to walk around most of the entire area, and get a good sense for the experiences of residents.  I met the woman below, whose moving story is quoted from the PFSTL site.

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From photofloodstl.org:

“The woman above greeted three members of Photo Flood Saint Louis who approached her along the sidewalk in front her house. ‘Y’all taking pictures of buildings? Go on and take a picture of mine.’ After a brief introduction, she went on to explain her troubling circumstances. About to become a grandmother for the second time, the woman desperately wants nothing more than to leave the decrepit home where she and her daughter and present grandson now live. However, she has no money to afford a move, nor is her nine-month pregnant daughter in any condition to look for new housing. To make matters worse, the woman has lapsed in her property taxes, and the city has levied pressure on her to repair the present state of the dwelling. She can afford to correct neither circumstance. Through tears, she expressed her story, and did not ask for anything from us. She had come outside to cry because she did not want to expose her family to her despair. Still, her faith gave her some hope that things would work out somehow. After each of us gave her a hug and tried consoling her a bit, there was no option but to move on, and maybe to tell her story here, hoping that by now she has received some better news.”

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Though the woman’s story is quite sad, I wouldn’t say that it is too unusual for residents still living in The Ville.  No doubt, times are hard, and our city, like many across the country, unfortunately holds people of different economic, racial or social backgrounds to separate standards.  Perhaps one day that will change; perhaps not.

A month before this Photo Flood, my friend Steve had given me a Nikon FM2 and a set of AIS primes for my birthday.  This Flood was my first opportunity to use some of those lenses, and so I brought with me my Nikon D300 and my Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AIS and 50mm f/1.4 AIS lenses.  I had so much fun with the primes, that I decided to switch over from zooms indefinitely.  Shortly thereafter, I sold my old workhorse, the Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G, and haven’t looked back.  Thanks again, Steve!

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If you are interested in becoming a member, head on over to photofloodstl.org, or visit our page on Facebook and let us know!  As always, it is free to join and free to participate.

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