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Forest Park: Capturing a year in the life

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 21, 2010 - Alex Paradowski, a graphic designer who has a passion for photography, began his presentation Tuesday evening at the Missouri History Museum on a humble note.

Introducing his book, a one-year photographic diary of Forest Park, Paradowski said, “Anyone can do what I’ve done. Cameras today are so automatic and the park is so photogenic.”

Perhaps. And while Paradowski isn’t a professional photographer, he had the vision and persistence to execute the project, which involved taking scores of photographs and finding one from each day of the year to highlight in a book called FP365.

Paradowski, principal of the design firm Paradowski Creative, lives several blocks from Forest Park. He decided in early 2007 to chronicle a year in the life of the park and picked June 1 as the day to start shooting.

With his Canon camera in hand, Paradowski typically set out in the morning before work to take his photos. Some days he’d take 40 or 50 shots before settling on his favorite; other times he’d take one photograph and know it was the one. Once Paradowski selected the photo of the day, he would write a diary entry about the image.

The routine was similar for Edward Crim, a professional photographer who also decided to capture a year in Forest Park through his camera. From Dec. 31, 2008, for a year, Crim spent several hours each day shooting hundreds of photos in the park, selecting his favorite photos (often 30-plus), uploading them to his website and blogging at Forest Park 365 about the experience.

He took photos of the park during all hours of the day. He captured its iconic institutions, as well as its plants, animals and streams. Some of the most memorable shots are of people jogging, hiking, fishing, daydreaming and sharing romantic moments in isolated fields.

Instead of assembling the photographs in a book, Crim decided to upload the previous day’s photographs to his website, where’s there’s a calendar of shots and a diary of the project. “I think in real-time, so it didn’t occur to me to do it any other way,” he said.

Like Paradowski, Crim lives close to Forest Park and had been closely watching the park undergo changes in recent years. “I was interested in what’s out there; this is a place I think I know well but I wanted to explore more,” he said.

Beginning April 30, Crim is showing his work at Norton’s Fine Art Gallery, 2025 S. Big Bend Blvd. From 5-8 p.m. on April 30, Crim is set to talk about the project. He said it’s also his first attempt to sell the prints.

Paradowski’s self-published book ($30, available at area book stores) came out in late 2008, but Tuesday’s event was the first time the author/photographer had spoken to an audience about his project.

Crim said he was unaware when he started his 365 project that Paradowski had done a similar project the year before. Paradowski said he enjoyed following Crim’s work and saw clear differences in what they were shooting. For one, Crim included many portraits, while Paradowski did not. The FP365 book includes several candid shots of people in Forest Park. But make no mistake, nature is the real star. (Crim also has plenty of nature shots, as well.)

Spring and summer provide ample opportunities for vivid photographs of the scenery, Paradowski said he found. He didn’t want 30 pages of fall leaves (though there are a few such shots.) And he said he was surprised to find so much color still in the winter.

One of Paradowski's signature shots is of the front of the Saint Louis Art Museum with a snowy hill in the foreground. It’s one of the few scenes he shot during multiple seasons. Another is the iconic bandstand.

As a way to make sure every part of Forest Park was represented in his book, Paradowski divided the park into 12 zones. He shot one day anywhere within one part of the grid and then moved the next day to a different section. Some zones were more challenging to shoot than others, either because they were dominated by a parking lot or, say, the St. Louis Zoo (Paradowski generally avoided shooting inside the Zoo because he wanted to avoid creating an animal book). 

“It was great when seasons changed in places where it was a challenge to shoot because it became new again,” Paradowski said.

He tried to focus on scenes and images that are uniquely Forest Park. There are quintessential photographs of leafy trees, flowers, bridges and boats. “I found that there are plenty of places in the park where there’s no hint of an urban setting,” Paradowski said.

Some images will look familiar to people who walk, bike or ride through Forest Park today. Others, such as a photograph of a temporary sculpture installation that’s been gone for years, are a reminder of the changing nature of the park.

Then there are the images you’d likely never pay attention to were it not for Paradowski’s photos -– the towering fans at the Muny, a raggedy office chair used by a fisherman and left behind on a grassy patch, the cracked lettering on the handball courts.

Though the book is called FP365, it contains a few more than 365 photos. There’s decorative art inside and on the cover, not to mention that fact that 2008 was a leap year.

“A year is a long time, but it all went by very quickly,” Paradowski said.