Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ice Carving

I drove across the wide Missouri River yesterday to the the city of St. Charles. That's starting to get into the outer suburbs (ours go one endlessly), an area I rarely visit. There was an ice carving festival in the old riverside district, something different to shoot. This is an amazing craft: big power tools, all freehand, no do-overs. I liked the power with which the chain saws ripped into the big cold blocks. Got some good stuff that should last a few days.

On a different topic, thanks to my friend Kim of Seattle Daily Photo for pushing me into taking more iPhone photos. It's true: you can get very interesting, Holga-esque images so I tried some yesterday. I started a set for these and a few older ones on Flickr here. Also, I found a wonderful little book of iPhone photography on Amazon, The Best Camera Is The One That's With You. Worth checking out if you are interested in this sort of thing.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Descent To The River

There are a pair of long staircases north and south of the Arch, leading from the bluff on which it stands down to the Mississippi. You can see something of their state of disrepair here, in contrast to the grand and well-maintained stairs directly in front of the monument (illustrated in this old post). Not many people use this approach so, of course, I am attracted to it. It's sort of the derelict (but not necessarily derelicts') approach to the great river.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mean Streets

Most of the graffiti art I've shot in St. Louis has been whimsical, conceptual or sometimes just funny. Type the word "graffiti" in the search field at the upper left of this page and you'll see what I mean. This one, however, is the stuff of nightmares. It's hard to read even without the Lensbaby effect but I think the letters on top of the skull spell out "HATER."

There are some people who are so disturbed, so far removed from society and full of anger, that they become dangerous. I meet them sometimes in my practice and they can be frightening. Imagine the personality of the person who painted this. Then think about the talent that created this powerful design.

For the locals, I found this on the side of a building facing a vacant lot on South 4th Street, on the eastern edge of the Soulard neighborhood. Not a particularly scary area.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday Arch Series

A winter shot with a blast of unexpected color. No idea what the red berries are. My interest and understanding of vegetation mostly concerns how it tastes, maybe due to growing up in the midst of concrete and brick. Anyway, this bit of fire on a cold, gray day got my attention.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Supreme Plumber

Sometimes we all experience photographic brain drain and have to go back to old themes. This is an example. Click here to see where this image first appeared on STL DPB. The building you see in the two-year old photo has been visually spoiled. Someone was going to redevelop it and put up a big sign. The plan crashed with the recession but the sign remains. The painting on the left door has been defaced with graffiti scrawl. Yet this beatific hippy still blesses the White Castle across the street, the one in yesterday's post. The White Castle has been remodeled and there is always a line at the drive-thru. It's a little meditation on the fate of ordinary American cities.

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here, the inscription over the gates of hell in The Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri's fourteenth-century epic poem Divine Comedy. Some people with their noses in the air feel that way about White Castle, a fast food joint in some American metropolitan areas, insisting that it is truly culinary hell. I contend that sliders, as the diminutive, steam-grilled hamburgers are often called, reflect a cultivated taste. They won fame among the international stoner set in the classic film Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. They must permeate your soul, or at least your arterial walls, from childhood to be understood. There was one in the neighborhood in New York City where I grew up. My whole body knows how delicious they are. Therefore, I enter with the expectation of paradise.

By the way, you can calculate which circle of hell to which you will be consigned by taking a simple test. Most White Castle patrons would end up in the Third Circle with the gluttons but your results may vary. Click here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Frozen Bride

"Honey, tell me again, why are getting married in St. Louis in January?"

"Babe, it was Maui or that rock you were begging for. You can't have everything. But look, you got me."

