Remembering Bob Reuter: St. Louis Speaks [Multiple Updates]

Categories: Local History

Joe Thebeau of Finn's Motel

I won't be the first person to say that what I shared with Bob Reuter was an uneasy friendship. That's because with Bob, almost nothing was easy. When I hired him to shoot promo photos for my band, he asked for money in advance to buy photo paper. So, I gave it to him. Then, when a few weeks had gone by and the photos still hadn't been printed, he said he needed more money for photo paper. What had happened to the previous payment? I didn't ask. I knew he was often living from one $20 bill to the next, so I gave him another handful. The photos did eventually materialize and they were great. But, it wasn't easy. And why should it be?

The essence of a great story is conflict. And the best art is that which makes you uncomfortable in some way. Nobody understood this better than Bob Reuter. His songs, his stories, and his photos were great, not because he was a great singer, not because he had a great command of the language, and not because his photos were perfectly in focus. His voice often cracked, he preferred to use street language, and his photos were often obscured on purpose. But, they were great because Bob was a master at recognizing, capturing, and sometimes even creating conflict. His songs often have characters whose problems go unresolved. His short stories are filled with arguments and fights, which as we know in real life, almost never end with everyone living happily ever after. The best of his photos are those where you can easily imagine the shit that must have just happened right before the shutter clicked. And a guy his age taking pictures like that of young girls, well, that made us all a little uncomfortable. But all great art does that.

We had an uneasy friendship. Though I hired him for photo shoots, went to his photo exhibits and went to his music shows and short story readings, Bob kept me at a bit of a distance. For good reason. I have a day job working for The Man, I left South City for the suburbs, and have often sacrificed my art for family life. I tend to avoid conflict. A guy like me ends up cast in the role of antagonist in a Bob Reuter story. I got nervous writing this, because I could hear his voice asking, "why did you get him to write about me?" Not to say we didn't get along. He commented favorably on a poem I wrote, calling it "epic." We talked about how Bob's dedication to live the life of an artist was something Henry Miller wrote about a lot. We had plenty of agreement. But, it's fair to say that we had differences of opinion. So, I'm sure I won't be the only person that Bob left with unresolved arguments. But, all the best stories end that way.

Dana Smith, St. Louis artist and musician

The main thing that always drew me to Bob was his photographs. Every single photo of his captures truth and honesty. His songs capture that too, of course. In 2005 I had a son and suddenly realized I was going to have to have family portraits done. The very first thought in my mind was Bob Reuter. I contacted him and he was all for it. I wanted the photos done on a specific day and would need to coordinate with Bob to make sure he was available and able to make it at some point during that day. For four years we did this annually.

Sometimes I'd have to pick him up or drive out to some specialty camera store to buy the right kind of film that he used, but any minor task like that was fully worth the effort. I'd assemble my family, with a daughter addition in 2007, and he'd snap away. We never had a plan, just think off the top of our heads -- let's sit here or go to this park and see what happens. I never told him what or how to shoot. Never asked for specific type of pictures. Never asked for specific sizes. I simply asked him what was the charge and payed him in cash. Then we'd go our separate ways.

When the photos were ready he'd contact me or I'd see him at show and we'd tentatively plan to meet up so I could get them. Each time he gave me a batch of photos, any expectations I might have had were far exceeded, and those photographs have always been the most cherished images I have of my family.


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