Abandoned in St. Louis, from the archive

 

 

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

My ongoing photo-documentary project on St. Louis has explored the painful legacy of the city’s historic redlining and racism, de-industrialization, downfall through suburbanization, and slow demise because of a new economy that has seen industry collapse in America’s former industrial centers.

My past essays have told the story, focussing on different neighborhoods, or even streets and bigger thoroughfares like Grand Boulevard.

Inevitably, many pictures never made it into my stories. But I still feel a fondness for these haunting images on the proverbial cutting room floor.

In no particular order, I present random shots of St. Louis’ abandoned homes and apartments. They were taken between 2015 and 2017, in north, central, and south St. Louis. Poverty and decay are concentrated primarily in north St. Louis, the area that has been segregated by housing policies and redlining, harming the mostly African-American residents for decades.

I share these photos because of the bitter irony they represent. Our country is in the midst of a massive affordable housing crisis, particularly in coastal cities. Other cities, like Detroit and St. Louis, are grappling with population loss and abandonment. Every time I visit St. Louis, I think about the amoral reality of supply and demand and how the economy and national economic policies have left older cities behind. Properties like these in St. Louis would fetch a small fortune in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

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Two of my favorite parks in the world: Forest Park

 

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By pure coincidence, I have lived in two great cities with two great parks named Forest Park. Both are national treasures. Both make both their home cities livable. Both parks improve residents’ quality of life by incalculable measures. They also are loved dearly by their communities. And both are incredible places to go for a long run.

I grew up in University City, next to St. Louis and its storied Forest Park. The 1,300-acre park is home to the free and world-class St. Louis Zoo and the free and the world-class St. Louis Art Museum. It has a public golf course, lagoons, and a fabulous running and biking trail that navigates its edge for about six and half miles. Nearly everyone who lives in the St. Louis area visits the park because it has something for everyone. The City of St. Louis reports the park gets 12 million (that’s right, 12 million) visitors a year! During every trip I take back to University City to see my family, I come here to run, walk, and enjoy its cultural treasures.

I now live in Portland. That city’s premier park also is called Forest Park. Unlike its cousin in St. Louis, Forest Park in Portland is a wooded natural area comprising 5,100 wooded acres. According to the City of Portland, the park boasts 112 bird and 62 mammal species. It features the 30-mile Wildwood Trail and a 12-mile long closed and dirt service road called Leif Erikson Drive. Together, they make for one of the best places for trail running and hiking near any major U.S. city. I have literally done hundreds of miles of trail running here since I moved back to Portland in 2014.

As a runner who has run in parks and on trails throughout the world, these two parks rank as some of my favorite places. If I could have access to no national park or wild place the rest of my life and only had one of these parks to enjoy, I think I could die a happy person.

If you are in either city, visit either park. Both have conservancies that now provide a lot of the back-end financing and volunteer work to keep the parks accessible year-round. Remember, it costs money to run a park and they deserve your support.

Winter surfing in Oregon

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Oregon’s winter surfing season has arrived. That means one often puts on a wetsuit when it is below freezing outside and enters the cold Pacific Ocean when most people are bundled up in mittens and hats.

That never stops Oregon surfers, at least at Seaside.

Despite a persistent shoulder injury, I made three trips this month.  I need to hold off on future outings for a while until this stubborn problem is healed.

I took these shots on Dec. 23 and 31, 2017. Both were exceptionally mild days at this popular surfing spot. I counted more than 40 surfers in the waves both times.

I love that this crew of men and women are not fazed by the cold. All one needs is the right attitude, the right wetsuit (at least a 5/4/3 or 5/4), booties, and gloves. The rest is up to the pure, divine energy pumping in from the ocean’s depth to the sands of Oregon.

I hope everyone finds the right wave in 2018 and shares the stoke, no matter where they are.

Winter’s icy clutch has come

 

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The arrival of the winter solstice yesterday made me think about winter, in its most raw, powerful form.

I used to live in a wintry place, Anchorage, Alaska. I spent six years there, meaning six winters. One measures a true year in winters in Alaska. I first feared the cold, and then embraced it after I took up skate skiing. Soon, I found myself skiing almost every day of the winter season on Anchorage’s miles of multi-use trails and its world-class ski trails in Kincaid Park and on the Anchorage Hillside.