There are certain locations downtown and in Forest Park where you often see wedding parties and their photographers. Of course, down around the Arch is a prime venue. I spotted this couple on a blustery winter day at the foot of my favorite monument. Did she have to do bare shoulders and arms? Not even a white quilted bolero vest? Anyway, I couldn't resist a little sniping with the telephoto.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

That Bridge Again

When I have no ideas for something to shoot I go to the riverfront. New York has the Brooklyn and George Washington Bridges, San Francisco the Golden Gate. They are very grand. The Eads Bridge is not, but it is beautiful, graceful and sturdy. It spans a major league river. The walkway from which I shoot the Mississippi, the Arch and downtown (many examples on this blog) is on the near side. Good enough for me.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

La Esquina del Sabor

Had to go dumpster diving in the archives for today. This was from a warmer time of the year. My Spanish isn't that great but I think this translates as "taste corner." The small restaurant is on Cherokee street in our Little Mexico. After lunch, if the folks back home are a little short, you can visit the shop down the street. Remember, your eleventh transmission is free.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Big Train, Old Bridge, Rich Bank


I don't know which of these two pictures I like better so I posted them both.I lean towards the first one. Depends on what you want to emphasize. They were taken moments apart on the East St. Louis riverfront looking back at Eads Bridge and downtown. IMHO, all this architectural signage that's been sprouting up recently promoting big law firms, banks and whatnot spoils the architecture. You don't see huge corporate logos on the AT&T Building in New York or the Transamerica Building in San Francisco. They are their own signatures.

Absolutely got to get out and shoot some new local material this weekend.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday Arch Series

Half an Arch is better than none. I just like the highlight from the sun in one of the metal segments at the top and the way the monument disappears into the sky to the right of the apex. By the way, that speck in the sky a bit below center is the moon.

There are more new photos in my Death Valley folder on Flickr. Click here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

STL DPB On The Road: The Mesquite Flats Dunes

Many of he iconic images of Death Valley are the Mesquite Flats Dunes. It is an area where the mountain ranges and valleys meet in just a certain way, causing the dust and grit in the air to fall and make these mountains of sand. They are accessable from the road so lots of Lawrence of Arabia wannabes trudge to the top and roll or slide down. Like the person below, for example.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

STL DPB On The Road: Badwater

Badwater, the lowest place in North America, 282 feet or 86 meters below sea level. It was our last stop on our visit to Death Valley. There is a spring bubbling extremely salty water to the surface. A plank walkway runs a short way from the parking lot to the caked salt flats, which seem to run on indefinitely. There's a metaphor here somewhere. And to add another layer, it rained for most of our drive from Furnace Creek to Las Vegas, the rarest occurrence here.

I'm writing this between flights at Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport on our way home. Back to sort of normal tomorrow although I'll probably post Death Valley material for a couple of days (no STL new material on hand). There are lots more good DV shots on my Flickr site here and U "R" Us' here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

STL DPB On The Road: Amargosa Opera House At Death Valley Junction

Death Valley Junction lies just outside the national park. There was a hamlet to care for the needs of the borax workers in the area, who extracted and shipped the area's main mineral product. Like so many of the settlements around here, it withered with changing times.

In 1967, a New York dancer named Marta Becket and her husband drove through on their way to Los Angeles. Their car broke down. Becket fell in love with the remote, wildly beautiful ghost town. There was a small theater. Becket spent six years painting its walls and cieling as you see here, founding the Amargosa Opera House. She created her own show which she famously performed even if there was no one in the audience. I saw her perform in her late 70s. Her pure art and dedication was unmatched. Now 85, she stopped dancing at the Opera House when she could no longer pirouette. A younger dancer, Sandy Scheller, has taken up Becket's cause, performing a show inspired by the murals called If These Walls Could Talk. We saw it Saturday night, in the very middle of nowhere. People who attend these performances never forget them.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

STL DPB On The Road: Rhyolite, Nevada

Rhyolite, Nevada, is a ghost town just outside Death Valley National Park. Gold was discovered in 1904. By 1908 the population swelled to 10,000. The mines ran out and by 1920 only 20 people lived there. Today, no one, but the US Bureau of Land Management preserves it as a historical site. On the south edge of town is the Goldwell Open Air Museum, a bizarre outdoor sculpture park including these ghostly (hah! what a pun) figures. We learned that people stood under sheets of canvas while a type of resin and plaster was poured over them. They remained still for 20 minutes in the desert sun until the sheets began to harden. This group is part of a Last Supper. You can see another photo I took of the whole tableau here.

