New photo exhibit illuminates the workers who keep Philadelphia running as the rest of the city sleeps

Jason Khan, a revenue attendant on one of SEPTA’s Money Trains, looks over the city in June of 2016 as a train was temporarily stopped above ground near the Frankford Transport Center.

It’s said New York is the city that never sleeps, but Philadelphia is home to a whole crew of laborers who work well into the wee hours of the morning.

In a new exhibition, Nightwork, running through July 15, photographer Ted Lieverman showcases the often unseen world of the city after hours.

“When I was a lawyer, on more occasions than I’d like to count, I’d be working all night, and then leaving the office and walking home in the city alone,” Lieverman says. “In some ways, it was isolating, but it also felt liberating and almost invigorating. I got to see a different side of the city, and this has always intrigued me.”

Camera icon PHOTO COURTESY Ted Lieverman
Sgt. Marc Pasquarella of the SEPTA Transit Police pauses in front of City Hall during his evening duties.

The 25-photo exhibition in the Logan Square Art Gallery at the Watermark features subjects ranging from bartenders pouring the last shot of the night to police officers patrolling City Hall to dancers rehearsing for next week’s show to Peco employees fixing equipment overnight.

Lieverman’s favorite subject is SEPTA’s money train, which serves each SEPTA subway line, collecting fare revenue as it travels from station to station. Several photographs show guards hustling heavy metal boxes full of money to the train, as well as supervisors overseeing the process.

Lieverman was a union lawyer before becoming a photographer “and always held an appreciation for the hard work done by the people who I served,” he says. “I wanted to show what those people do, rather than just talk about it.”

Camera icon PHOTO COURTESY Ted Lieverman
SEPTA revenue attendants transport cash and tokens from one of the Market-Frankford subway stations to the revenue train (more popularly known as the “money train”).

Lieverman plans to  expand the project and hopes this debut of the collection will encourage more employers to let him into their work spaces so he can reach other often out-of-sight professions. Hospitals, 911 operator stations, seafood distribution centers, and the Philadelphia Fire Department are all places he wants to explore.

“It’s life as it’s lived at night, unknown to most of us while we’re sleeping — these are the people that are keeping our city going,” says gallery curator Junia Oliansky.

Camera icon PHOTO COURTESY Ted Lieverman
A night manager in SEPTA’s 24-hour command center takes a call.

At 95, Oliansky has been running the Logan Square Art Gallery for six years. She leaves behind a game of bridge on the computer in her office adjacent to the gallery and walks over to point out a photo of a clearly distressed SEPTA night manager.

“I love this one,” says Oliansky. “The way the expression has been captured in his face instantly gives a small window into what it’s like to be this guy.”

Oliansky brings a new exhibition to the gallery every five weeks, displaying collections from outside artists such as Lieverman, as well as those from Watermark residents. The Watermark, a retirement community in the Franklintown  neighborhood, is home to nearly 400 people, many of whom take painting classes, ceramics workshops, printmaking sessions, and other art offerings in the building.

Junia Oliansky, the 95-year-old curator at the Watermark’s Logan Square Art Gallery, stands beside a series of photos Ted Lieverman took of the Brian Sanders JUNK dance and theater troupe.

“Part of the draw to this particular community is that it’s in the museum district, so we attract a lot of residents that are former artists or are artistic by nature,” says Jennifer Tapner, executive director at the Watermark. “We love that we can share the space with those throughout the city, and that it brings the outside community together with our residents here.”

“Our residents are seniors, but they’re young at heart, and they’re loving the edgy, artistic elements of this collection,” says Tapner. “It’s diverse. It’s real, and it’s raw.”