Monday, March 31, 2008

Baseball Opening Day

Today is opening day of the St. Louis Cardinals season. I do like baseball. It's the only sport I follow. It can seem both bewilderingly complex and slow to the uninitiated but we devotees love it for its chess-like intellectual strategies coupled with bursts of superb athleticism. On the other hand, the ever-growing role of money in every aspect of the sport can sour the experience. Nevertheless, ShadowyOne and I will be there, cameras in hand, to document the crowd and action.

The back of new Busch Stadium bumps up against an elevated highway and a railroad trestle coming off a bridge over the river. This picture can play a little figure-ground trick with your eye. The hopper cars are not supporting a display of the team's past achievements but are a few dozen meters in front of the stadium wall.

EARLY EVENING UPDATE: Well, the storms rolled in and they called the game with the Cardinals leading 5 - 1 in the bottom of the third. The Rockies and Cardinals will try it again tomorrow night. Plenty of good pix today, though.

TOMORROW: Monthly Theme Day - Water (and April Fool!)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ballpark Villiage

Baseball season opens tomorrow!

I mentioned Ballpark Village in yesterday's post. Ballpark Rubble Dump is more like it. When the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team put its vacuum pumps into the coffers of the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the State of Missouri to build Busch Stadium III (motto: Make Baseball Safe For the Wealthy), they promised to develop several acres where Busch Stadium II once stood. There was to be a mix of restaurants, entertainment venues, retail, office space and condos. This picture of the site was taken yesterday, two years after the new stadium opened.
The baseball All Star Game will be played in St. Louis in July, 2009. Imagine the reaction of the media when they see our city's beautiful pit.

It's corporate smoke and mirrors, con game and BS. The Cardinals appointed The Cordish Companies as principal developer. Although Cordish has had successful projects elsewhere, not a damn thing has happened here. Last September, a good sized company in the suburbs announced that it would build a new headquarters in Ballpark Village. The dream was resurrected. Last week the deal was canceled. Ballpark Village could not accommodate its needs.

A personal note. In July 1966, young Strangetastes was sitting in his family's apartment in Queens, watching the baseball All Star Game from beautiful new Busch Stadium II in St. Louis. He didn't have a clear idea of where St. Louis actually was. It was a broiling summer day. The playing field was below street level, the circular design cut off all outside air flow and the surface was Astroturf. It was 105 F - 41 C on the field. Casey Stengel, the screwball-sage manager of the New York Yankees and Mets was being interviewed. A reporter asked, "Professor" (that's what people called him), "what do you think about this new stadium in St.Louis?" Casey thought a moment and replied, "Well, I'll tell ya, young fella, it sure seems to hold the heat real good." Little did I know...

TOMORRWOW: National League Champions

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bottle District

No, it's not an area packed with bars, although there was an effort to create that. A giant bottle of Vess soda shares the skyline with the Arch in St. Louis' erstwhile Bottle District. Vess, whose slogan is "The Billion Bubble Beverage," was a very popular regional soft drink company. It's still around on a reduced scale. Developers wanted to create a mixed dining, entertainment, hotel and residential district around this great monument to sweet fizzy water. This Wikipedia piece says it was supposed to get going in 2005. The area's current web site (at least someone is paying for a web site!) says things are opening up this summer. When I walked around the area a few weeks ago, there was nothing shaking at all. It's all a matter of money. I don't see how this medium-sized city could dupport it and other projects downtown. Sometime soon I'll feature the swampy pit that was supposed to become the glittering Ballpark Village next to the new Busch Stadium.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Missouri Gospel Announcers Guild

Taken in a desolate block of North Broadway. What do they mean, gospel announcers? I thought that's what preachers do. But the logo has a picture of a phonograph record and a microphone. Was this about gospel radio stations? How is it there are, or were, so many of them here in modest Missouri that they needed to organize? Why would gospel announcers feel the need to organize?

