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Sand and silt from the Missouri River by Richard Keeling on 500px.com

I spend a lot of time writing in generalities. Photography is very amenable to such pontification, after all, it is an art and art inspires – if that’s the right word – a lot of prolix writing of limited distinction.

But does that stop me? No. After all, this is on my time and my dime (if I actually got paid for any of this).

But for once I want to get a bit more specific. As in the analysis of single photograph.

This was taken by the Missouri River in St. Louis County. I was standing on the sand and silt left behind by a drop in the water level and doing so from an unusual vantage. I was on the edge of Pelican Island, a small nature reserve normally separated from Sioux Passage Park by a deep channel of the main river. But on Monday afternoon the drop in the river level had left only a small fast flowing channel dividing the two, a channel, moreover, that was dotted with rocks and stones. Enough for me to hop, with only one slip into the shoe-filling water, from the park to the island.

So the view that presented itself to me, as I stood ruefully considering my soggy sock and pickling foot, was not I sight I’d seen before. Nor was it a sight I was likely to see again unless I got lucky.

So perhaps it was fortunate that I had three cameras with me, one digital, one with color film, one with black and white. The films remain undeveloped; this photograph is digital.

So what about it?

It’s a basic landscape designed to highlight the revealed sand and place in context with the river. Why did I choose to feature so much sand in the foreground?

Two reasons. Firstly I wanted to emphasis the extent of the newly revealed beach. All that you see there is normally under water. On its own, this could have been uninteresting beyond making that point. But the sand has its own appeal, and much of this is due to the low angle of the nearly setting sun. The shadows highlighted the ripples left in the silt by the water flow and the dog and footprints turning what would have been a relatively featureless view into something more interesting. I photographed a trail of fresh footprints, this acted as marker of time and as a marker of movement, my movement. In this way, the picture becomes personalized – a critical component in imparting value to the image.

Alone, the sand would have given the picture an interesting aspect but it would have been location independent. I didn’t want that. Part of the value of the photograph comes from its unusual situation and including the river background provides that context. Context in terms of place and in terms of situation. The water is low; that is clear from the picture. Again the light enhanced the far background, bringing out both the bare trees on the St. Charles County bank and the railway bridge running parallel to U.S. Route 67 road bridge.

The result is a time (winter) and situation (low water) stamped photograph of a interesting location with strong personal resonance.

That’s really all I want out of a picture.  It doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone else, but it needs to be an image I can return to ten or twenty years from now and find equally interesting. It doesn’t have to be an artistic triumph or a technical tour de force; if it is, those qualities are coincidental. Truthfully. I really don’t have it in me to work it any other way, not because I couldn’t (I probably could if I really tried) but because that would move me away from what I enjoy about photography.

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