By the way, for U "R" us' declaration of the theme of the trip, click here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

STL DPB On The Road: Death Valley

.We've come back to this place over and over. Death Valley, the largest US national park, is the perfect place to clear out your head when it's cold back home. It feels desolate and remote but it's quite accessible and, frankly, fairly comfy. There are many side canyons in the mountains flanking the valley floor. Late yesterday afternoon we walked up Golden Canyon, a short drive from where we are staying at Furnace Creek. U "R" Us clambered up a big bolder to take in the scene.

I apologize for not getting up comments to the excellent 'best of the year" photos from yesterday. We've hardly been in the hotel room and the WiFi is weak and unreliable. Comments may have to wait until we get back to civilization. I don't know if that includes Las Vegas or not.

Friday, January 15, 2010

2009 Photo of the Year

Hi from 32,000 feet over west Texas. I think it's so cool that we're starting to get WiFi on airplanes. When this is posted I'll be asleep in Las Vegas, soon to head out into the desert. I've got 30 or 40 pounds of photo equipment in my carry on. I brought the works.

Today's the day we're supposed to show our best picture of 2009. I can't decide - it's one of these two. The first was shot in Lhasa, the second in Kathmandu. One of my photography teachers, someone who I respect greatly, said that the first might be the best picture I've ever made. So take your pick.

Click here to view thumbnails for all participants.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday Arch Series

Shot at about the same time as Monday's post. Cold river and ice flowing downstream on the Mississippi, the weird stuff that comes out of the Missouri River shaped like discs. There was a terrific comment to that post explaining how these things form:
Often, when pondering the amazing amount of ice flowing down the Missouri River at times like these, folks will ask, "I wonder where that ice comes from?", usually imagining that it's being created in a certain place or kind of place then drifts down the river.

From what I gather, most of it is created everywhere in the river. Most of the ice is called frazil (or frazzle) ice. It is formed when small, needle-like ice crystals actually form in or on surface of the water as turbulence in the river causes some of the water to become supercooled, or just below freezing. These then begin to stick together, creating a slush. The current gathers the slush together and the frazil begins to freeze to each other. The tumbling action of the current and of slush blocks hitting each other and rolling off the banks and each other causes these circle "pancake ice" or "frazil pan" to form.

On very cold days, near zero, frazil sculptures can build up on the pans. As pans bump into each other, they may tilt up, then freeze to another pan, creating some of the towering iceberg structures.

On the Missouri, one of the most interesting things to me is how the ice appears white, despite the turbidity of the water.

Another ice formation you might see are large sheets of ice that break out of tributaries or in the eddies along the side of the river. If there is frozen border ice along the river and the river drops or rises dramatically, these sheets will break loose and go on down the river.

I've seen some as large as a row of barges. Awesome.

Here's a link to some basic river ice facts from the Army Corps of Engineers:
Time for a few days out of the cold. Mrs. C and I are meeting up with U "R" Us in Las Vegas tonight and then heading out in the morning to Death Valley. We go there every few years for its wild, remote beauty. It's just 2 hours drive from Las Vegas and there's a very comfortable central village, Furnace Creek. Many pix sure to follow.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Balancing Act

More from Circus Harmony's show at the City Museum. The young women cantilevered from the ring in the top picture are the daughters of the director, Jessica Hentoff (I'm sorry I don't recall their first names. Jessica, send me a note and I'll fix this.) This is the pair in the spotlight from my post on New Years Day. Below, the whole St. Louis Arches troupe lines up for inspection with Abraham Adoka topping the pile.

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series. A cold one.

HEY, BY THE WAY, I keep forgetting to mention that I finally finished the selection and editing of the pix from our trip to Nepal and Tibet last September. I took something like five or six thousand snaps in two and a half weeks and got them culled down to a manageable number. All shot in RAW and buffed up in Photoshop. If you would like to see them, click here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Run Away With The Circus. Stay Home.

