St. Louis Hot Air Balloon Race

Xina and I stopped by Forest Park last night to see the hot air balloons. It was pretty impressive although we got there a little too late for me to get good sunset photos of the balloons. Like most St. Louis events, I found this one to be full of energy and people, but not crowded to the point of chaos. We are skipping the actual race this afternoon in favor of a Cardinals game, so I’m glad we got a chance to see everything last night.

City Seeds St. Louis

I went out for a walk one evening, ostensibly to explore the neighborhood and work on some urban decay photography. In Saint Louis, there is certainly enough urban decay to go around. I’m still a new resident, so I wasn’t sure exactly where to go first. My inclination was to head north, where the abandoned warehouses start appearing a few blocks off of the newly gentrified Washington Avenue. However, to be honest, after a few conversations over the weekend about crime, I haven’t worked up the courage to go to far off the beaten path with my equipment by myself. So I headed west along Pine, intending to spend some time taking pictures of the dozens upon dozens of unused parking meters all over the city.

Next to the highway on-ramp, squeezed in next to a hotel in one of the many empty lots in the area I stumbled across City Seeds, a St. Louis non-profit project with the goal of increasing “food security in St. Louis” by providing “mentorship, supervision, and training twice a week.”

It certainly is an interesting project, there in the middle of the urban landscape, and given the number of signs warning people not to steal food, I was a little concerned about being chased off. To be honest tough, there wasn’t a lot of ready to eat food, so either it had already been stolen, legitimately harvested, or the garden wasn’t really producing much. Looked like there were a lot of leeks and potatoes approaching maturity, so maybe all of the earlier veggies had already been picked.

I was able to spend some time photographing the site and it was a really neat experience. I’m all about urban gardens – if I had some grass or a green roof I would certainly have one. Makes a lot of sense both environmentally and economically. Really cool to see that sort of thing locally here in St. Louis. Below are some of the images from my excursion of City Seeds as well as the surrounding area.

Left Bank Books

I spent the day Wednesday shooting a project that have been in the concept stage for a while with some limited success. I created a series of images which work really well for me, but I think I’m not quite there yet. In any case, I felt good about the day’s work. When I have a good day shooting I usually end up wanting to go for a drink somewheres, and bask in the feelings of accomplishment and productivity. Since I don’t have many friends yet and it’s too damn hot to go anywhere outside, I headed up the block to Left Bank Books instead. I’d been meaning to go since we moved in and it seemed like the time was right.

Left Bank Books in downtown St. Louis is a small bookstore, the second of two locations in the area. The flagship store opened in the Central West End in 1969 and they have been the go-to independent bookstore in St. Louis since. They are big on community, much like many of the arts folks that I’ve come across in Saint Louis, which is one of the things that I’m starting to love about this city. From their website:

We work hard and sacrifice much to keep this place going because we love it as much as you do. Many of us are writers, performers, and artists and personally appreciate the importance of a store like Left Bank, not only to the cultural health of a community, but to the health of its creative people, too! Many of us are involved in other community organizations as volunteers and activists. Issues like peace, racial justice, civil rights, urban sustainability, education, animal rights, and support for the arts are some of the areas in which Left Bankers are involved.

Left Bank Books strives to be a good neighbor and, like many locally-owned businesses, gives back to its community. Besides reinvesting three times more of our revenue locally than non-local chain stores reinvest, we also give a lot of organic support to grass roots and non-profit organizations through donations of gift certificates, percent of sales, bookfairs and even free event programming.

For the store owners and workers alike, working at Left Bank Books has been more like preserving a community trust than running a business. And while we know that being business-like is extremely important, we also know that earning and keeping that community trust is both our most fervent desire and greatest reward.

