Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Old Photos of St. Louis

I was digging through my old photographs, and I found some shots I took of Forest Park in St. Louis. Forest Park is located right in between the Central West End of St. Louis City (also the name of the neighborhood I lived in) and the eastern edge of St. Louis County (where Washington University and most of the affluent suburbs are located).

Although originally a part of St. Louis County, the ordinance authorizing the construction of Forest Park extended the City's boundaries over it. During that same year, the "Municipal Divorce Bill" also separated the County from the City, which was originally meant to prevent taxes raised in the City to be spent in the County. Of course, once the wealth started leaving the City and moving just over the border into Clayton, Ladue, and West County, the tax base went with them, spiraling the City into a cycle of inexorable urban decay that it still is trying to pull itself out of (the exact same thing happened in Baltimore, for those who are interested in the mid-20th Century decline and fall of the American city).

Luckily, St. Louis County still spends resources on the maintenance of the park, preserving this little tranquil oasis otherwise surrounded by urban blight. As I am sure you can tell, I took these photographs sometime in late autumn, with most of the foliage having already fallen.

I lived across the street from Forest Park while I was living in St. Louis. Although the park is landscaped (beautifully, I might add), it felt liked natural growth. Walking through it felt completely unlike walking through Central Park, where I would always feel this odd sense of artifice whenever I was in it. I suppose a large part of it has to do with the lack of high rises ringing the park's perimeter, and that there are no centralized spots, like the Great Lawn, or the Reservoir, invariably drawing crowds of hipster dads pushing baby strollers while listening to Arcade Fire on their Ipods, lululemon clad yuppies toting yoga mats made out of either bamboo or recycled soda bottles, irritating college kids tossing frisbees or kicking beanbags while taking sips out of their reusable water bottles (remember to avoid BPA), and annoying buskers who need to restring their guitars and wash their hair more often.

Perhaps, I liked Forest Park because it was empty...and felt it. After I quit smoking, I would go running about 3 to 4 times a week taking this trail. I always enjoyed how the bend of the bike trail traced the dirt path, which ran along the banks of a stream (that is cropped out of the shot). I would occasionally see a winsome Wash U coed huffing down the opposite way, or a fifty year old professor gamefully power walking alongside the concrete trail, but other than that, it was quiet. I never had to fear some rollerblading douche blowing down the path and running me over or a gaggle of tourists pushing each other around to get that oh so perfect shot with their brand new DSLR cameras. I could just throw my head back, breathe in the crisp, autumnal air, and run.

Here is a photo of the stream (taken about a half mile to the west, I believe). I was glad the conditions that day allowed me to get a shot of the stream reflecting the bare branches of the trees growing on the bank. The bridge downstream also provides depth and a sense of unity to this composition (IMO...feel free to disagree). This is probably my favorite photo of those I took that day.

Geese! You can't have lakeside photographs without aqueous fowl of some sort gracing the composition. Also, the band stand on the right was built for the 1904 World's Fair. Indeed, most of the buildings in Forest Park and the elaborate houses on its northern edge were built to accommodate the foreign dignitaries visiting the Fair. And, luckily, they are still preserved and used.

The St. Louis Art Museum is also located in Forest Park, sitting atop a hill where you have a perfect view of the park and the rest of the western edge of St. Louis City (though I guess wasn't up to hiking the hill this day). I just wish I could have moved that tree on the right a little further to edge of the frame. Oh well.

Another trail, with another bend, girding a stream with another bridge (notice a theme?) The advantage to late fall and winter is that you get an unencumbered view of the park's vistas, though some orange and red foliage would have been nice. Unfortunately, St. Louis is much like the DMV...lacking in color. It certainly isn't New England in October. But, it is probably the most New England-like place in the area. So while you don't have those postcard pretty vistas with colonial era churches, low stone walls, and village greens, there are some gentle, rolling slopes to convey a sense of place and terrain. It isn't just big box strip malls surrounded by cornfields and access roads like much of the rest of St. Louis County.

Another trend I am beginning to notice in these photographs...a tree to frame the right edge of the composition, and a winding path, which I use to guide the eye to an architectural fixture on the left in the background. This was all quite unintentional, I assure you. See, below, no winding path!

Maybe I was subconsciously making an homage to some older compositions. I guess it is too bad that the U.S. Midwest lacks soaring peaks and mountain ranges. Maybe I'll try Denver next time.

Wang Meng (ca. 1308-1385)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

No comments:

Post a Comment