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International Photography Hall Of Fame And Museum Opens In St. Louis

The International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum has a new home in St. Louis.

This Friday it will celebrate its grand opening in Grand Center at 3415 Olive Street.

It’s the culmination of years of planning after the IPHF left its previous home in an Oklahoma City science museum in 2011.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Maria Altman got a chance to see the new space. Here's her account of her visit:

A New Home In St. Louis

On the day I walked through the museum, there was still a little construction work being done. A saw buzzed as workers built stairs in the back, and a painter touched up walls here and there.

Executive Director John Nagel didn’t seem flustered a bit by the final rush.

"Well, it’s pretty exciting," Nagel said. "It’s been several years."

Nagel joined the board of the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum back in 2005.

That was when talk was just beginning about a move from Oklahoma City.

Nagel lobbied for St. Louis, and he says the arts community here has met the IPHF with open arms.

"Everybody believes this is going to be a fabulous tourist attraction, a cultural advantage to St. Louis and everyone’s delighted that St. Louis is going to be our new home, and we are too," he said.

Connections & Collections

Nagel has worked for years as professional photographer and teacher in and around St. Louis. He said one reason the city is a good fit is the region’s 14 colleges and universities with photography programs.

He said IPHF can help students and photographers connect, and it can educate them about photography’s history, some of which is not-so-distant.

"We’ve had college-age interns who’ve never developed a roll of film or never saw a print developed in a tray… and we can demonstrate that here," Nagel said.

He takes me through the museum, first showing off the early photographic equipment the IPHF has in its collection, including stereo cameras, a megalithoscope, and a camera so big it has wheels.

"It’s a studio camera that has its own stand with casters on the bottom and you can wheel it around the studio," Nagel explained. "It’s large enough so that the negative made is 11 by 14 inches. It’s called a century camera because it was sold first at the turn of the century in 1900."

A Showcase For Photographers

The IPHF intends to showcase the work of both well-known and up-and-coming photographers.

The first exhibit is called "The Past, Present and Future of Nature Photography." It includes the work of Peter Dombrovskis, an inductee in the IPHF’s Hall of Fame, who focused much of his work on preserving pristine areas in Tasmania.

Photojournalist NoppadolPaothong, who works for the state’s Department of Conservation, also is featured.

"If you don’t have a free subscription to the Missouri Conservationist magazine you should get one just to see his work," Nagel said. "It’s phenomenal."

The future of nature photography is represented with images taken by high school scholarship winners from the North American Nature Photography Association and 18-25 year old winners of the National Geographic Young Explorers Grant Program.

The IPHF has 71 inductees to its Hall of Fame and boasts 30,000 images.

Those include famous works such as Ansel Adam’s "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico," which is currently on display.

Yousef Karsh’s iconic portrait of Winston Churchill also hangs in a corner with Churchill staring grumpily at the camera.

Nagel happily recounts the story behind the portrait: "The story goes that Karsh felt he wasn’t getting the expression that he wanted so before one of the photographs he reached up and pulled the cigar out of Churchill’s mouth, got this expression, took the picture and said 'thank you, Mr. Churchill.'"

Nagel says it’s the museum’s mission to tell photography’s story, whether about its early innovators or a glimpse behind a great photograph.

Now that the IPHF is finally settled in its new home in St. Louis the organization is ready for the next chapter.

"Cityscape" host Steve Potter talks with Maria Altman about the grand opening of the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum.

Follow Maria Altman on Twitter: @radioaltman

Cityscape is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.