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

My Best of 2016

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1. reveler at St. Louis Mardi Gras for PFSTL (Photo Flood Saint Louis)

Time again for my annual post of my favorite images (24 this time) and personal accomplishments.  To my recollection, very few years of my 36 or so in the world rival 2016 in terms of sheer awfulness.  I mean, the year was literally ushered in with a devastating flood for the record books….


2. historic flood left behind football field-sized  areas of debris


me navigating the debris field, photo by Isaac Richardson (@skiye30)

Despite all that I’ve mentioned so far, 2016 actually began with so much hope.  My wife and I had recently come to the conclusion that we would be adopting our second child, and we were full of excitement over this news.  Then, on my 36th birthday, the man whom I had recently curated a celebratory exhibition of his life (still on display), died.  This was David Bowie.  By the end of January, I was laid off from the position at f-stop Gear that I had been so excited to receive only a year before, and I watched as my friends there were laid off as well.  Suddenly, the happiness of the upcoming adoption and the triumph my wife and I had felt about our home purchase a few months earlier transitioned quickly into financial panic.  What would I do now for work?  Could I leverage the network that I have been building over the years to slingshot into a new position quickly?  The answer to that last question was, sadly, no.


3. a revisit of Earthbound Brewery for St. Louis Magazine


4. manager of Shrine of St. Ferdinand for PFSTL


5. site of former St. Louis suburb, Times Beach

Even as my day job was ending, my involvement with Chronicle::Ferguson was gaining momentum.  In January, we mounted the first of two successfully attended public events, and by the end of February, our Kickstarter was the first of 12 Ferguson-related ventures to receive full funding.  We were even included on Kickstarter’s homepage along with only two other projects, and were endorsed as an “Editor’s Pick”.


me with members of the C::F Advisory Committee (Leon Williamson and Mo. State Rep. Michael Butler) at one of the events, photo by @SueRakers


me being interviewed by STL Public Radio for C::F, photo by @Dave_Adams_Images


me demonstrating the augmented reality feature of C::F to guests, image by @JaPalmo


C::F was interviewed and featured on Humans of St. Louis, photo by @Humans_0f_STL

Also in February, while unemployed, I jurored the 9th Annual Seen exhibition at Studio Altius and completed the first phase of jurying the 2016 Webster Arts Fair (an annual event that attracts artists from all over the country and more than 20,000 visitors).

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6. client shoot with Design and Detail (video above)

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7. Mississippi River canoe trip with Big Muddy Adventures

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8. client shoot with Buzzbold

Despite the success of the C::F Kickstarter, February, March and April were tough months for me, as work proved despairingly hard to find.  I applied to hundreds of jobs during this time, and was extremely grateful for freelance assignments from FEAST Magazine and Buzzbold.

At The Dark Room, I curated “Krista Valdez: SKIN” which I continue to receive positive thoughts about.  My Curator’s statement is below:

The subject of personal identity in human beings has never before been raised on such a universal level as it is in today’s world.  “Identity” is a person’s brand; it is the singular tool, which expresses both promotion and self-reflection.  In sheer availability, the scope of that expression is larger and further reaching than ever.  With social media, we are encouraged to indulge in self-obsession, and led to believe that, the more we do it, the closer we get to the truths of our being.  This personal pursuit, however, is also a public spectacle, and so those who perform it most interestingly are generally the ones rewarded with some form of closer study on a massive scale; the results can be positive or negative.  In other words, those who understand best how to correlate the technology available with the attention they receive, or those who are most unabashed in their public performances, are the ones most likely to move their “brand of identity” onto broader platforms of promotion.  However, truly achieving the self-reflective aspect of one’s very publicized identity can be a trickier struggle, and one that seldom few, if any, might actually achieve.

For her series, SKIN, artist Krista Valdez seeks not the self-referential spotlight that motivates most actors on the social media stage, but rather a true peeling-back of the layers.  As an introspective woman in a culture that sexualizes or asexualizes everything feminine, Valdez takes the extreme risk to lay it all bare- her body, her emotions, her desires.  But for her to assess and define, not for others.  She is not running away; she is confronting the issue of “who is Krista really versus who Krista has been molded to be?”  What does the true self look like?  It is worth also noting that the catalyst for this exploration is pain.  The artist has lost something/someone, and thereby been pushed to discover what of herself remains.


image of one of Krista’s SKIN photos installed in my home

On April 21, the musician Prince died, and I listened to my favorite of his albums, “Dirty Mind” on constant repeat.

Also in April, I accepted a role as a Gallery Attendant at the Saint Louis Art Museum (something that I had previously done 7 and 14 years ago).  This position, though an extreme cut to pay and technically a career setback, enabled me to have health insurance for when my second son was born on May 14th.  I am still working in this role, and am thankful for the many new friends that I’ve met there, as well as, the many old ones that I’ve come back in contact with.