The building looked vacant to me but it turns out they are still very much in business. The letters GMWA puzzled me until My Friend Google told me that it stands for Gospel Music Workshop of America. So amen, brother.

TOMORROW: Crawl Into A Bottle

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thursday Arch Series (Damp Division)

The Mississippi came within a few inches or centemeters of official flood stage last weekend. The surface in the right center of the picture is Wharf Street, the first city street off the river. Under the normal conditions, the river is maybe 5 or 6 meters lower. There is a long cobblestone levee that's now under water, which usually provides parking for several rows of cars.

The official name of the street these days is Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard. She was a congresswoman from the area some years ago. It's not such a great honor. Would you like a street named after you known to be covered
periodically with muddy sludge? I'll bet you a ride on a riverboat that if you walked around the Arch and asked ten random people who Lenore K. Sullivan was, you would get a correct answer something approaching, oh, zero percent of the time. You know, unless the mayor happened to be there or something. The official name of the Arch and surrounding park is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Visitors, what does that mean? There will be a quiz before we let you off the tram from the top of the Arch.

TOMORROW: Gospel Announcers

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Land's End

More from Valley Park last weekend. I chose the top picture just because I like the color and graphic quality. Below, a Missouri Highway Department employee works on the sandbagging crew along I 44. The bottom picture is lands end, the point on State Highway 141 where you could go no further.

Several commenters expressed concern for our area and for my home, for which I thank you. The photos are dramatic but the flood affected only a very small portion of the metropolitan area. We are partly surrounded by two huge rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi. They came close but did not spill over. Although hardly a creek, the Meramac is a much smaller river in the southwest and southern suburbs, flowing into the Mississippi. Only the low lying areas along this river that were not protected by a levee had problems. These pictures were all taken last Saturday afternoon. By Monday morning rush hour, the water had dropped greatly and Highway 141 was open again. Even the traffic lights were working. Good photography subject, though.

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series (Damp Division)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

High Water

This is the scene in the suburb of Valley Park, just about at the crest of the flood. There were lots of gawkers and picture-takers but nearly as many television news crews. In the middle background above is I 44, built up on a wide berm. The flood barely missed inundating it. The state highway department expected to close the only major highway to the southwest but the water didn't quite get that high. They lined the outer lanes of the road with interlocking concrete blocks, covered them with huge plastic sheets and weighed those down with sandbags.

TOMORROW: Land's End

Monday, March 24, 2008

Meriwether Lewis Goes Under

Our area is surrounded by rivers and this weekend the rivers were pretty darnn high. It's been in our national news, like this article from the New York Times. The picture in the Times article is in the suburb of Valley Park, along the Meramec River, a tributary of the Mississippi. My photos of that area will follow shortly. The Mississippi itself was on the cusp of flood level on Saturday. Downtown, just below Eads Bridge, is a statue of Lewis and Clark landing in St. Louis. This is how it looks at normal river level. As you can see, if this version of Meriwether Lewis were not made of bronze, the expedition would have gone no further. Nebraskans might yet be speaking French to their corn stalks.

TOMORROW: High water in Valley Park

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Parade

St. Louis' Central West End neighborhood had its first annual Easter Parade Saturday. The parade and crowd were small but full of enthusiasm despite the gray, chilly morning. Above, evidence that Ronald McDonald has given up meat and become a Buddhist monk, as he goes about begging his sustenance.

Below: Easter Bunny, Fredbird, Ronald McDonald and an itinerant juggling giant hang out in the staging area; the final float turns the corner of Euclid and Maryland; a group of school children are dressed duckishly.

There were a number of good images at the parade so I started a set of them on Flickr here.

