Former photographer from SE Mo. captures moments

Associated Press Modified: October 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm •  Published: October 5, 2012

ALTENBURG, Mo. (AP) — Former Cape Girardeau resident and newspaper photojournalist Ken Steinhoff presents a glimpse into the past in a new exhibit at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum in Altenburg, Mo. The retrospective, "Ordinary People Doing Ordinary Things," is on display until Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

"I like to photograph people who were unacknowledged by the paper except when they were born, when they got married, when they got a speeding ticket, and when they died. Somebody else could have the celebrity beat," Steinhoff said.

While working in the Cape Girardeau area, Steinhoff developed film for the newspapers he worked for in his basement darkroom. Photos considered newspaper worthy were selected. Discarded film was rolled up, put into old coffee cans and placed into bags which he filed underneath a desk.

After retirement in 2008, Steinhoff came back to Cape Girardeau and rediscovered the old film. As he examined the frames he realized something that eluded him 50 years ago: the ordinary and uninteresting photos were "the most precious."

Hidden in the bags was a treasure trove of images from bygone days. The faces, places and mundane rituals of life that time has forgotten. From a Mississippi River baptism in black and white from New Madrid, Mo., to shots of Wittenburg, Mo., which was virtually wiped out by floods, to farmers standing in their coveralls outside a store talking.

Steinhoff contacted Carla Jordan, the director of the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum of Perry County, and showed her his work.

"It started the conversation about the exhibit," Jordan said. "Ken's expertise in portraiture is amazing. He doesn't like to be called an artist. The exhibit is presented like an art exhibit."

They had more than 400 photos to choose from for the exhibit. They argued. Eventually they had a "picking party" and allowed some of the choices to be made by friends.

"It's such an honor having the Steinhoff exhibit with us," Jordan said. "The work is a powerful juxtaposition. And it was all work that had been discarded."

Steinhoff's family settled in Cape Girardeau, where he attended Trinity Lutheran and Cape Girardeau Central High School.

While in high school he was the chief photographer for The Tiger, the school's newspaper, and Girardot, the yearbook. He was also a reporter and photographer for the Jackson Pioneer, where he learned to set type, write stories and shoot pictures.

In 1965 he was a summer intern at the Southeast Missourian.

As an intern he worked on the copy desk as well as in sports, news and wedding coverage. The experience resulted in the newspaper for Ohio University hiring him in 1967. Within three months he became the photo editor.

Steinhoff was pursuing a bachelor of fine arts, but "I neglected my studies more than a little. It was more fun to actually do than to study."

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