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9. Ellison just after birth

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Ellison photographed by DeAnna Michelle

In May, “Dan Zarlenga: Night Visions” was the next exhibit that I curated for The Dark Room.  My statement and a video of the installation is below:

Landscape photography is one of the medium’s venerable genres. It is also one that tends to idealize the subject no matter the art historical or technical approach. From Timothy O’Sullivan’s awe-inspiring virginal vistas, to Steichen’s Mamaroneck Pond, to Ansel Adams’ previsualized wizardry, this has always been true. Even some modern “landscape photographers”, like Andreas Gursky, idealize the non-uniqueness of open spaces by distilling out everything extraneous from a scene. Dan Zarlenga carries on this tradition in his work; a photographic auteur, he skillfully employs post-processing techniques to blend several images into the single ideal vision that he has for his photographs. Though his editing process is technically similar to that of many contemporary artists, like Beatte Gütschow, Dan pursues a grander statement with his landscapes, much more akin to the aforementioned Adams.

Traditionally, time of day (not night!) and environmental conditions have been the two most regulating factors for determining when landscape photographers conduct their work. Zarlenga breaks a bit from what has come before in this way. Certainly, very few photographers have thought to present the Missouri landscape using nighttime long exposures combined with light painting, which lends a reverent, almost mystical, quality to the pictures. That so many stars can be seen so close by, is probably surprising enough for many St. Louisans.

Dan Zarlenga’s Night Visions is a visual ode to the natural world’s nocturnal state, but it is also an illustration of the technological advantages digital photographers have over their film counterparts and an example of how artists continue to push the boundaries of photography in new directions. Digital manipulation is often criticized by photographic traditionalists, but what is photographic truth in the face of artistic truth? After all, like photographer Stephen Shore said, “…a photographer solves a picture more than composes one.”


10. Executive Director of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum for PFSTL


11. converted former Venture department store in Illinois


12. Amir, a Bosnian immigrant in the Princeton Heights neighborhood for PFSTL

In June, the Webster Arts Fair opened, and myself and the other jurors reconvened to determine the final winners.  The show was a great success.  Around this same time, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation was creating an Exhibitions Committee for its 2017 exhibitions calendar (a Social Justice theme), and asked me to be a part, alongside Juan Chavez, Stefanie Kirkland, Damon Davis, Chris Hansen and Mary Ann Srenco.


13. client work, a senior photo shoot


14. client work, a fitness trainer

In August, Jarred Gastreich: Street Smarts opened at The Dark Room as my next curatorial effort.  I’ve been a longtime follower and supporter of Jarred’s work, and have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to show it again (he was included in a street photography group exhibition that I curated at the International Photography Hall of Fame in 2014).  An image of Jarred after installation and my curator’s statement are below:


In the early part of the 20th Century, photography became the singular expressive tool capable of encapsulating human psychology into an art form. The camera, finally small and portable, could capture spontaneous moments in people’s everyday lives, moments of reflection, some never to be repeated, that often communicated something deeply personal about the subject photographed. Street photography, matured during this period, became the world’s principal art form articulated primarily by the artist’s instincts and anticipatory faculties. In a simple way, this art was more like hunting than painting, though the prey was to be preserved instead of killed, in a form that is transcendent of time, yet inextricably linked to the exact second of the shot.

For the first time in human history, we looked into the face of death, of despair or of total joy, and could spend time there. As street photography practices turned into photojournalistic ones, all of our public and private actions were suddenly vulnerable to the camera, which helped usher in a necessary era of dramatic social reform, regulatory change, and cultural reappraisal.

Today, we’ve created a theater of what many would have considered “street”, one hundred years ago. Using smartphones, we document everything about our lives, down to the most mundane, and then share them with a faceless virtual world. Considering that we now produce more photographs every three days than were produced in the first six decades after photography’s invention, it is no surprise that it is hard for photographers to stand out among that flood. Likewise, in this environment, it is difficult to create imagery with meaning (all of the major themes have been seen already), and what is meaningful anyway, in a world that values life so little as to keep nothing private? The more we retreat to the virtual, the less we relish of the real. The full repercussions of this are not yet understood.

Jarred Gastreich: Street Smarts takes a critical look at how the smartphone has altered our participation with others in public realms. Gastreich accomplishes this with a perfect sense of timing as a street photographer, combined with a compositional prowess that allows him to extract the most from seemingly simple gestures. Street Smarts lushly actuates the routine experiences of strangers, for the viewer to ponder and reflect upon, even as those subjects tend to negate them. It is a sort of “here is the beautiful world that you are missing” scenario. The people in these images emphasize this by looking so incredibly out of place. When one does notice Jarred, and looks directly at him, it is as though he/she appears “caught” while looking through a portal into another world, as much as or more than Jarred is aiming into one.


15. Weldon Spring Site, a nuclear waste containment cell for PFSTL


16. Monk’s Mound, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site


17. Mark Twain I-70 Industrial neighborhood for PFSTL


18. North Riverfront neighborhood for PFSTL

Also during the summer, Chronicle::Ferguson was awarded a $10,000 Project Support Grant from the Regional Arts Commission, a $5,000 corporate sponsorship from Emerson, and a $5,000 sponsorship from Fontbonne University.  Despite these continued successes, progress during this time was stymied for several reasons, including my own inability to fully commit because of financial concerns and scheduling issues resulting from both my new job and new baby obligations.

