17 photographers set out to capture every angle of Philadelphia

Depicted, a Lunar New Year Celebration scene at Wing Phat Plaza in South Philadelphia, one of the many images contributed to A Photographic Survey of Philadelphia by photographer Neema Kashi.

The spotlight shines brightly on the City of Brotherly Love in a new photo exhibition that seeks to showcase “everyday Philadelphia.”

From north to south and east to west, 17 photographers spent the past six months capturing scenes from different sections of the city to create what’s called A photographic Survey of Philadelphia. The 75-photo display now lines the walls of the spacious lobby of 990 Spring Garden.

“Philadelphia is such a city of grit and character, full of places brimming with interesting people,” says exhibition curator Kevin Cook, a documentary photographer and photo educator who grew up in Mayfair. “I love the city and am a proud Philadelphian. I wanted to document the city visually as best as we could.”

Camera icon PHOTO COURTESY MATTHEW BENDER
Photographed from Lawrence Street on the edge of Northern Liberties, Matthew Bender captures a home being torn down to be replaced by a new rowhouse. The construction worker explained that the method used to attach it to the adjacent house was no longer up to code.

In 1960, the Philadelphia Planning Commission presented a comprehensive plan that split Philadelphia into 12  sections. While today, the city is divided into 18 sections, Cook decided to use the initial blueprint to guide the vision of his exhibition.

“It seemed like one of the first official documents that talked about Philadelphia as a city of neighborhoods, so it felt right,” explains Cook. “Although, this was just a starting point as to where photographers would make work. The objective really was just to paint a picture of what Philadelphia looks like.”

From a face-painted Mummer walking down Broad Street to kids gazing at ducks hanging in the windows of Chinatown to teens playing pickup basketball in Olney, the display showcases a vast variety of both subjects and visual scenes. Viewers can equally explore portraits — such as those of an old man selling random appliances on the streets of Kensington and African immigrants captured in Southwest Philadelphia — as they can abstract photos of building facades.

“I thought it was an intriguing way to present a city,” says Matthew Bender, who photographed the Lower North section, including the Northern Liberties and Lower Kensington neighborhoods. “In my particular section, there’s a whole debate about gentrification — some people are radically against it, others are taking advantage of it. It’s complex, but it creates an interesting visual play in the juxtaposition between the two.”

Beyond the visual differences that naturally arise among the dozen city sections, the diversity among the photographers also comes across throughout the display.

Camera icon GRACE DICKINSON / STAFF
A new exhibition, A Photographic Survey of Philadelphia, explores the city through the lenses of 17 photographers, each assigned to one of 12 sections (including Center City, pictured here) originally outlined by the Philadelphia Planning Commission in 1960.

“The city is a collection of neighborhoods and a collection of people, and having so many different photographers who all express their own art styles only adds to the ability to capture its vibrancy,” says Kriston Bethel, who photographed the Olney-Oak Lane area. “You get to see an array of different locations and also perspectives, all within the same city.”

The exhibition will remain on display through July 31 during operating hours at 990 Spring Garden. A $20 book containing 45 images from the project will be available onsite for those who want to take home the slice of Philly life, perhaps as a new addition to the coffee table.

Camera icon PHOTO COURTESY KEVIN COOK
Coinciding with the exhibition, a 5.5×8.5-inch book depicting 45 images will be available for $20.

“Philadelphia is a city where you can stay in your neighborhood and not become educated about other places,” says Cook. “Photography is a wonderful way to help people understand about things they might not know. I want this to be something positive both for Philadelphia, and also for the art and photography community within it.”

 

PHOTOGRAPHY

Photographic Survey of Philadelphia