I found their inventory to be very small, but wisely curated, at least in the sections that I paid close attention to, mainly art, design, and of course photography. I found the limited selection to be liberating, and I was able to pay attention more easily to each title than being overwhelmed by several hundred titles in each section. My only concern is that now I’ve seen and examined everything in their photography section, and unless they regularly rotate content there won’t be much more there for me to check out. That said, there were a number of photography books that I wanted to buy but being on a limited budget I stuck to a history of the Met and a couple of photography magazines. That should keep me busy for a while. And I’ll definitely be going back. I’ll have to check out the West End Location as well …

Open Studios in Saint Louis

This weekend, the lady and I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon exploring the studios of local artists in Saint Louis. The Contemporary art museum here in Saint Louis sponsored the 5th Annual Open Studios, which showcased lots of artists in the area. Since we are new here, it was really great to get out and talk to the local arts community, and I am always excited to see other people’s work spaces.

In addition to meeting great people and seeing some crazy wonderful art, we also had the opportunity to explore other parts of the city. Obviously Cherokee Street was the big draw for us on Saturday, having not ventured over there previously. It was very exciting. We are definitely going to spend a lot more time getting to know the local art scene although being new to Saint Louis I felt like much of the afternoon I should have had a sign around my neck that said “Will You Be My New Friend?”

Back To My New Home

I just got back to Saint Louis from a last minute whirlwind trip to New Jersey and New York for a photo shoot. It was the first time I have been back to the east coast since we arrived in Saint Louis, and it certainly was an interesting experience for me. It was great to be back in the NYC, area especially on a gig – it is always great to be working. The shoot was in New Brunswick, so I flew into LGA and drove a rental to Jersey on Tuesday night, woke up very early on Wednesday morning for the shoot, and then managed to swing into Manhattan for a very short visit Wednesday afternoon. I got to see a few of my friends and have a few drinks at my old local. I even ran into one of my other friends who I hadn’t expected to see while in Union Square while I was eating a Salty Pimp ice cream cone from the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. A city of 8 million people and I run into someone I know an hour after I get there. Go figure.

For all the friends I didn’t get to see: I’m sorry I missed you and I will try to have a little more advanced warning the next time I come into the city so I can plan meet-ups with all of you. I miss you dearly and can’t wait to see you again.

Studio Windows at Sunset

It was kind of a surreal experience, going back to the city as visitor for the first time, and not as a resident. In a lot of ways New York will always be “the city” in my life, no matter where I live, but being tossed back into if after a prolonged absence gives me a little bit better of a perspective on how the bewildered tourists feel. After the relative relaxed lifestyle I’ve enjoyed in Saint Louis, the first couple hours in Manhattan were stressful and shocking. The people, the noise, the speed. Even though the heat and humidity are similar to Saint Louis this week, it seemed hotter on the teeming avenues as I inched along in my rental car trying to get to the rental agency to return it.

Returning the car was the first step to getting myself normalized as a New Yorker again. It wasn’t long before I’d re-acclimated and was squeezing onto the 6 train at rush hour and dodging traffic in the East Village like I’d never been away. After some Thai food, the ice cream in the park and a few cocktails I nearly forgot that I didn’t live there any more. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t going to walk home to my apartment; I was going to take a plane back to my new home.

And so now I’ve returned to my lovely and spacious studio, tired and dehydrated from my whirlwind tour, but I’m happy to be back. Saint Louis is really growing on me. Even though an anonymous commenter on STL Rising said recently “when someone from new york says good things about st. louis it’s time to burn it down” everyone I have met in Saint Louis has been wonderful and friendly. The lady and I are settling in nicely. I feel like we’ve moved to the downtown area at a time when all sorts of exciting things are happening. We are happy that we can do our part for our new neighborhood by supporting new businesses in walking distance rather than driving to big box stores and by staying in tune with neighborhood events. I feel that my New York City philosophy of urban living fits nicely with the philosophy of downtown Saint Louis.

I will always miss New York, and I treasure the few hours in the city when I can get them, but the sadness I feel when I leave again is tempered by the thought that I’m heading back to my new home, and as homes go, this is a pretty good one.

Underneath the Missouri Sky #12

For those of you who aren’t fans of Pat Methany and Charlie Haden, there is a fantastic album that I discovered years ago which is a staple in the contemplative section of my music library. I suppose it is a coincidence that I first loved the album Beyond The Missouri Sky in 1997 and now, 13 years later I am here, living underneath the Missouri sky for real.

