A new exhibit at the International Photography Hall of Fame bridges the gap between personal perspective and the unfeeling materials of stone, brick and steel. According to Executive Director John Nagel, 72, this focus can be found in the exhibit’s unfamiliar images of a well-known city.
“This is not the greatest hits of St. Louis architecture,” he said.
The show, "St. Louis Architecture: A Proud Heritage," draws on nine St. Louis photographers known for commercial work but united by a personal interest in architectural photography. Featured artists include Mark Appling Fisher, Debbie Franke, Ken Konchel, Don McKenna, Greg Barth, David Hanlong, Alise O’Brien, Richard Sprengeler and Gary Tetly. For Nagel, each photographer’s personal perspective and connections to different locations transcend a show that runs the risk of being seen as snapshots of static structures. The photographers’ unique approaches are visible through their decisions regarding light, angles and timing while producing images.
“All photography is in some way a decisive moment because the photographer has chosen the time, whether it was a sunny day or a cloudy day or morning light or afternoon light, the time that is crucial to the way the building is represented,” said Nagel.
Nagel said that representation follows two themes throughout the show: a detailed representation of St. Louis’ architectural styles that have teetered on the verge of destruction, and a specific focus on St. Louis buildings that “quote” or reference other buildings around the world. One example is a photograph of the Civil Courts building, the top of which was modeled after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, another image City Hall that was designed to look like the Hotel De Ville in Paris.
For Nagel, this is an exhibit near and dear to his heart. In college, Nagel switched his major from chemistry to architecture after receiving aptitude testing that suggested his skill set was better suited to that field. After studying architecture he turned to photography he’d practiced on the side. He went on to build a reputation as an outstanding local photographer and ran the Center for Visual Technology at St. Louis Community College Meramec. Much of the work Nagel’s produced throughout his career focused on architecture. His interest in the subject, and desire to launch this exhibition, come down to one simple truth for Nagel.
“The city of St. Louis has a number of exceptionally beautiful buildings that deserve to be shown,” he said.