I am an undergraduate student studying architecture, and this past semester I was a part of the Public Lab: River Rat Pack class with Derek Hoeferlin. Along with participating in both weekend and class-time balloon flights, I was responsible for producing sections across each site displayed in our exhibition. These sections are meant to show the different overall context of each flight site, something which may not be readily evident from our aerial panorama shots.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this class, and apart from exploring different parts of St. Louis, I wasn't sure what I would end up gaining at the end. However, throughout the course of the semester I began to see the merits of balloon photography. As discussed in class, flying the balloon allowed us to capture a moment in time with unique circumstances that cannot be seen from a typical aerial photo. We were able to see barges pass through the river in some places (like Chain of Rocks Canal and Chouteau's Landing) and their absence in other areas (like at Chain of Rocks Bridge). These human-scale experiences led to greater questions about the the different sites we visited as well as their relationship to the river. It is easy to see the difference between the concrete river front of the Cotton Belt building and the maintained wetlands around the Missouri-Mississippi confluence in an aerial view, but it is much harder to understand the interface of those sites with the river itself. Although we visited very industrial sites that might seem like optimal places to deal with the Mississippi's barge traffic, many of them were underused or even abandoned. On the other side of that spectrum, we went to sites with very little infrastructure at all that were very highly trafficked by wildlife, revealing another use for the river that not many people think about.
All in all, the class made me think about my relationship to the Mississippi-- and rivers in general-- in a different light. Beyond the literal perspective shift I experienced from looking at the photos we produced, my conceptions of my home city changed. I was able to see the way we sometimes take the river for granted, and manipulate it's edges so that it is no longer accessible to both humans and wildlife, which eventually shapes the city as a whole.
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