All I wanted to do was see the new Star Wars movie. And I wanted to see it in my favorite theater in the southernmost suburb of St. Louis on December 27; because that was the day I could go. I’ve seen the Mississippi - and its local tributary the Meramec - flood many, many times. Floods on big rivers like the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio are insidious. Water can fill up a considerable piece of real estate far from the tempestuous main channel which is bobbing uprooted trees and car fenders. Ten miles from the main channel it can begin with a ditch filling up in a suburb that had never seen water before. It begins slowly, like a hose left running in a backyard wading pool. Except the next day the water is at the window. The day after that, the neighborhood has become a village of rooftops reflecting off a deceptively serene yet ultimately sinister pool. Below that placid water lies a foot of toxic mud and someone’s life’s work. And it is disconcerting, no, frightening when, as happened to me, you can also out of a metroplex at 8 p.m. and your route home is flooded on three fronts – and you must race the rising water on the fourth front to get out of suburban St. Louis in time. Always fascinated with the rivers, and with the people who sleep soundly to the hum of pump motors behind 6-foot homemade sandbag levees, I got out my camera after my Star Wars misadventure and the New Year Flood.
A week later I was in southern Illinois and took this photo. I posted it on Facebook and Twitter, and it was ultimately picked up by CNN iReport. Here again was one of those serenely sinister floodings, this time in the southern Illinois community of Olive Branch. A levee was breached 4 miles from this spot. Someone called this photo beautiful. But another said to be mindful of peoples’ tragedies. How does a photographer capture disaster in a respectful way? In this photo, I’m influenced by the Great Flood of 1993. It stayed around for an entire summer like, well, a hose left on in a backyard wading pool. Millions of acres of Midwestern bottomland sat around like this for months. It was the banal, yes, beauty of the water that I remember and the fact that it affected people far from the galloping main channels of the Mississippi and Missouri. Shelf clouds which produce devastating tornadoes are also beautiful, as is a fireman's flushed face rushing to save a burning home. As photographers, we can only capture and record. Whether it is dispresctuful or merely observational is up to the beholder, and society. I call this photo Breach of the Len Small Levee.
Copyright 2016 RC