Regular readers may recall that I had a post on New Year's Day about our First Night festivities and particularly the troupe of young acrobats known as the St. Louis Arches. A couple of days later, I got an email from Jessica Hentoff, the artistic and executive director of Circus Harmony, the school and performance group that teaches "the art of life through circus education." There's a circus school in St. Louis! Jessica invited me to one of their rehearsals and shows at the wacky City Museum to meet the people and take some shots.

This was some kind of fun. Most of the students are children and teens, although Jessica told me they had a student in her 80s. The big star of the moment is Abraham Adoka of Kenya, an acrobat, fire eater and extreme limbo performer. He will be artist in residence with Circus Harmony until May. So at this time St. Louis is the only place in the country where you can learn African acrobatics. This guy is stunning. There is a feature about him in a local newspaper here.

I'm looking forward to shooting Circus Harmony's performers again. Come back for a few more circus tricks tomorrow.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cold Man River

They say the Mississippi would freeze over here from time to time but I cant find out when that last happened. (Anyone know?) The first lock and dam is not far north of here. I doubt it has happened since that was built. The Missouri River is undamed for a long way upstream but I've never heard of it freezing solid at St. Charles, Jefferson City or Kansas City.

On Saturday I walked out onto Eads Bridge to see how the ice looked. I might have been staring into a giant petri dish. The ice comes downstream in swirling cells, riding the current, rotating individually and combining into primitive, chilly organisms. You have to drive up to the confluence of the great rivers to watch the mix. The Mississippi runs clear south of the lock and dam. The frozen cells come from the Missouri, spinning out into its partner like galaxies into the void. You can see a picture of this happening in an old post here. I have no idea how they form. Scientists, fill us in.

I did get some other shooting done over the weekend. STL DPB is running away with the circus TOMORROW.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


A guest post today from team member ShadowyOne:

Going along with the "snowy statues" theme, Thursday afternoon your guest poster ShadowyOne was at Art Hill in Forest Park, a famous local spot for sledding. The sledding hill is always mobbed after any snowstorm. Though I took plenty of crowd/sledding scenes, every time I go to the Art Museum after it snows, I always find myself attracted to the way the snow collects in the laps of the two seated statues flanking the main entrance.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Eros Congelato

The view from my office window down to Citygarden on a cold, snowy day. Everybody's favorite sculpture, Eros Bendato, is frozen to its plinth. Pertanto, congelato.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pinocchio Masked

We had some snow last night, enough to make the morning commute treacherous. The eastern two-thirds of the US is really in the freezer, with low temperatures in St. Louis for tonight and tomorrow night predicted to be about 0 F. or -18 C. Still, there's a good side to it. This was Citygarden's first complete snow cover since it opened last summer. Pinocchio here exults in it, although with that cold compress on his eyes I wondered if he had a migraine.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thursday Arch Series

I dunno, post-apocalyptic Arch, maybe. Obviously a Lensbaby image. It was shot from the railroad tracks in E. St. Louis, Illinois, across the Mississippi from the monument.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Black Light Cowboy

More of the delightful entertainment from First Night. The was a group of - what should we call them? - black light clowns, cowboys or jugglers. Yippie-ki-oh-i-aye! How would this pair of boots have gone down on the Chisholm Trail?

This was a tough picture to make, stretching the limits of a good camera: ISO 3200, f5, 1/13 sec., hand held. Good enough.

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Flamenco At First Night

Within the last few weeks, one of our CDP colleagues had a post that asked the question: what is the thing in your life that you most regret? At first nothing came to mind. I'm not obsessed by guilt and second guessing. You know, like the Little Sparrow singing Non, je ne regrette rien. But then I remembered something. Late one evening after dinner in Madrid, my wife and I crossed the Plaza Mayor heading for the Metro. As we left by the north gate, we passed a bar or club with doors flung open and the most intense, passionate flamenco music pouring out. Should we go in, order a drink, watch the show, soak it up? Well...I don't know if they'd want us and it's all locals and it's crowded and it's getting late and for heaven's sake they all speak Spanish and... So we didn't go in. I regret that. The place was so obviously hot - and genuine. What an idjit. What an experience I missed.

