The latest installment in the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ ongoing Public Policy Research Center Photography Project features photographs taken by the staff and crew from two companies involved in shipping via the Mississippi River. The companies include J.B. Marine, a St. Louis dry dock and barge repair service, and AEP River Operations, a large shipping concern with a port in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Some of the photographs included in the exhibit, “Mississippi Tows,” reflect the beauty of the Mississippi River and the people who crew its working boats.

Others document the giant scale of river operations where, for example, deckhands are dwarfed by the huge locks and cargo barges they manage.

Mel Watkin, director of the PPRC Photography Project at UMSL, worked with the staff and crews. She taught them the basics of photography before giving them free reign with cameras. The experience gave her an appreciation of the Mississippi River’s lure, something she’d never experienced before. 

“To me it was just the big, muddy water barrier I had to cross in bumper-to-bumper traffic on my way work, or the place where casinos on fake paddleboats pretend to float,” Watkin said. “The photographers for this project made me see the true nature of the river.”

“Mississippi Tows” will be on display June 23 through Aug. 30 in the PPRC Photography Project Gallery on the third floor of UMSL’s Social Sciences and Business Building, One University Blvd. in St. Louis County (63121). Gallery hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. An opening reception will be from noon to 1 p.m. June 23 in the gallery.

A duplicate of each PPRC Photography Project exhibit also is displayed in a location affiliated with the photographers. In addition to UMSL, “Mississippi Tows” will be on display June 23 through Aug. 1 at the Cape Girardeau Public Library, 711 N. Clark St. in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Exhibit hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. An opening reception will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. June 23 at the library.

The PPRC Photography Project was modeled after the pioneering community photography programs established by artist and teacher Wendy Ewald. Several volunteer St. Louis-area community groups participate in the PPRC Photography Project each year. They learn the basics of photography and then are asked to document efforts to improve their neighborhood’s quality of life. The Public Policy Research Center’s goal for the project is twofold: to highlight the undertakings of local organizations working toward the greater good and to inspire people to take a closer look at and get involved with their communities.  

The Photography Project was co-sponsored by the Public Policy Research Center at UMSL, Missouri Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts and Regional Arts Commission. Visit http://pprc.umsl.edu or call 314-516-5273 for more information.

“The Susie Cooney, AEP River Operations, Heads toward the Jefferson Barracks Bridge South of St. Louis” is a digital color photo by Tony Stanbery.

“The Susie Cooney, AEP River Operations, Heads toward the Jefferson Barracks Bridge South of St. Louis” is a digital color photo by Tony Stanbery.

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Ryan Heinz

Ryan Heinz