Rudy Owens Photography

It takes years to learn a beach

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

As a novice surfer, I still realize how little I know about the power of the ocean, particularly rip tides. Today, they felt like monsters pulling out from shore as the tide shifted and quickly changed between ebb and flow, and the water was sucked out of the main surfing cove at Seaside with alarming speed and force. I am breaking many rules still. I am not riding the rip out to the line up location. My dives are lousy, which is why I am not surfing near others. Also, I am choosing the wrong spots, because I do not trust my “fun board” in the rip.

Today I decided I will upgrade to larger board and start venturing out the best point at this beach, where most of the surfers sit, looking longingly to the west, waiting for their wave to roll in from the ocean and to the shore. Today’s morning crew understood the tide better than me and put in as I was leaving. My consolation prize, besides getting a few good rides, was seeing the morning light as it danced through the dark clouds and turned the ocean a translucent green. It was magical to be the only soul out there for a while.

Grand Boulevard tells a story of St. Louis’ historic decline

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During my most recent visit to St. Louis in mid-March 2017, I drive more than half of the once-elegant Grand Boulevard, one of the city’s main south-north arteries. The route took me from the heart of St. Louis’ historic Midtown neighborhood, in the center of the city.

I headed north to the city’s historically impoverished and African-American neighborhoods. These lie north of the city’s unspoken dividing line for white and black residents that has an unfixed border running east to west, through the old and glorious industrial city. That line has always meant blacks on the north and whites on the south, though it remains blurred in more recent years.

The landscape along Grand Boulevard reveals severe economic distress that has seen St. Louis shrink from nearly 880,000 residents in 1950 to barely 311,000 in 2016. The numbers keep falling.

I wrote about the decay in North St. Louis in June 2016, documenting through my Leica lens the blight I saw throughout this once magnificent area. (See my photo essay: “North St. Louis, a gentrification-free zone.”)

Grand Boulevard put that pain on display almost too perfectly.

As one drives north from Midtown starting at St. Louis University, one first sees the Fabulous Fox Theatre and then the majestic Powell Hall, home of the once world-renowned St. Louis Symphony. (Use Google Street View to begin the tour and point your browser north from Powell Hall.)

Heading further north, the decay is instantly visible. As one drives past St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church, the signs of poverty and distress can be seen in shuttered businesses, homes, and churches. Entire blocks are cleared, and what remains is a ghost of former grandeur.

Going further north, you can pass by the old Schnucks grocery store, at Kossuth Avenue and Grand, which closed in 2014 due to lack of profits, leaving the entire north side of the city with just one grocery store.

After you cross Florissant Avenue, in the deep core of North St. Louis, you can spot the magnificent Corinthian column known as the North Grand Water Tower, a historic landmark. It is a sad reminder of St. Louis glory days as a city to be reckoned with economically and architecturally.

Next to the column stands one of many abandoned Catholic churches, Most Holy Name of Jesus of St. Louis Cathedral. It was closed by the St. Louis Archdiocese in 1992. It boasts power and pride of the people who made it and their confidence in their community and city.

Of course one cannot avoid talking about race, segregation, deindustrialization, the loss of factory jobs, out-migration, the impact of the federal Interstate Highway System, and more when discussing the distress in the blocks that intersect Grand Boulevard.

These changes are described in detail in Colin Gordon’s 2009 book Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City. As one reviewer wrote of his study on my former home town: “Once a thriving metropolis on the banks of the Mississippi, St. Louis, Missouri, is now a ghostly landscape of vacant houses, boarded-up storefronts, and abandoned factories. The Gateway City is, by any measure, one of the most depopulated, deindustrialized, and deeply segregated examples of American urban decay.”

Anyone visiting St. Louis should do this drive to see the painful, magnificent, and still evolving history of a Midwest city. It is a story also showing the decline of the United States as a manufacturing nation that once supported family-wage jobs that have disappeared in the last half century.