TOMORROW: Most of you in the US have heard about the floods in the St. Louis area. A series of photos starts Monday.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

STL CDPB's First Anniversary - My Very Best Photos

Whew! A year of photographs. 366, actually, since it's leap year. I've been thinking about what to do to mark the occasion. No time to assemble something witty. One possibility would have been to pick my favorite photo from twelve months of work and use that today. But this is about photography, something I love, so I decided to post a set of what I think is my best work, shot on a marvelous trip to Thailand two years ago. The picture immediately below is the best image I've ever made, IMHO. It is a hair salon in Chang Mai, at the back of a local market, a piece of real Thai life. It's easier to see the detail if you click the picture to enlarge it.

The picture above is eye-catching for the portal, a Buddhist monk reading the paper in a temple in Chaing Mai. The second photo below was shot at dawn on the Chao Phraya River in a rural area north of Bangkok. The last is a boy from a remote tribe that was
forcibly resettled by the government to a village outside of Chaing Rai. These pictures are my best stuff.

Thanks to the 25,000 visitors from 120 counties in this short time. Thanks, too, to my children, U "R" Us and ShadowyOne, both good photographers, who have covered the blog when I was away. Thanks to NYC's Ming for beautiful photos of the neighborhood where I grew up, Shanghai's Jing for being tour guide and dinner hostess in her exciting city, Minneapolis' Mitch for so much good technical advice and Cleveland's iBlowfish for his pure aesthetics. And so many others I can't count them all.

Gotta go get to work on the next batch of pix. There will be lots more from my home, St Louis, and some interesting places around the US and the world, starting with Puerto Rico next month. And in October a big photo op (hint: where does Bob Seger really want to go if he ever gets out of here?).

So stop by.

TOMORROW: Easter Parade

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Agonizing Wait

A necessary evil at any public event. I think the man at the front of the line has been waiting a long time, has consumed too much green beer and is about to explode or lose all hope. By my my count, there are 15 people in line. Let's hope they all have strong pelvic muscles.

Below: faces in the crowd at the parade.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thursday Arch Series (With Some Other Stuff)

When the wind blew, the flag in yesterday's post twisted around the cable holding it up. The flag was nearly translucent and my eye was caught by the weave of the red and white stripes with one another.

This photo looks east down Market Street. The Arch dominates everything in our city center. It is our friendly, elegant giant, standing by the great river, always ready to entertain us.

Unrelated product plug: this week's posts have been prepared on my new MacBook, the best computer I have ever used, period. My office and family have used Windows since way back when. I got my first Mac for my personal work almost two years ago. Switching from Windows to Mac reminds me of the old joke: "Why do you keep banging you head against the wall?" "Because it feels so good when I stop." My head doesn't hurt any more.

TOMORROW: The Agonizing Wait

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Patriotism on Market

It seems like major public events in St. Louis must be attended by a pair for fire department crane trucks holding a huge flag over the street. The top picture is looking southwest at the intersection of Market Street and Tucker Boulevard, a major downtown crossing. The St. Patrick's parade marched underneath the display. The second pic is straight west on Market toward the parade starting point.

The big building in the foreground is City Hall. Its design is said to be loosely based on Paris' Hôtel de Ville. (Your opinion, notre amis Francais?) Well, maybe kinda sorta. Actually, I prefer our building's honey and rose stone to Paris' plain gray granite. I was very lucky with the light on this shot, bringing out the building's color and making the flag glow.

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series (with some other stuff)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

COPS - In St. Louis

No doubts about where you are or who they are. If you are driving through St. Louis and you see one of these with flashing red and blue lights pulling up behind you, you better pull over 'cause you are busted.

These gentlemen were doing the rolling thunder thing in the St. Patrick's Day parade. Some parade watchers, seated near me on the court house steps, appreciated the review.

TOMORROW: Patriotism on Market

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day: Corned Beef, Cabbage, Guiness and Gratuitous Cuteness

More from Saturday's St. Patrick's day parade. It had it all, from Humvees with machine gun mounts to fuzzy puppies. Who can resist? No one, not even me. Think about what it will do to my hit count today.

