Fairview Heights photographer Richard Spengeler has been photographing downtown St. Louis for over 20 years, but when he entered a photo contest conducted by the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, he decided to do something a little bit different.
It paid off. Spengeler won the contest with a photograph titled "The Arch and Old Courthouse from Keiner Plaza Garage." The image was a panoramic view assembled from six vertical exposures.
"Each artist was allowed to submit 10 images," offered Spengeler, whose photographs have been published in book form in St. Louis: For the Record. "Nine of the photographs I submitted for the contest were the type of images I've been taking for 20 years. They're color photographs and pictures of recognizable places. But the one that they picked was the only one that was different and brand new.
"It was black and white, panoramic and completely different from anything I'd ever done before. I found that really interesting. Maybe I'm on to something."
Spengeler said he found the view featured in his photo while doing a previous project.
"I actually had done a whole body of work on the parking garages of St. Louis about five years ago," said Spengeler. "I spent two years photographing geometric patterns inside the concrete. That turned into a show in St. Louis. I knew what the view looked like. I wanted to try a panoramic image and it occurred to me that it would be good to get up high somewhere. I remembered the parking garage and went there."
The contest was named for Irvin Schankman, a professional photographer and founder of Allied Photocolor and Imaging Center. Schankman was dedicated to documenting St. Louis in film. For the contest, any photograph that involved St. Louis, its people and places was eligible as long as it was taken in the last 50 years.
Hundreds of photographs were submitted. Thirty-four finalists were chosen with Spengeler's photograph emerging as the first-place winner. His photograph, along with many others, will be on display at Gallery 210 on the campus of UMSL through October 6.
Besides his award-winning photograph at the UMSL gallery, other examples of Spengeler's work can be seen at the Third Degree Glass Factory at 5200 Delmar in St. Louis.
"I have a one-man show there," said Spengeler, who is a commercial photographer specializing in architectural images. "It consist of photographs I took at the old Armour power plant in East St. Louis. It was the power plant that produced the power for the stockyards. The building has been abandoned for 50 years. It's filled with coal boilers and steam turbines - this huge, hulking, rusting equipment. I spent a couple of years inside there photographing. That was my newest body of work until now.
"Now I think I'll go back to shooting St. Louis, only in a different way. I'm not sure if I'm going to do panoramas, but I'll switch from color to black and white and do a lot of twilight and night photography.
"Most of my personal work was done on a 4-by-5-inch view camera. That's the old style of camera from a 100 years ago. It's on a tripod and put a dark cloth over your head to see the image. That's been my main camera for 30 years, but I just bought an 8-by-10-inch view camera. It's a monstrous camera that produces an 8-by-10-inch negative. The quality is just spectacular. It' the type of camera that a lot of the great photographers used. Ansel Adams used one; and if you see one of his enlargements, They're incredibly sharp. It's because he used that huge camera.
"I'm interested in doing industrial scenes at night. A lot of times they're lit up and a lot of times you have those big white oil tanks and things like that. I've photographed them before, but there's usually a chain-link fence in the way. So I picked up a trick from Ansel Adams. He had a platform built on top of his wagon. He photographed from the top of his car all the time. So I'm going to get a platform for my van so I can shoot above the fence.
"I'm going have to contact the police first. Since 9-11 they keep a close eye on those sorts of things."
Spengeler said his first published photograph was a fire call at a Fairview Heights strip mine. It appeared in the St. Clair County Journals in 1978.
"I believe they game me $10 for it," said Spengeler.
Spengeler's interest in photograph stemmed from a stint in the Navy.
"I was a musician - a jazz trombonist," he explained. "Right after high school I joined the Navy and was a member of several Navy Bands - one in Newport, Rhode Island and one in Naples, Italy. When I was in Naples, the band toured Europe for two years. I started taking pictures of all the places I been to.
"My mother is an artist, a ceramist. I sent the slides back home to her. She told me I had a pretty good eye and that I should take a photography class when I got out of the Navy. So in 1978, I got out and took a class at Belleville Area College. I took two years of photography classes at BAC and then went to Southern Illinois University Carbondale and got my bachelor's degree in photography there."