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Renowned photography institution to join St. Louis' arts scene

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 5, 2012 - The International Photography Hall of Fame (IPHF) is bringing its 6,000 historical cameras and 30,000 images created by the likes of Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White and Ansel Adams to St. Louis.

If all goes as planned, this time next year St. Louisans will view famous works including Adams’ “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” and Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “V-J Day in Times Square” in the IPHF's new Grand Center location and also enjoy a host of speakers, classes and special exhibitions.

The IPHF is moving from Oklahoma City’s Photographic Art & Science Foundation after 47 years because the foundation is sharpening its scientific focus.

Following a search for new locations that included Rochester, N.Y.; Chicago; and Daytona Beach, the board agreed that St. Louis' Grand Center is the place to be, according to board president and local photographic artist John Nagel.

“All roads led to this location. We didn’t find anything else as attractive as the larger audience we have in St. Louis,” Nagel said.

First exhibit planned for next year

Working with Grand Center organization’s president Vince Schoemehl and investor Steve Smith, the IPHF group found a home on the second floor of Smith’s Triumph Grill,  3419 Olive St.

Now it needs to raise between $1 million and $2 million to create the 6,000 square-foot exhibition space and fund a storage facility nearby in the Grove. Nagel declined to release specifics about fundraising efforts, but he expects to have the IPHF collection moved to St. Louis by early 2013, with the first exhibition opening soon after.

IPHF will pay no rent for 20 years and will share profits from leasing the museum space for special events, according to the IPHF website.

The Grand Center location will put IPHF within a few blocks of the Fox Theatre, Powell Hall, the Grandel, the Kranzberg Arts Center and the Sheldon. A short walk away are the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum as well as galleries. That group of institutions makes the area one of the top cultural neighborhoods in the country, Nagel said.

Nagel is also hoping to partner with many of St. Louis’ other major institutions including the St. Louis Art Museum.

The Hall of Fame and museum will not only round out St. Louis’ arts scene, it will become an attraction in its own right, according to IPHF's treasurer, St. Louis photographer and publisher Robert Bullivant

“Our hope is to develop this into a gem of St. Louis, where it will be a destination,” Bullivant said.

Re-establishing STL as a ‘juggernaut’?

Recent exhibits in the Oklahoma City location have included an Alfred Stieglitz retrospective, the "Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs" traveling exhibit and a series of images of Elvis Presley, taken before he knew fame.

One exhibit in the works for the new location is a duel show featuring contemporary and antique 3-D photography (“View-Master”-style stereographic cards), according to Bullivant.

“We could have someone come in who’s a collector and working in antique 3-D photography, and someone working in modern 3-D to exhibit side-by-side and talk about the process and their concepts,” Bullivant said. “That’s typically not the kind of programming you’re going to see at a museum or gallery.”

An admissions policy similar to that of the Art Museum is under consideration -- free general admission and a fee for special exhibits.

But exhibits are just the beginning, as organizers say they want IPHF to become a hub of activity and education for photographers, ranging from hobbyists to members of the St. Louis Camera Club to students and professors at the more than a dozen local colleges and universities that now offer photography programs.

“We’re looking for things that will draw in the general public as well as life-long enthusiasts of photography,” Bullivant said.

Landing the IPHF is "pretty terrific for the entire community," according to Stan Strembicki, who coordinates the photography program at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University. Strembicki, who has long been familiar with the IPHF, looks forward to collaborating with the institution for lectures and exhibits.

Strembicki also noted that the museum’s move to St. Louis coincides perfectly with a renewed focus on photography in the art world, Strembicki said.

“If you look at people in painting or printmaking or installation now, everyone is using photography in one form or another, so photography is becoming much more relevant,” Strembicki said.

Strembicki hopes the IPHF will be able to revive the national reputation St. Louis enjoyed as a thriving photo community back in the 1980s.

“Everyone knew that the St. Louis fine arts photography community was like this juggernaut -- but that all seemed to kind of dissipate,” Strembicki said. “Now it’s really great to hear this might be a focal point to re-establish that energy in St. Louis.”

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.