In 2008, the winter was particularly nasty. We had a stretch of days below -10 F for almost two weeks. I was sidelined with a bad running injury, and I was unable to exercise like I normally did. The hoarfrost was both beautiful and terrifying, because it signified how dangerous the elements were. To this day I don’t know how the ravens, moose, lynx, stellar jays, owls, foxes, wolves, and other local critters survived such conditions, with no respite from mother nature.

I did love my walks, and I used my period of convalescence to document the icy beauty of the Anchorage area, including some festivals where ice sculptures were installed in a downtown park that was turned into an ice skating rink. It was so cold that year, qualifying heats for the U.S. National Cross Country Ski Team were cancelled at Anchorage’s Kincaid Park because of the potential harm the cold could have to the athletes.

So, on our first day of winter, in the northern hemisphere, I say, all hail winter. May your icy clutch be gentle and memorable.

The beauty of steel and the pride of steel working

 

 

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I recently took a tour of a value-added steel fabrication plant in the Portland area that takes raw steel products and welds and shapes them into finished products for buildings, bridges, and other critical infrastructure. I had forgotten how much I loved manufacturing as an act of creation and permanence.

The plant itself is a nearly 200,000-square-foot cavernous facility that allows for assembling large and complex products, like suspension arches in bridges that are assembled on site.

Workers were busy welding finished products or using plate processors. plasma cutters, and some very powerful steel drills. I kept thinking during my tour how critical steel manufacturing was to the rise of United States. Today, the U.S. steel industry faces a wave of subsidized foreign imports. One CNN story reported that nearly 12,000 U.S. steel jobs were lost in 2016, mostly due to pressures from overseas producers. Since 1960, the steel sector has lost nearly 400,000 jobs, according to the news show Marketplace.

As someone who used to work in blue-collar jobs, I know how brutally tough they can be and how the body is dead tired after an honest day’s work. The plant was cold, and I was clearly not ready for being in that environment. I felt great admiration for the crew on the factory floor. They were creating products made of something permanent, to last decades, if not hundreds of years. I do not know what the crew itself felt about their jobs.

The great American oral historian Studs Terkel perhaps best explained what people feel like having a real hands-on job, where they produced things that mattered. In 1995, the then-83-year-old Terkel was asked to name one issue America had most neglected or ignored throughout the years, he responded: “The big one is the gap between the haves and the have-nots—always. … the key issue is jobs. You can’t get away from it: jobs. Having a buck or two in your pocket and feeling like somebody.”

Walking the plant that cold day, I felt like the crew making these beautiful works of steel were genuine, proud craftsmen.

December on the Oregon Coast

 

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Last weekend I headed to the Oregon Coast, not quite sure if the 8- to 10-foot waves would allow for a surfing dip in the ocean. My trip took me to Nahalem Bay by Manzanita, Oswald West State Park and Cannon Beach.

Oswald West always astounds me. Surrounded by steep coastal bluffs and a coastal rain forest, the snug bay is among the most visited surfing beaches in Oregon. On this day, the ocean was a frothing brew of crashing waves. Even then, I spotted three to four fearless surfers on short boards navigating the mini water towers and dropping down without fear.

I decided I had to get in myself. Further up the road, I parked near the Needles, a sand bar near Cannon Beach’s famed Haystack Rock. To my surprise, I was able to catch some foamy rides that ended surprisingly well as they hit the shore.

The ocean’s beauty seems more raw on these days. Humans feel more powerless. I felt tiny on my small board, bobbing like a fishing lure. A juvenile harbor seal swam circles around me, curious about why I was in its habitat on such a tempestuous day.

Scenes from my St. Louis catalog

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I was in St. Louis a week ago for a family visit. I did not get a chance to explore the city like I normally do.

Still, I was inspired to dig up some of my pictures that I took between 2105 and late mid-2017. They show the city as it is.

The areas include the neighborhood surrounding the SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, the Fox Park Neighborhood, and South Broadway, near the Annheuser-Busch factory. It remains one of the most interesting cities I know to explore block by block.

South St. Louis County on a clear fall day

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Normally when I visit St. Louis, I spend part of my time exploring hidden neighborhoods that I know little about or where the city’s history, glory, and struggles are on full display. During the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I found myself travelling to communities I barely knew, located southwest of the city.

