Critical Acclaim

Richard’s work was featured on KETC Channel 9’s Living St. Louis. Watch here

“Manipulations of Man, Machinations of Nature”
After the Flood: Photographs by Richard Sprengeler
By Jeff Daniel, Special to GET OUT April 7,1996

It could be argued that Richard Sprengeler’s photographs are of things.  Aiming his lens at the desolate, debris-strewn areas ravaged by the 1993 flood, Sprengeler captures the waterlogged file cabinets, the dilapidated metal sheds, the recovered school trophies that were left in the disaster’s wake.  Things.

But the images in “After the Flood” reveal much more than the tangible objects depicted in black and white.  Sprengeler states that although he wasn’t able to photograph the flood, he did feel “there was a powerful story to be told from the flood’s aftermath.”  A wise decision.  Without the human element, the shots are eerily post-apocalyptic, the sites reminiscent of the remains of Pompeii.

Most are familiar with the horrific images of those who underestimated Vesuvius, their terror-stricken faces trapped in time and now unveiled through the wonders of archeology.  Sprengeler, through his photographs, unveils the homes, schools and other town institutions that underestimated the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and their willingness to unleash a 500-year flood.  The print “Flooded Home, Chouteau Island, Illinois, 1994″shows the tossed-about remains of a once-homey living room and a photo titled “Intercom Control Board” depicts a familiar feature of a principal’s office with everything in its rightful place, glazed with a layer of river mud.  Like any disaster,  be it natural or man-made (e.g. Nagasaki), the flood of ’93 demonstrated that strange knack for alternately leaving areas as mangled ruins or placid ruins.

Sprengeler’s photos owe a great deal to the Depression-era disaster photos of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange even the later work of Gordon Parks.  The subject matter has obvious parallels, but Sprengeler also has the gift as did Evans of telling a human-interest story without the humans.  And when he uses ironic juxtaposition—a shot of a flooded-out railroad station and the sign, “Safety: Your Family’s Future Depending On It, ”  for example – it is hard not to think of Lange’s famous shot of Oakies in front of a commercial billboard advertising the good life.  Just shots of things, maybe, but powerful ones for sure.

 

Two artists discover beauty in abstract form
By Jeff Daniel, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/28/01

Times like these were made for abstract art. Bombarded daily by words and images -by choice as well as by chance – any sane person would welcome the chance to briefly escape the ongoing information narrative. Not that the work of Sol Lewitt and Richard Sprengeler wouldn’t be worth a look in less anxious times. Lewitt, the famed minimalist who helped pioneer conceptualism in the early ’60s, and Sprengeler, a local photographer who looks through his lens with a painter’s eye, have proved themselves over the years. It’s just that now their work takes on a certain therapeutic quality.

And in the case of Sprengeler, who would have thought this could be accomplished by making parking garages a central subject? Downtown St. Louis parking garages at that, those unidentifiable masses of concrete that we rarely notice. When we do, our eyes focus on the nearest open space or the color-coded pillar that lets us know we’ve reached our proper level. As for the garage itself, what’s to see? Through Sprengeler’s eyes, plenty. His series of 18 black-and-white photographs at Left Bank Books, “Architectural Abstractions,” uncovers a hidden beauty in the design of these structures. From graceful, sweeping curves to Mondrian-like grids, the photographer presents a geometric world that only needed to be properly framed. Helping the cause is the lack of people in the compositions -not to mention vehicles. So what Sprengeler leaves himself with is concrete, the occasionally piece of metal, and, most important, sunlight. Beams of sunlight. Washes of sunlight. Sunlight illuminating large expanses of concrete wall and providing a perfect foil for the expanses of contrasting darkness.

One would expect such a dance of concrete and light in a structure by someone such as architect Tadao Ando, a master choreographer of those elements. But a utilitarian parking garage? The sow’s ear is now Sprengeler’s silk purse, his entrance and exit ramps transformed into hypnotic spirals, his guard rails and barriers treated as delicate parts of an intricate composition. If you can rid your memory of the noxious smell of car exhaust and the obnoxious sound of blaring car horns (just for a moment), you can easily see what attracted Sprengeler to his subject. He took away the function – the hurried people and their loud cars – and went straight for the form. Form before function: That’s always a good space for an artist to pull into.

 

Elegant Emptiness
by Byron Kerman, Riverfront Times – August 15, 2001

If someone told you they just saw a nifty exhibit of photographs taken from within empty parking garages, you might scoff, thinking that such an environment sounds about as boring as can be.

Photographer Richard Sprengeler, in pursuit of abstractionist gold, has put together a portfolio of what happens when one goes looking for an interesting interplay of forms and light in the most mundane of settings.

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Change of pace pays off for Fairview Heights photographer
By J.W. Campbell, St. Clair County Journal
Fairview Heights photographer Richard Spengeler has been photographing downtown St. Louis for over 20 years, but when he entered a photo contest conducted by the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, he decided to do something a little bit different.

It paid off. Spengeler won the contest with a photograph titled “The Arch and Old Courthouse from Keiner Plaza Garage.” The image was a panoramic view assembled from six vertical exposures.

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