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

My Best of 2017 (part one)

1. former JC Penny Building in Wells Goodfellow for Photo Flood Saint Louis (PFSTL)

As 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 contemplation, reassessment and rebuilding. As 2018 dawns, I am concluding or have concluded several projects, some positive/some negative, some personal/some public, and am ready to welcome the start of what’s next. Enjoy this numbered list of my favorite images from last year, with some anecdotes sprinkled in between (this is a two-parter for the first time; look for the second one later in the month).

installation view of “Daniel Shular: Camp Pain”

At the beginning of 2017, a lot of my world was in transition.  My contribution to the book project “Chronicle::Ferguson” ended with a panel of judges, including myself, Lynden Steele (Photo Director at St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Jen Everett (artist/activist), and Deanna Michelle (2016 Katherine Dunham Fellow at RAC), that selected nearly 200 images from those hundreds submitted for the final publication. In addition, I turned over a 17,000-word curriculum, the result of several months’ work and a companion to the book. Working on this project tested my resolve and stretched several friendships to the max. I gave more of myself to it than I should have, gave up more of my resources than I should have, and still the project deserved more. That said, if it ever comes to print, and makes even a fraction of the impact that it was originally thought to, all the sacrifices will have been worth it.

Also at the beginning of 2017, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation (KAF) announced its purchase and renovation of the Grandel Building (a historic former church). As a result, the venue where I have been curating since 2015, The Dark Room, was to relocate to this building, and into a much larger, better designed space. When I joined The Dark Room, my role was to build a presence for it in the community by outlining a vision for what one could expect to see on the walls during any given visit, and to program that vision with exciting, cutting edge, local photographic art. I did this by focusing on individual artists’ work in series form. When the space moved, I was again presented with this challenge, and I am very proud of how I’ve met that challenge this last year with the exhibitions you’ll see featured throughout parts one and two of this post.

In the previous year, I took part on an Exhibition Committee at KAF to select this year’s exhibitions for its flagship art gallery, and this experience led me to conclude that perhaps The Dark Room could better represent the community-focused mission of its managing entity.  I began discussing with the Foundation’s Executive Director about the possibility of converting my role into a curator residency program that would renew each year with a different curator at its helm. Beginning in 2018, the first resident curator will be Gina Grafos, who will take what I have already outlined for the program and flesh it out in real time.  This is a somewhat sad end to what has been a passion project for me over the last three years (and 14 exhibitions!), but I am excited about what potential lies ahead for it.

The last exhibit in the old Dark Room space was “Daniel Shular: Camp Pain” (pictured above); my curator’s statement is below:

Camp Pain, how else to describe this most recent election cycle? In 2016, the hurt moved in early and stayed for the long haul. Registered across real and virtual life in America, Camp Pain featured very little of the coming together behind a candidate that we are used to, while simultaneously promoting divisiveness, scandal and generally offensive rhetoric. This curator’s statement is being written just days before the national election, so I guess it is possible that Camp Pain lives on as you read this- perhaps it is even probable that it does.

On the surface, the major 2016 Presidential Campaign issues are government spending and the economy, foreign relations (ie. terrorism and immigration), citizen healthcare and criminal justice, but didn’t it often seem like these key issues were just thinly veiled memes for greed, prejudice, corruption or other social evils? It appears that no matter who wins, the political apparatus has suffered. Whether or not this is a good or a bad outcome is a question to ask yourself.

This is the first post-Ferguson election, and though much work remains to combat racial inequality, it would seem that considerable progress has been made in raising awareness for persisting civil rights issues, and that those who have awakened are willing to take their message to the streets and hold their politicians accountable. Of course, this just means that those who perpetuate the “old ways” are equally willing to espouse and deliver their views, and are suddenly unabashed at expressing them as loudly and publicly as possible. Because of this, the major fight for President this year was largely not from behind the podium as usual, but from outside the stadium, on the streets, amid clashing protestation chants and political signage.

On the streets is where we find independent photojournalist, Daniel Shular’s camera pointed during this election year. Beginning in April, Shular followed campaign events for all of the major candidates: starting with their rallies in Southern California and the Midwest, then on to the National Conventions for Republicans and Democrats in Cleveland and Philadelphia, respectively, and the Presidential Debate held at Washington University. To gather all of this content, Mr. Shular (who has been published by NBC News, Daily Mail, Fox News, Al Jazeera, and others) crashed on friends’ couches, stayed in some questionable hotels, and even slept in his car, all while staving off the flu, gathering security clearances, overcoming financial struggles, and observing colleagues injured during some especially aggressive confrontations between protesters.