Three of my favorite mother and daughter portraits

I have published these photos before on either my blog or web site, or both. Some times, everything comes together nicely when you get family members to pose. You cannot fake a warm smile.

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

Leaving Alaska on the Inside Passage

Five years ago almost to the day I left the Great Land, as Alaskans call their home. I departed the exact same way I came up, taking the Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway, from Haines to Prince Rupert, BC. (FYI, that is the state-run ferry system.) That is just an incredible way to experience one of the world’s cleanest, healthiest, and most scenic waterways and landscapes.

I captured all of these photos on my pont and shoot Canon, which did what I wanted to do–preserve a memory of a very important moment in time when I transitioned from one stage of my life to another. (Click on each picture to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Has it been 20 years already, Machu Picchu?

Yes, Machu Picchu, with a llama munching on grass, is a complete photographic cliché. I do not care. I snapped this photograph in the very very early morning hours at this great Inca hill city in late August 1995. I hiked the Machu Picchu Trail to get here, passing six ruins. It was a highlight of my life, mainly because of the incredible mountain topography, the historic footprint of the now-gone Inca culture, and the fulfillment of a dream of mine to mix my passions for mountains, long-distance trekking, and archaeology-history. The negative for this photo was damaged by the developer, as I made a big mistake entrusting my film to a shop in Santiago. But with a little Adobe magic, it turned out OK.

When I arrived at Machu Picchu, it was smoked out from fires on the Amazon basin, where farmers and cattle owners were burning land. I had camped out at Intipunku (Sun Gate), which looks down on the ruins from a nearby pass. That was not, ahem, entirely allowable, but I practiced low-impact camping and had zero impact. And I know my footprint was radically less than the organized tours, some of whom were leaving trash at camp sites. I am now glad the trail is more regulated. There simply is no other way with such a globally popular destination.

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Hot, dry and scenic Wasco County, Oregon

I took a short trip in July to the Deschutes River, in north central Oregon. It’s a region defined by a great giver, beautiful rolling hills, ranches and farmland and remnants of Oregon’s more agricultural past. All of these photos were taken in Wasco County. Here is my tip. Never go biking in the late afternoon sun. Choose the morning.

Kurdish men, in Kars, Turkey

When I was in Turkey in 2001, I travelled widely in Kurdish regions of eastern Turkey. It was tense then, and remains tense now. The Kurds are one of the victims of the Versailles Peace Treaty that ended World War I, and they were left without a homeland after the colonial powers carved up nation states in the Mideast. Kurds found themselves residents of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and to this day, issues associated with these decisions impact current events daily, if not hourly. This week, more than a 130,000 Kurds fled from Islamic extremists in Syria into Turkey, which has nearly 1 million Syrian refugees. The Kurds, who have fought a civil war against Turkey for years, now may find themselves to be Turkey’s best ally in the latest realignment of interests in this volatile region. What is true one day, may not be true the next day. The Kurds’ old saying remains, the Kurds’ only friends are the mountains. (Click on the photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

A long-promised gift, portraits in the park

I made a deal with a friend and former grad school classmate to do a photo shoot as a gift, and we finally connected. We had fun. Taking portraits is a really wonderful way to spend quality time with people. You share stories. You connect in meaningful ways. You laugh. You joke. Sometimes you talk about the not-so-happy things too. This was one of the first pictures I snapped, and I loved the result. (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Bird outside the window

One or two families of crows nest in trees in my backyard. Noisy winged neighbors indeed, and bullies. I am fairly certain they keep all other birds away too (crows raid nests of other birds, as they are efficient at finding food anywhere). Crows are not quite as stately as the raven, the granddaddy of all birds and the apex of the corvid family of birds. At times I watch the crows, likely this one, on a perch outside my kitchen window, and they cannot see me. They are wickedly smart and not afraid to tussle and compete with humans for the land we mistakenly think is “ours.” (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)