I drove along the corridor that parallels the River Des Peres, which long ago was turned into a partially buried and open air wastewater and sewage system that frequently floods. My route passed through the communities of Maplewood and then Shrewsbury, which border southwest St. Louis. It is a landscape dominated by this so-called “river” system, a major rail corridor, and industry. The presence of retail outlets like Dollar Tree, Shop ‘n Save, and Wal-Mart reveal the income levels of those who live nearby. You will not find a Whole Foods or Starbucks or trendy coffee shop in this area. In fact, those who are affluent can live their whole lives in St. Louis and never come through here.

While taking some photographs at the end of a sunny day, I noticed a massive church tower in the distance and drove to it to investigate, because in St. Louis and the surrounding area, you will find some of the most amazing religious buildings anywhere in the United States. To my surprise, I discovered the Kenrick Glennon Seminary of the St. Louis Archdiocese, located in Shrewsbury. It is an enormous educational and religious facility, with a single-facility complex larger than any other university in the St. Louis area (a place that boasts many universities).

The seminary, with its brick and institutional design, resembled architecture I associate with public hospitals and mental institutions built in the 1920s and 1930s across the United States. Construction began during the Depression, in 1931. It also has an air of grandeur and confidence, built when the archdiocese could afford to invest the capital to train its future clergy. The seminary recently made news for a fundraising effort, signalling possible financial troubles keeping the massive facility afloat. According to press reports, only 133 seminarians train here, also signalling the church’s facility likely will need to find future uses.

 

Testing my new tool, the Panasonic Lumix DC ZS70

(Click on each photograph to see a picture on a separate picture page.)

For many years, most of the pictures I have taken were with my point-and-shoot camera, a Canon. After nearly 10 years with my current point-and-shoot, it was time to retire it. I researched the market and settled on a Panasonic Lumix DC ZS70. It got good grades from online reviewers. The price range worked for me. It also features a Leica lens.

So far, I like it. I thought the panning feature wasn’t tack-sharp, at least without a tripod. The close-ups seem sharp. I thought the 4K video was surprisingly crisp, even on the maximum zoom setting of 720mm (the lens is a 24–720 mm equivalent). The zoom shots, which I do not expect to have great quality, turned out more detailed than I was expecting in my first tests. I plan to use this on my day trips surfing on the Oregon Coast, where I can’t afford to leave expensive gear alone in the car or risk break-ins.

One downside is the raw format file feature isn’t readable with my older version of Lightroom. I’m not going to upgrade my operating system just yet to fix this.

At this point in my life taking pictures, I gravitate more toward visual storytelling than image perfection. You can tell a good story with medium and even low-quality equipment. What matters is your talent, less so having the most expensive glass and brand on the market.

For the record, my favorite camera equipment I use is a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and a 24mm Leica lens. (Here is a sample of how my images look with it.)

These test shots were all taken on Nov. 17, 2017, near my home in Southeast Portland.

Surf so fine at Seaside

 

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Today was one of those perfect days for surfing on the Oregon coast that only seem to come every other month. The forecast at Seaside, Oregon for Saturday (Nov. 11, 2017) called for a high tide at 6:56 a.m., waves two to four feet high, and calm conditions, with sets spaced about every 10 seconds. For surfers in Oregon, this is damn close to paradise.

Seaside is a beautiful spot to surf at high tide under such conditions, when the wind is not coming from the northwest. The natural cove creates some beautiful breaks. Thankfully, the ocean provided lovely set after lovely set.

When I arrived around 7:15 a.m. there were already a dozen surfers in the water. By the time I was in for an hour, I counted 40 surfers. It is a rare sight to see that many surfers in any surfing beach in Oregon.

I discarded what my body told me to do, which was to stay out and let my injured shoulder heal.

I may have set myself back another month with my existing surfing injury. Who knows. Given we may not have surf this good until April, I do not think I had a choice. In the end, I caught more than 20 waves, all with little effort. My shoulder, however, it did not like what it was feeling when I finished. Oy vey, tomorrow I will have regrets.

As for the shark warning earlier in the week, in Pacific City, about an hour south, no one seemed too worried. Great whites are usually out there, whether we see them or not.