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

Mound City Chronicle

STL250 Celebration, from the roof of Saint Louis Art Museum, 2014.

Since moving back to St. Louis (my birthplace) in 2009, my creative focus has been the city itself. I photographed to reorient myself with a place I’d lost familiarity with in an effort to find myself somewhere within it. Over time, this exploration matured into a cohesive body of work that is a testament to this search, but also a chronicle of the forces of change that are ever present in St. Louis–a process exuded by human inhabitants of the region for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

With this process in mind, of emergence and evanescence, Mound City Chronicle was born.


Artist Statement:

Having grown up in the Midwest, rivers have left an indelible impression in my memories that I am both attracted to and repelled by. Rivers are places of recreation as equally as they are places of destruction; they are untamable at the same time as they are knowable and familiar.    

When I was about ten years old, my father drove a company vehicle into one, along with the family. It was dark outside, and I remember glancing through the windshield as the car began descending a hill and the headlights became suddenly engulfed by a murky, impenetrable fog—though it was no fog. It had been raining all afternoon, and a small river had overcome its banks to overtake the rural backroad we were traveling upon. The car seemingly glid across the water for a few moments with an imposing “whoosh”, until it lost its trajectory. Outside of my window, the water (impossibly dark) sloshed against the door of the vehicle just below the glass. The river entered the car through the base of the door, reminiscent of a pool being emptied by collapsing one wall. I raised my legs onto the seat and sat cross-legged. In an instant that felt like minutes, I watched my action figures swirl in violent circles as the floorboard quickly filled. My father made the decision that we’d all climb out his open window, which we did. My mother carried my younger brother and I rode upon my father’s shoulders as we navigated slowly back up the hill and out of the black water. We found a farmhouse along the road, and my mother, brother and I waited in the kitchen with the farmer’s wife, while my father and the farmer went back to retrieve the vehicle. The farmer said that if we had climbed out my mother’s window, near the side of the road, a drop-off there would have made the water over all of our heads. At home the next day, I went out into our driveway to watch my father inspect the vehicle. Sitting again in my seat from the previous evening, I noticed that the door-handle (a small impression made into a rubbery arm rest) was still full of water. We had managed to escape from the river and had captured a small part of it at the same time. Thinking back now, it had captured something from us as well. 

Nearly 1000 years ago, an aboriginal culture, known now as the Mississippians, constructed a vast network of mound-like structures as part of a city complex that was larger than any other community at the time north of modern day Mexico. The mound builders’ trade network was vast, stretching all the way from the Great Lakes to the sea. One speculation (the Midwest is full of them) was that they were constructed to escape periodic flooding—this is untrue (colonial thinking), though it captured my imagination at thirteen while driving over the Mississippi River into St. Louis during the Great Flood of 1993. All of this modernity, and we still had not overcome the oldest problems faced.

Today, almost all of the mounds of “Mound City”, as St. Louis was once known, are gone. Erased for nothing so significant. This process of removing and replacing, and of what is removed and what is replaced, is something that I am very interested in and have focused on telling for the last decade—even, or perhaps especially, when that story is merely a trace, like the water in the car door handle after the flood. 

This is why Mound City Chronicle is more than a series of images of St. Louis. It is testament to a path made through the city at this moment; a path meant to investigate my place and my impact here, and the history of those things (like the river, cultural forces claim, carve away and redefine). The photographs tell the story of a journey that includes lost-and-found subterranean lakes and caves, sites removed from public view (due to security, secrecy or both), neighborhoods with buildings crumbling in ruin or of stately grace, and the people encountered, vibrant and varied. I am very much in the photographs too. Mound City Chronicle is post documentary work, perpetuated by my own decision making of where to point and when to click—a journey with no clear destination and many side roads. It is not a usual telling. This is important. For just as the aboriginal mounds of “Mound City” are all but gone, so will be many of the places and people photographed. Like a dream, only their impressions will remain.



The people that I have met have been an extraordinary influence on the trajectory of the work. They provide actors for the plays suggested in the landscape images and interior environments. They also provide valuable contextual layers. Everything else depicted in the series is done so from my point of view, but the portraits are as much a reflection back at me as they are an image of the sitter. My style of portraiture is direct and first impressions-oriented. The images are fueled by the subjects’ reactions to my presence. In each of these images, the subject is seeing me and responding to that which they see.

In 2012, my desire to see and know the whole city grew into founding an organization dedicated to photographing it, neighborhood by neighborhood. Today, Photo Flood Saint Louis includes more than 600 members, and we have indeed walked through all seventy-nine neighborhoods. Through the organization, I’ve negotiated partnerships and have been provided with opportunities that would not have existed otherwise. For instance, the first image in this article was shot as part of the group’s media sponsorship of the city’s 250th anniversary celebration.

In 2015, I started working with a local historian and writer, on photographs of some of the city’s private and forgotten recesses for a local media outlet. Together, through the organization and the freelance work, I’ve been afforded with a truly unprecedented and idiosyncratic access to St. Louis over this period of time.



St. Louis is an old and unusual city. For much of the 19th Century, it was an industrial juggernaut with few rivals anywhere in the world. All of this industry was built in a region famous for its karst topography, which just means that there are secret layers, sometimes just below your feet. Unfortunately, the 20th Century was just as cruel to the city as the 19th was prosperous. St. Louis lost more than 60% of its population, and likely even more of its industry. The factors for this are myriad, but include racism, greed and vanity. The legacies if these things, both those good and bad, exist everywhere throughout the community–sometimes hidden, sometimes in plain view.

Over the years, I’ve gained a lot of insight into what St. Louis “means”; into who lives there and why.



Perhaps the land in St. Louis (and how people have shaped it and interacted with it) offers the best potential for storytelling. After all, so much can be inferred about the past and the present simply from walking upon it or through it–past its neighborhoods, buildings and structures. I’ve attempted to photograph from a space honoring this potential; to allow my photographs to become vehicles for what the land communicates. In a way, these generally empty places provide a relief or backdrop for the lives lived within them. The photographs are like stage sets awaiting some unknown cast to act upon them, or possibly, in some of them, the stage just after the play has occurred (behaving as memorials or markers of the past).


One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] Fall of 2022, my first monographic photobook was published through Vedere Press in Indianapolis. Mound City Chronicle, a current exhibition series and the subject of my book, has been both a labor of love and a voyage […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: