St Louis (1977) by Joel Meyerowitz
St Louis (1977) by Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz returns to St Louis

The city celebrates once again the series of pictures it commissioned from the photographer 36 years ago

As the great American photographer Joel Meyerowitz explains in our forthcoming two-volume anthology, Taking My Time, "In the late 70's, I was commissioned by the St. Louis Art Museum to document the city, I went there hoping to photograph without preconceptions or any need to pass judgment.”

 

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Even so, Meyerowitz admits that he feared that he would capture St Louis' decline, from early 20th century boom town, and home to the 1904 Olympic Games, to a city on the slide. “However, it didn't take long for me to realise that the Arch was not something easily ignored. Its incredible power and grace, its position by the river, and its enormous scale as it stood at the frontier of the American West made it an unavoidable and compelling presence.” 

 

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So it was that the Gateway Arch became an organising thought for the series. As you probably know, it's America’s tallest manmade monument, and has been towering over the city since the autumn of 1965, when Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, working with the structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel, completed it.

The arch symbolises the westward expansion of the United States, through the ‘gateway’ of this mid-western city. By the time Meyerowitz reached St Louis, many prosperous St Louisians had moved out to the suburbs, and yet Saarinen’s hopeful, modernist monument to America’s pioneering spirit still dominated the skyline and his thoughts. The resultant portfolio of city images seems to capture the city acutely, as a place of history and change, but also of hope.

 

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Today’s citizens get the chance to view Meyerowitz’s images again this month, when the city’s Sheldon Art Galleries hosts a show of the photographer's St Louis series as part of its The City Inside/Out series, running 7 June – 7 September. Meyerowitz’s images will hang alongside more recent shots of St. Louis and its arch, continuing the city’s story from where Joel left off.

 

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To find out more go here. For more on Meyerowitz’s beautiful photographs, please take a look at our truly magisterial career retrospective, Taking My Time, and for greater insight into one of America’s finest 20th century architects, consider this Eero Saarinen monograph.