As I mentioned, I spent yesterday at a photography seminar with Frans Lanting. He and several collaborators have developed an amazing interactive web site about the history of life itself, illustrated with his superb images. Check out


Sunday, March 16, 2008

St. Louis, St. Patrick - What's the Diff?

Well, for one thing, French and Irish accents are very different. One drinks wine, the other Guinness. But in this town, everyone drinks Budweiser.

Me and my telephoto lens found a good spot on the steps of a court house along the parade route. There were lots of good images and I'd like to post a set of them but there's too much on the schedule. Ordinarily, I'd finish this post on Sunday morning but I have something special to do. Every March, the St. Louis Camera Club hosts a full day seminar with a famous photographer. This year it is the otherworldly nature photographer, Frans Lanting, and that's where I'm spending my day. Might add something to this post Sunday evening.

TOMORROW: For St. Patrick's Day proper, the return of Gratuitous Cuteness.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Moolah, Part 2 (With Saturday Evening Supplement)

Saturday evening update: I went down to our big St. Patrick's Day parade downtown today. Got tons of good shots, which will keep me busy for a while. But, lo and behold, I ran across one of them Moolah Shriners I've been talking about yesterday and today. They entertain at public events, often dressed as clowns. I don't think the tint of his nose had anything to do with Jamieson's. Come back tomorrow for more parade fun.

Here's what I had on my mind at the start of the day:

This is the facade of the Moolah Temple, now a cinema, over the main entrance. The word Moolah is odd in itself. It is old American slang for money. The Urban Dictionary says that the word also refers to a cow's teats.

The style and iconography is all mixed up but kind of fun. The brick and tile circle in the bottom center resembles a rosette window in a European cathedral. The geometric designs to its sides are typical of beautiful Muslim tilework in buildings such as the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, although this is much less complex and the use of brick detracts from the luster. The device between the words is wacky. It's got a crescent moon, which is a symbol of Islam (but also New Orleans, the Crescent City). It has a scimitar, a sword from throughout Middle East and South Asia, and a very European man's face in an ancient Egyptian headdress. I supposed it all looked generally exotic to the members.

TOMORROW: Shamrocks and combat boots.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Moolah, Part 1

Lindell Boulevard runs east-west through the center of the city, from St. Louis University, past the Central West End, then along the whole north side of Forest Park to Washington University. The eastern part has three ornate Masonic temples. One, the Moolah, has been converted to a cool movie theater and bowling alley. It's an unusual venue. The balcony has typical theater seating but the orchestra floor is covered with plush sofas and cocktail tables. It has full bar service. Not a bad way to go to the cinema.

The graphics here are based on the Moolah group of Shriners, a branch of Freemasonry. I wrote about this in an earlier post. They go in for psuedo ancient Egyptian or Arab themes but they wear fezzes, which are Turkish. Whatever pleases them. The Shriners are still around but have moved to the suburbs. They left some snazzy architecture in the hood, more about which tomorrow.

TOMORROW: More Moolah

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thursday Arch Series

This young man and a couple of friends were on the street below the Arch, taking pictures of one another in front of the monument. I wandered by with all my gear hanging off me and offered a suggestion for framing the shots better. Since all my gizmos are like the Official Photographer Badge, they were interested in discussing this and liked the results they got. They were really fun to talk to. This is one of the little tricks. If possible, don't just walk up to someone and ask if you can take their picture (you do ask permission, don't you?). Engage people in conversation about themselves. Never talk about yourself. Things warm up and you get friendly. Only at this point do you say something like, "Gee, that looks really cool. Would it be ok if I took your picture?"

You get permission a very high percentage of the time. I chatted up John from Tuesday's post by asking about his horse, then his job. I asked about his colleague I photographed last summer and we talked about her illness. By then we were very friendly and taking the picture was no problem.