Photo Flood Saint Louis, the organization for photographers I founded in 2012, celebrated its four-year anniversary in August, and was the feature of an exhibition at the GFA Gallery in Belleville, Il. in September.


PFSTL exhibition at GFA Gallery

Also in September, the family (minus the youngest son who had to stay in St. Louis with his Grandma) travelled to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a much needed getaway.  In true 2016 form, I immediately became sick with a cold on day one…. Still, it was an amazing and unforgettable experience.


oldest son at our campsite (see my review of Camp GRITS)


19. what the Smokies are known for

Upon returning, October ushered in my next exhibit (in cooperation with Alexandrea Povis, Art Director at FEAST) at The Dark Room, “FEAST Magazine: Food in Photographs”.  This exhibit is still on display, and will remain up for a special NYE event; don’t miss out!  Flyer and curator’s statement below:


Of our five senses, taste and smell are perhaps the most unappreciated. Ubiquitous to our survival (we must eat to live, and in the U.S. that includes several meals each day), the senses of taste and smell are often left out when art is concerned. In a traditional Museum environment, it is easy to find artworks that appeal to the senses of sight and to hearing, but it is not so easy to encounter works that elicit responses from your olfactory and taste centers. Maybe this is because works of art that appeal to those senses tend not to exist in this world for long; conversely, perhaps there is a stigma preventing food from elevating to such a platform in our culture. Or, maybe it is just an indication of the limitations of these institutions in attempting to preserve all of culture and art for posterity. After all, a tour through any social media platform is quick to divulge that food and drink have become thoroughly aestheticized, visually worshipped even, and history provides that the culinary arts matured alongside (not after) the visual arts.

Photography is another art form often overlooked. A relative late-bloomer to the artistic panoply, photography was considered for much of its past to be separate from art, a mere scientific phenomena. In photography, food has been a subject from the very beginning, with some of the earliest examples imitating compositions derived from paintings of food. For Modernist photographers like Edward Weston, food (usually vegetables or fruit) sometimes stood in for the sensuous human form. By the mid-20th century, advertising images for food often assumed the production values of high fashion.

FEAST Magazine carries on this tradition with cover images and full-color spreads designed to tantalize our senses of taste and smell, and to transport us to the tables of the area’s best regarded chefs and sommeliers, craft brewers and cooks. Each issue is a breathtaking glimpse into the world of food, both the production of it and the presentation, that stimulates the mind and palate. What is perhaps not so obvious is the tireless work behind the scenes, of the food stylists, art directors, and photographers. This exciting collaboration between FEAST and The Dark Room is for you; without your commitment, our pictorial landscape in St. Louis would be devoid of so much color (and taste and aroma).


my youngest and I installing the FEAST Exhibit


20. Carondelet Historical Society for PFSTL


21. Mark, an independent historian, Hi-Pointe neighborhood for PFSTL


22. lovebirds, Compton Heights neighborhood for PFSTL

Also in October, my Mound City Chronicle series was selected for an alumni exhibition at the Contemporary Gallery of St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, and was included on the bus tour for the annual Midwest Regional Conference of the Society for Photographic Education (SPE).  This was an exciting opportunity for me for many reasons, including in that it represented the first time my work has been exhibited outside of PFSTL in several years.

Chronicle::Ferguson was included in an exhibit at The Sheldon Art Galleries, that was a part of a city-wide event organized by COCA.  I arranged for the art from our organization and coordinated with the artists based upon the needs and requests of the exhibitors.

Near the end of October, the Kranzberg Exhibitions Committee met, reviewed submissions, and decided upon a vibrant calendar for 2017, which I am proud of and will be happy to see announced publicly soon.

On November 7th, another musical hero of mine died.  Leonard Cohen’s “poetry set to music” had been a defining feature of my transition into adulthood, and I’m sorry that I never had the chance to see him (or Bowie or Prince) perform in person.  The same day, Donald Trump won the election for President of the United States, underscoring vast, hateful opinions in this country that I knew existed but had been worrying would supplant themselves at the forefront of our leadership, come election day.  These will be troubling years for my kids and for other minorities, not because they face something that hadn’t always been there, but because what threatens them has unprecedented political power at its disposal.


23. Princeton Heights neighborhood for PFSTL


24. owner of Magic Razor, Florissant, Mo for PFSTL

I am very thankful for the opportunities and experiences that I’ve had, and certainly, 2016’s brightest spot was the birth of my son Ellison, whom I cherish and adore, but here’s to hoping that 2017 offers fewer trials and tribulations!



3 Responses

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  1. […] the “My Best of 2016” article, I wrote about the layoff which I experienced early in that year, but I didn’t […]

  2. […] mentioned in my “Best of” post for last year, 2016 pretty much wrecked my life, so it should come as no surprise that 2017 was a year of […]

  3. […] material and livelihood changes for myself and my family. For context, feel free to flip back to 2016’s Best Of post (a year that I lost my job and my purpose) or 2017’s Best Of (a year of transition and […]

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