 

2. Gravois Park for PFSTL

 

3. Dutchtown

4. The Grandel theatre under construction for PFSTL

The Dark Room under construction

installation view of “Donald McKenna: The Theatre of Buildings”

 

The first exhibition in the new Dark Room space was by mid-career artist, Don McKenna, and was an exciting opportunity for me to display the work of someone who I’ve wanted to show for some time.  My curator’s statement is below:

Among the plastic arts, photography offers the greatest possibilities, which is to say that it employs many interactions (that of the artist to the work, the viewer to the work, the subject to the work, etc.). While most photographs seek to capture a height of action, some images rely on allusion; however, in order for those to work, the viewer needs to be familiar enough with the subject to grasp the connection. Of course, there are some representations of human experience that are universal, or at least nearly so. It is in this space that Don McKenna’s work sits.

Through four decades, Mr. McKenna has pursued the “narrative possibilities of a place or thing”. He accomplishes this in a number of ways. First, he uses a 4×5 film camera that slows his process down. The large format film makes him more contemplative of what he encounters and makes his compositions more considered. The deliberate action of taking pictures means that his viewing is less tethered to the mechanical aspects of the camera and more harmonized to the process of engaging visually and emotionally with a place. Second, he is sensitive to the theatre of buildings, or to put it another way, the fact that a building is a stage where human actors perform the drama of their lives. He looks for the traces of these lives lived, which in his photographs reverberate a familiar quality that the viewer can always recognize, if not always summarize. Very simply, McKenna’s photographs present the stage after the performance has ended in a way that echoes, alludes to or commemorates what has occurred there.

Famed photography critic and theorist Gerry Badger calls this style “quiet photographs”, and classifies photographers like Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld in the category.

5. Klondike Park

6. my son, Harper at Klondike Park

7. Vandeventer for PFSTL

You loyal readers may recall my previous work on the former Cherokee Brewery cellars (now owned by Earthbound Beer) for St. Louis Magazine. In March of 2017, I was invited back to further document the bottommost cellars, which the Brewery had successfully drained.  On went the waders and into the muck I slopped for what are probably my favorite images of these beautiful subterranean features.

8. Earthbound Beer for St. Louis Magazine

9. Earthbound Beer for St. Louis Magazine

The crew at Earthbound were fearless for taking on this massive restoration project, and have worked to exhaustion on seeing it come to life.  Happily, in September, the new location (above ground) was open for business, and the lines have been long.

opening night, Earthbound Beer

10. Monica

11. restoration of St. Louis Statue on Art Hill for St. Louis Magazine

Late in 2016, my wife and I began the planning and hard work to open a retail shop in St. Louis. I am proud to report that we are on track to open in the Spring of 2018, and our store, called KAMP, will cater to the explorer in everyone.  Stay tuned for more information on this soon!

12. KAMP promotional image

 

13. my boys on Ellison’s Adoption Finalization Day

14. Visitation Park for PFSTL

15. the demise of the Pevely Dairy building by SLU

installation view of “Jeannie Liautaud: The Grandparents Project”

In May, I had the opportunity to put on view an inspired, personal project by an exciting, young photographer.  My curator’s statement is below:

Photography is exploration.  We make images to preserve our discoveries in new territories, whether physical, intellectual, or psychological.  The very first images, because of the length of their exposures, were explorations into time and the passage of it, while the most common pictures made today, those we post to social media, are journeys of self-discovery and self-celebration.  In this way, photography is also an investigation; the still images that we leave behind us, whether electronic or in print, offer distinct evidence about who we are for those seeking to learn who we were.

For artist Jeannie Liautaud, the subject for her photographic series The Grandparents Project came about through a personal exploration into the essence of her own grandmother, who passed away in 2013. Liautaud had made images of her, but wanted to honor her memory further.  She wanted to create a testament to what it means to age and still be vital; to grow old but to remain steadfastly kind, amiable and tenacious.

Noted author and photographer Eudora Welty once wrote, “My continuing passion, would be not to point the finger in judgment but to part the curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.”  This seems akin to what Liautaud has said of her own work, “The portraits aren’t meant to be revelatory, they’re meant to be sincere.” Indeed they are. Jeannie began the series to look for the glimmer of the grandmother that she knew and loved in others like her, but what she found is heartfelt and relatable to us all: a grouping of elderly men and women, all sharing the commonality of being grandparents, yet each unique and vibrant in their own way.

16. Katherine

17. Alton, Illinois

18. Saint Louis Art Museum (click an image to open gallery)

One of the great things about spending the last (almost) two years at SLAM as a Gallery Attendant is that it has allowed me to expand upon the series, “Museum and the Forest” that I started waaaay back in 2009. The ability to carry a smartphone everywhere I go made getting many of these images possible, and I hope show the Museum as a cultural microcosm in itself. Cheating a bit and naming all 11 of these as “one” of my best of 2017.

 

19. Harper on a hike at Don Robinson State Park

 

Harper’s first ever trip to the City Museum

 

 

 

 

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  1. […] For the first time, I have divided the annual summary of a year my photo life into two parts.  Check out the first part here. […]

  2. […] For instance, in the pie chart above (based upon the images I selected for My Best of 2017 posts 1 and 2), I know that I leave the bigger, heavier cameras at home at least 25% of the time (or at the […]


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