By the way, I've found it very handy to carry photographer mini-cards from You have an assortment of your photos on one side and up to six lines of text on the other. I have my name, email address and URLs for the blog, my Flickr page and my dormant web site. I always tell people that if they email me I will send them a copy of their picture. They love that.

The guy in this picture, his friends and I had a good time together. After we were done it was handshakes all around. Like I said Tuesday, there are ways to do it. Really helps to take a class with someone experienced in approaching people in public for photos.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Rest of the Wedding Party

Well, it looks like there was no open bar on the photo bus of yesterday's bride and groom and their attendants. Otherwise, they would never make it down the long concrete stairs (equivalent to about three stories) that lead from the base of the Arch to the levee along the river. I like the way the setting sun catches the lime-colored jackets of some of the bridesmaids. And no, Mr. Blackwell did not design their outfits. They were quite elegant in bright green and black, a daring color choice.

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series. The whole big thing, not just a little bit of it. And with something interesting in the middle.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Happy, Freezing Couple

Would it amuse you to photograph the wedding parties of complete strangers? There are places around St. Louis you can do that on almost any Saturday: in front of the cathedral, several locations in Forest Park and, of course, around the Arch. I run into them all the time, schlepping around on small buses from one scenic backdrop to another, in varying states of happiness and inebriation. (The bar is frequently open on the bus. I have seen more than one bridesmaid swoon, and not from joy.) It's fun in a perverse way to stand back and be catty - oh my gawd, did they hire Mr. Blackwell to do the bridesmaids' dresses? Can the best man stand up long enough to get back to the bus? and so on.

This couple, standing at the foot of the Arch, must be dedicated to love and imagery. The temperature was right at freezing. The bride might collapse from hypothermia before the ceremony.

TOMORROW: same deal as today. A bit of the Arch is in it but it's still not the Thursday Arch Series. You will just have to come back on Thursday for that. It'll be worth it. Promise.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Man and Horse

Horse drawn carriage rides are available downtown for tourists and romantics. The drivers are charming people who love their animals. Last June 1 (before I understood theme days), I had a post about Chrissy and her horse Curley, hiding from the rain under the main highway bridge across the Mississippi. This past weekend, while taking pictures on the riverfront under the Arch, I met John and Shorty. John told me that Chrissy had been sick and we wish her a speedy recovery. He also kept addressing me as "Sir," which made me feel both old and uncomfortable.

It's fun to talk to the people I meet on the street. It is like the the old advice to men who want to meet women: get a cute dog and walk it. The camera, like the dog, is the introduction. Still, lots of us are shy about it. When I took the fabulous Bobbi Lane's portrait photography workshop, she made us go out for an afternoon to take street portraits of strangers, always with permission. There are ways to do it. Still, I only get a few minutes with John and other people I photograph in brief public meetings. It makes me wonder about their life stories. How does he live on this irregular job? How did he come to drive horses in the city? I don't learn many of these details. I've been trained to go for the image, albeit in a friendly, polite way.

Is this art, journalism or voyeurism? What do you think?

TOMORROW: Not part of the Thursday Arch Series, but the Arch is in it. Just a little.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Restoration: Behind the Scenes, Part 3

All that bare concrete in yesterday's post will be transformed. One of the owners of the Chase Park Plaza who invited me to photograph the restoration left me free to play in the model apartments. The finish work in The Residences at the Chase Park Plaza is of a very high standard. Buyers can personalize to their own tastes.

These pictures are also about fun with flashes. I recently got the gizmo that operates some Canon strobes remotely. The control unit is on the top of the camera, where the flash usually sits. You can put the flash unit wherever you want. In the top photo, it is lying on the floor just out of the picture, pointing up at the tub. In the bottom center, the flash is wedged in the pipes behind the tub, pointing up. The picture of the shower on the bottom right has it hidden behind a washcloth. In the bottom left, the flash is under a glass bowl in the wall unit.

