My story of having an image used by the US Postal Service starts with how I developed my photography style on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River across from St. Louis, Missouri. Retiring from the US Air Force and wanting to pursue landscape photography, I practiced catching sunsets along the Mississippi River. During these experiences, I refined how I capture sunsets and twilights which can offer unforgiving challenges. Many of my trips did not produce successful images. Often the exposures were too bright, or too dark. The scene's dynamic lighting often exceeded the capabilities of my camera. If I mitigated these limits and captured a good exposure, then I found the clouds didn't cooperate. Once I understood the elements of a colorful sunset, I got better at being at the right spot during these infrequent events. Check out this gallery of Gateway Arch Art Prints.
On this particular evening, I sensed an opportunity for the setting sun to illuminate the clouds from underneath. I headed to East St Louis on one of the coldest days of the year. It was so cold over the Midwest that chunks of ice were flowing in the river. The cold spell was also impacting the flow of water as much of the Mississippi River remained locked in ice upstream. The reduced water flow also produced one of the lowest river levels in recent memory. With the eastern shore of the Mississippi River filled with transportation infrastructure, the lower river levels provided access to the shoreline normally many feet underwater.
Upon arriving in St Louis, the evening sky was filled with dreary clouds. Through practice, I've learned to not give up on seeing a colorful sunset, even when the skies are filled with clouds....at sunset. One of my many first painful lessons entailed leaving the riverbank at official sunset as the grey skies made the scene dreary and depressing. As I headed eastward toward home, my truck's mirror revealed one of the most colorful sunsets I'd seen in many months. I left too early and I vowed that this would never happen again. A new rule became, thou shall not drive away until 25 minutes after sunset. Following this doctrine on a cold January evening, I waited and eventually witnessed a brief and amazing light show. The clouds transitioned from dreadful muted tones to wildly warm hues, then to darkness all in a few brief minutes.
After copyrighting the image, I shared the image along with other colorful St Louis Skylines scenes on my webpage. Five years later, I received what appeared as another email trying to scam a photographer. I didn't recognize the email address. Cautiously responding to the inquiry, I confirmed the image was mine and that I held the copyright. Finally, the entity shared they were a contractor for the US Postal Service in the procurement of artwork for upcoming stamps. They also shared that if I commit to working with them through the process, a stamp might not materialize for 2 or 3 years. Following this note, there was silence. Six months later, I received a photo agreement. In short, I would still own my image, but as the image appears as US Stamp, the Postal Service would own the copyright to that version. I agreed and signed the agreement which also held a non-disclosure agreement. The promise I committed to in this document entailed never speaking of the agreement until the US Postmaster General makes the announcement. I signed, and they sent a nice check, and then there was silence. Two and half years later, I received a note depicting my image on the stamp sheet stating the Postmaster General had announced the upcoming Mighty Mississippi Stamp Series.
As the official release date approached, I received an invitation to attend the First Day of Issues Ceremony. The stamp unveiling occurred in Memphis, Tennessee on 23 May 2022. Where historic Beale Street meets the Mississippi River, resides an overlook and access to the American Queen Riverboat. Attending the ceremony were officials from the US Postal Service and several mayors from the cities along the Mississippi River. Also attending were several photographers whose images were also featured in the Mighty Mississippi Stamp Series. The ceremony entailed speeches by several dignitaries and eventually the stamp unveiling. The photographers were eventually asked to pose with the seven-foot replica. Following the ceremony's end, the photographers, mayors, and US Postal Service dignitaries were seated at a long table. From there a line of stamp enthusiasts traversed the table asking each of us to sign the stamp memorabilia. It was a humbling experience.
While signing a host of stamps, my wife secured four First Day of Issue Ceremony Programs. Unlike the stamps, these can not be purchased later as they are only shared with ceremony attendees. Along with 10 stamp sheets, she went through the autograph line gaining signatures which are now the centerpiece of my framed Mighty Mississippi Stamps. Where framed stamp sheets are often produced after the event, these 10 frames hold the unique signatures of the Mighty Mississippi Stamp Ceremony photographers and dignitaries. Four of the ten sheets come with a signed ceremony program, making these framed stamp memorabilia even more valuable.
With all these artifacts in hand, my framer, Dayton Art Solutions created a wonderful layout that shows each piece in a graceful style. Prominently in the layout lies an 8.5" x 11" print of Firery Frozen Gateway Arch No. 2, without the other stamps on top of the scene. Below each print resides an autographed Mighty Mississippi Stamp sheet signed by the stamp's photographers and dignitaries. For four special frames, the program description and sequence of events frame the stamp sheet. Each piece lies under museum glass ensuring distracting glares and harmful ultraviolet light do not impact the stamps.
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