Today saw blue skies when I woke up, followed by one of the terrific and terrible, violent and beautiful thunderstorms that sweep across my adopted city. The storms blow in from the west; angry clouds on the horizon that gradually make my studio so dark that it is disconcertingly like night time. I can see the rain as it approaches from several blocks away and then in an instant it is upon me, battering my windows. It is so quick and brutal that it compels me to stand in the window to watch. I watch the storms with fascination and the tiniest bit of fear that the swirling winds will turn into a tornado cutting swaths through the historic architecture. The storm swirls and bashes against the streets and walls, spraying the cornices and ornamental statuary around me for a half hour before drifting east towards Illinois, followed by another sultry, humid afternoon. An hour after the darkness descended on my studio, the sky is blue and the water has already evaporated, adding to the heat index that makes the high 80’s seem cool to me these days.

And then in the evening, as I’m washing lettuce for our evening salad, I look out those same windows and I’m treated to yet another amazing sunset underneath the Missouri sky.

Once a Day Theory: The theory is that having to post a photo every day will make me a better photog. It’s also a theory that there will be a photo every day. Gallery of previous Once a Day Theory images can be viewed here.

View from the Arch

We have our first visitor in Saint Louis this weekend. Our friend Elsa came into town yesterday to help Xina as she sets up her lab at Wash U, and at the same time she’s going to help us explore the bars, restaurants and other places we’ve been meaning to go in town. Our goal for the weekend is to only go to places that Xina and I haven’t been yet, so that as we act as tour guides for Elsa we’re also learning more about our new adopted city.

First thing on the agenda was, of course, the arch. We had been down to see the arch several times (and we run down there nearly every day) but we had been waiting to take the trip up into it for when guests were here. Wednesday evening at sunset was a pretty good time to go – the wait was short. All in all it’s a bit of an anti-climax, the top is, well, a curved space covered in carpeting with some sketchy looking stairs at either end and some windows. To be sure, the view is great, and it’s a bit of an odd feeling knowing that you’re standing over an open space taller than the Seattle Space Needle.

It was fun and I’m glad that we took the time to do it, although it’s unlikely that I’d do it again. I find the arch to be so completely fascinating from the outside that the slightly dumpy interior didn’t work for me. I’m working on a post about the arch with some images that I’ve taken since I’ve been here, more on that later. I do know that I’ve taken a lot of photos of the arch already, and I’m sure to be making a whole lot more.

Safe Deposit Vaults

Readers of my blog will surely know by now my love of shooting into the sun. I love the unpredictability of the solar flares on the lens, the way the sun burns through everything. Being an east/west town, Saint Louis has a lot of sun.

Once a Day Theory: The theory is that having to post a photo every day will make me a better photog. It’s also a theory that there will be a photo every day. Gallery of previous Once a Day Theory images can be viewed here.

Buried in Packing Paper

It’s kind of like Christmas in July here in the apartment as the lady and I work our way through the task of unpacking our stuff. Since most of our things were packed by the movers, each box is like a present; we never know what we’re going to pull out of the packing paper. It seems like several doze rain forests perished in order to get our stuff safely from New York. We had a number of casualties in the form of broken dishes and such due to the craptastic packing job but so far only a few things of note have been damaged. My down bubble jacket was torn up because the movers put tape directly onto it while wedging it into a box, and my filing cabinet was bashed and bent into an unusable state.

The worst thing, so far, is my Drobo which contains my backup of all of my digital photography for the last four years or so. When I turned it on yesterday instead of seeing the lovely green lights indicating that everything is hunky dory, all I saw was four solid red lights, indicating blank hard drives. Yikes! After some messing around I was able to get it to recognize three out of the four drives, and it is in the process of sorting itself out (I hope). It’s a several day process for it to copy data onto a blank drive, so I’m hoping my Monday I’ll know if my work is safe. One thing I’ll definitely need to look into is a better backup plan, probably an offsite option.

On the agenda today? Car shopping. We are also going to try to take part in some of the exciting local celebrations this weekend, but car shopping is a priority so we don’t have to keep renting. We have a number of makes and models we want to try, but having not owned a car in ten years, I’m sure this will be an adventure. Xina has her note-taking pen ready so I’m sure by tonight we’ll have a lot of options to choose from.