TOMORROW: A man and his horse.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Restoration: Behind the Scenes, Part 2

A penthouse at the Residences at the Chase Park Plaza. The 17th and 18 floors have been stripped bare and interior framing has just begun. The space feels vast. This double-floor living room will have a 19 foot ceiling. The unit has over 4,000 square feet / 372 square meters, 4 bedrooms, a library, 4.5 baths and views overlooking Forest Park. These pictures are in the great living room, large enough for a comfortable game of badminton. The price? Well, if you have to ask... Do you have seven figures to spare? I'd love to see this when it's done but the property is already sold.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Restoration: Behind the Scenes

Over the last few weeks, I've had a couple of posts about the Chase Park Plaza, St. Louis' grandest old hotel, and the restoration work that is restoring its glory and bringing it into the 21st Century. The lower of the two conjoined buildings, the Chase, has undergone complete renovation of all the hotel rooms. The upper two-thirds of the tower, the Park Plaza, is being converted to luxury condominiums, The Residences at the Chase Park Plaza. One of the parters in the project saw my first post on the topic and invited me over to photograph the work.

We start in one of the construction elevators. I think the blue paper covering the floor buttons is crazy design. The fluorescent light inside the rough elevator and the tungsten light in the hallway make a color riot. It reminded me of a Robert Rauschenberg construction. More over the next few days.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Guest Post: Mrs. Strangetastes in Kathmandu

My wife just got back from a ten day visit to Nepal. This was done under the wing of a community development agency and school, the Mitrata Home for Children, that we have supported since we went there together ten years ago. The organization has ties to St. Louis. She got some wonderful images. This is a young Buddhist monk at Boudhanath Stupa, a large community of Tibetan religious refugees in Kathmandu. A set of my wife's pictures is on Flickr here.

TOMORROW: Restoration

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Winter Geometry

St. Louis doesn't get a whole lot of snow. We're on about the same parallel as Washington and San Francisco, Madrid and Athens. However, yesterday we got 8 to 10 inches / 20 to 25 cm of snow. That's insignificant to many of you - I can see the look of disdain on Mitch's face up there in frozen Minnesota. It's a treat for me when it happens here. It gives the city a whole new look and imposes a quiet that happens at no other time. My camera went to work with me yesterday and I shot this downtown in Kiener Plaza, looking west toward the Civil Courts Building. The foreground is an amphitheater below street level. Note that there's a bit of the Arch reflected in the building at right center. I like the geometry and rhythm of the scene.

TOMORROW: Kathmandu

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ozzie In Bronze

This is another shot from a flash photography class assignment in which we were to use fill flash on a back lit subject. There are a group of half life-sized statues of former Cardinal greats outside of the baseball stadium. This is Ozzie Smith, a legendary shortstop. His eyes follow a line drive as he dives for the ball.

TOMORROW: Winter Geometry

Monday, March 3, 2008

Rabbit Punch

Are you a man or are you a timid rabbit? This burgh has some great outdoor sculpture for a mid-sized, Midwest also-ran. There was a good response here to the lighthearted Walking Figure, whistling a merry tune as he/she/it (your choice) strolls down Olive Street. This work, Nijinski Hare, is across the street from the hockey arena, daring the bullies of the Coyotes, Sharks, Predators, Wild and even the Broad Street Bullies of Philadelphia to take a swing at it. I had a post about it in the early days of this blog. It's return was sparked by a flash photography class I'm taking. We had an assignment to use fill flash on a backlit subject. This one knocked me out.

TOMORROW: The Cry of the Shortstop

Sunday, March 2, 2008

St. Louis Salutes Australia

Due to a combination of new dimensions in overwork, a hard drive crash and a lack of new material, I think I'll cycle through the rich trove of painting on the Mississippi River flood wall for a bit longer. We could use the help of Sally, Mblamo and our other Australian friends to interpret this. Apologies to those of you who took the trouble to follow the link on yesterday's post and look at the full set of these photos on Flickr.

TOMORROW: Rabbit Punch