The human element

I do not consider myself a people photographer. My most focused project work to date has been exclusively centered on the traces and remnants of humanity... architecture, roads, signs, landscaping, agriculture, etc. I spent several years documenting the locations of human death in a series of Roadside Memorials. None of these series include any people in the photographs, even though the work I do is always a reflection of humanity. The man-altered landscape, the anonymous poetry of nowhere, the ghosts of road culture victims. My images represent the visual experiences of the individual in the paradoxical loneliness of a human saturated environment. We are always in the shadow of humanity.


My personal goal/challenge for the coming years is to include people in my projects. I began with a first step this week, photographing a woman on Rising Sun Avenue. Rising Sun is a series that evolved out of Hard Times and Poetry of Nowhere. An old roadway in Northeast Philadelphia, Rising Sun Avenue runs from Broad Street to Cottman Avenue.I've always been fascinated with the old roads. The diagonal and winding roads in Philadelphia that pre-date the grid system. Roads like Germantown Avenue, Oxford Avenue, and Ridge Avenue, these roads are among the oldest in the city and were the pathways of commerce and travel into and out of Colonial Philadelphia. The original courier routes, many of these roads pre-date European settlers, who simply adopted existing Native American trails when establishing roads. The more modern grid system of city streets were built around these older pathways. Passing through the neighborhoods of Hunting Park, Fairhill, Olney, Lawncrest, and Cheltenham, Rising Sun Avenue reflects a widely diverse history of the city, both past and present. I've been fascinated with these old roads dating back to the 1970's when I delivered flowers all over the city. I knew the city like the back of my hand mostly because of the simplicity of the grid. It was the quirkiness of the old diagonals that would baffle me. It is easy to know that the 2200 block of Chestnut Street is near 22nd Street, but where is the 4800 block of Germantown Avenue? (This was the seventies remember... no cell phones, no GPS. Driving around the city making deliveries was a totally different experience than it is today)

It is important to me that people in my photography be connected to the context of the project. The woman in the first Rising Sun portrait is a tri-athlete named Kristen who runs and trains along these neighborhoods as part of her daily routine. Regularly running ten miles a day, this portrait of Kristen was taken at 6AM during the middle of her run. As soon as we finished the shoot, she was off down the road. That type of context is what I am after in this series. I am looking for people who live and work along Rising Sun, individuals and families who are connected to the physical and historic nature of the road itself,  and eventually want to make portraits of people from the entire length of the road and include all the neighborhoods.

This thought process reminded me of a small series I did a couple years ago that did involve people. At the 2009 installation of Zoe Strauss' I-95 show I decided to make some portraits of people who were connected to her, standing beside a photograph  from the show. One of the unique features of all the I-95 shows was that at the end of the day, visitors to the show are allowed to take a photograph off the wall to keep. Near the end of the day, people tend to camp out and claim the territory around the photograph they intend to take home. Using that context, I asked people with a personal connection to Zoe to choose a photograph to stand next to. Most of these decisions were made on the spur of the moment, and weren't necessarily the image that person intended to go home with, but I later found myself fascinated with some of the pairings in these portraits. There is some level of subconscious connection between the person and the photograph in many of these images. They are all personally connected to Zoe the photographer, and to the Zoe Strauss photograph as well.






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