I like a lot of Hispanic music forms such as tango, salsa, meringue and flamenco. They have a combination of passion and sophistication hard to match in the north. One of the First Night performances was by Los Flamencos, a local group who practice the pure form of the art. All red and black, swirls and stomps over a strong but supple guitar. It was hot. Glad we stayed.

Monday, January 4, 2010


We interrupt the last interruption of our First Night coverage because this is too good to pass up.

The St. Louis Art Museum has had a show about Japanese screens, produced with the Chicago Art Institute. We've been wanting to see it and since yesterday was closing day it was, uh, time to get over there. My wife and I entered the museum by a back door near the parking lot and walked by a little cafe run by the Wolfgang Puck outfit - and I stopped dead in my tracks.

Who and what was ordering coffee (and not ocha)? I had to have a picture but what should I say, excuse me or sumimasen? Well, the ladies are members of Kimonosan of St. Louis, which provides geisha and maiko themed entertainment. A maiko is a geisha in training. Their April group show in Kyoto is renowned. These American geishas were attending the last day of the exhibition. Gee, we could have a tea ceremony right in our home, except my Western legs can't sit crossed on the floor for more than a couple of minutes.

They bowed and said arigato after I took several photos. Well, domo arigato to them. And one moral of the story: never walk out the door without your camera.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What Is This Thing?

I've never seen anything like it in my life. While I was shooting the New Year's Day water skiing in the Mississippi, a man walked onto the little floating dock with what looked like a hovercraft weed whacker. It had a seat, a single ski and a shaft that ran down from it to an airfoil cum scythe. What?

The rider or skiier or whatever you call him dropped into shallow water, grabbed the tow rope from a speedboat and rose up into the air, as below. The structure you see at the upper left, above, was clearly acting like an airplane wing but in the water, elevating the rider. How could it be stable? Then the rider sent it soaring and flipping, like an aerobatics plane.

The gizmo is a Sky Ski. Being someone without a drop of athletic talent, I was dumbstruck (although my right index finger stayed loose). Anybody ever ridden one? If the rider sees this post, please send me an email. I'd like to give you credit.

AFTERNOON UPDATE: I was glad to receive an email from our aqua-aerobat here. Jim Woodson writes that he and his wife "s
ki on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers pretty much every weekend (unless we are out of town skiing). Once you learn how to ride one of these toys...e skis, wakeboards, kneeboards, etc. get pushed to the back of the garage never to be ridden again. It's a whole lot of fun and VERY addicting." He suggests that anyone in this part of the country interested in giving it a try contact these people. Jim is going to get in touch this summer and we'll do a Sky Ski shoot out on the river. Sounds like fun.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Crazy, For A Cause

We interrupt our coverage of First Night in St. Louis for the following news bulletin:

New Year's Day was cold but not bitterly so. Somebody told me the water temperature in the Mississippi was about 35 F. or 2 C. As they do on this day every year, a group of hardy or foolhardy water skiiers plunge into the icy river, all for the benefit of the Missouri Disabled Water Ski Association. It looked like it could cause heart arrest, or at least be very, very uncomfortable. Yet there were a lot of participants, some wearing top to toe wet suits and others with bare arms, legs and feet. The announcer asked if any of the spectators would like a lesson. Pas moi. If you're interested, there's a really good explanation of the purpose of the event here.

a skier and ski - uh - device not to be believed.

Friday, January 1, 2010

First Night

Like a number of other American cities, St. Louis has a First Night celebration, an all ages, alcohol-free New Year's Eve party with entertainment up and down the Grand Center arts and entertainment district. Mrs. C and I went early and caught some really good acts. Got some good shots, too, which should last me awhile. Except today is the annual New Year's Day water skiing in the Mississippi event, which is a photographer's don't miss. Anyway, this group of very young local acrobats who call themselves the St. Louis Arches played in the auditorium of the old grandiose Scottish Rite Masonic temple. Pretty cool all around.

And Happy New Year to all from STL.