Old world panoramas

For me, visiting Quebec City was like discovering a secret room under my kitchen floor. It looks European, people speak French, and my whole life it has been a day's drive away.

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Bathrooms

As much as I enjoy photographing people, I'm drawn to the strange spaces we create for ourselves. Bathrooms are both predictable and constantly surprising. I document them.

City Hall, Philadelphia, USA

Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh, USA

Salatiga, Java, Indonesia

Goshen, Indiana, USA

Cloister Cafe, New York City, USA

Taoyuan International Airport, Taipei, Taiwan

Audubon Park, New Orleans, USA. The fine print says, “PLEASE WASH YOUR HANDS! You can catch very itchy, seeping stds from toilet seats.”

Old City Coffee, Philadelphia, USA

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

Habitat home dedication

Habitat for Humanity’s vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Families qualify for their homeownership and home repair programs by showing a need for safe, affordable housing, by meeting income criteria, and by being willing to contribute “sweat equity” by working on Habitat projects. 

I attended a joyful home dedication ceremony in North Philadelphia in 2017, and met some of the kindest and most photogenic new homeowners in the world!

Edisto Island, South Carolina

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Point of Pines Cabin dominates the lowest floor of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. It came from Edisto Island, South Carolina, a coastal island an hour south of Charleston. Edisto supports both a majority White beach town and a majority Gullah residential population, whose ancestors were taken as slaves from Senegal, Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

I was introduced to Edisto Island two decades ago by Nick Lindsay, my animated poetry prof who made his living building boats and homes on the island. And I’m Glad—an oral history of two farmers that he transcribed—is one of the island’s stand-out histories.

Last summer my wife brought me back to Edisto. She and her family had vacationed there for years before I met them. As an author with German, Jamaican and Chinese roots, Chelle felt drawn to both the island’s simple familiarity and its complicated past. We camped outside of Botany Bay Plantation, a wildlife preserve maintained on land once covered in cotton, worked by slaves. 

Contemplative photography

Photographer and restorative justice pioneer Howard Zehr introduced me to the term “contemplative photography”—a way of using the camera to slow down, practice mindfulness, think imaginatively and renew myself.

Working and living in a neighborhood wrestling with drug addition, rapid development and displacement, I find daily walks with dog and camera to be a good way to wind down and remind myself of what's ordinary.

A mobile kitchen for making healthy meals

You've probably eaten food from a food truck. Now imagine cooking at one.

Vetri Community Partnership runs a Mobile Teaching Kitchen that delivers pop-up cooking classes and demonstrations at schools, community events and farmers markets across Philadelphia. They invite children and families to participate in 15-minute hands-on cooking demonstrations where they learn basic skills they can use to make healthy dishes at home.

Multicultural Festival

Somerset Neighbors for Better Living (SNBL) is the neighborhood organization for about 90 blocks of Kensington, Philadelphia, centered on Somerset Avenue. Along with advocating for neighborhood safety and making residents’ voices heard in zoning decisions, SNBL organizes community gatherings. Their vision for the annual Multicultural Festival is a big party celebrating one of the most racially and ethnically diverse places in Philadelphia.

The image of a rising star...

This Thursday, Tess Donie receives the “Rising Star Award” from the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations. I photographed her for her application last fall on a quiet side street a few blocks from her Kensington office.

Community Development Corporations, or CDCs, are nonprofit organizations that connect government dollars to important work in local communities. Tess came to Philadelphia to pursue medical school, but was drawn to community development after seeing the power of residents’ place-based work in West Philadelphia.

Now Tess is Associate Director of Community Engagement at New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), where she oversees its Community Connectors program, supports the work of a local civic association—Somerset Neighbors for Better Living (SNBL)—and leads the organization’s trauma-informed approach to community development. 

Donie serves the Kensington community with sincerity, love and drive. ”It is my job to work with residents, empower them to realize their own vision as a community, and help them make it a reality,“ she says.

”I am a firm believer that this community in Kensington has given so much more to me than I could ever give to it in my lifetime. Without our community members’ support, and the leap of faith they have taken to welcome me into their homes and challenge me each day, none of my work would be possible.“

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Letters from a life lost

 Catherine Friesen, New York, December 2009. We turned her Spanish Harlem apartment into a makeshift studio for headshots for her grad school application. She styled her own hair.

Catherine Friesen, New York, December 2009. We turned her Spanish Harlem apartment into a makeshift studio for headshots for her grad school application. She styled her own hair.

Four years ago, after a dear friend died of cancer, I combed through letters she had written to me two decades earlier, when we were in college and sometimes dating and both of us were trying to figure out how to become adults. I chose about 20 letters—some typed, some illustrated on colored paper, some with beads or feathers—that I thought captured her young personality without being uncomfortably personal.

Catherine was an actor. She died less than a year after completing her MFA from the University of South Carolina. She was also a New Yorker, having left her native Indiana in 1998 to become a building superintendent, school administrator, baker and a good many other things in NYC. Most of all, she was a gentle soul. She noticed small things—the curl of a leaf, the expression on a squirrel—and seemed to speak for all creatures as they would want to be represented.

Catherine didn't want to be treated differently because she was dying, and so she told few people she had cancer. Most of her USC classmates didn't know. She also guarded her legacy, destroying garbage bags of personal detritus in the last weeks of her life. And her desire to live was almost delusional—she insisted up until days before her death that the end was not yet near. Many of her friends didn't get a chance to see her before was gone.

I wanted to send a package of letters to her best friend (fittingly living in St. Catharines, Ontario). But before I stuck it in the mail, I thought I should scan everything, just in case.

It turned out to be unnecessary. The letters arrived in St. Catharines, were hungrily read, and came back. The box sat on my desk, unopened, for weeks.

Then a strange thing happened: they disappeared. They left on the same night my old wedding ring slipped its chain on my bureau. My housemate had a drug relapse and robbed his own home, taking a stereo, jewelry, laptop, bicycle—and apparently, for some reason, Catherine's letters.

It took a couple weeks for police to arrest the culprit (eventually they got video footage of his using my credit card at an ATM and in a taxi) and in that time I initiated a couple awkward conversations with him about the value of what I had lost, without ever indicating I knew who might have taken it. He never tipped his hand.

Insurance covered the wedding band and Discover refunded the credit card charges, but the letters never resurfaced. Eventually, I decided that Catherine herself might have inspired the theft to stamp out one last record of her adolescence.

She apparently didn't know about the digital files. 

 Catherine Friesen, Milwaukee, December 2013. This is the last photo I took of her, on the site of her last role, Hamlet.

Catherine Friesen, Milwaukee, December 2013. This is the last photo I took of her, on the site of her last role, Hamlet.

 Morgan Library, New York, December 2015. Exactly two years later, I was startled to find this alternate ending to  A Farewell to Arms  enlarged on the wall of a Hemingway exhibit.

Morgan Library, New York, December 2015. Exactly two years later, I was startled to find this alternate ending to A Farewell to Arms enlarged on the wall of a Hemingway exhibit.

Sour beers from nowhere, Queens

Funky or tart, balanced or sharp, sours are the first beers I have really liked. I intentionally missed the IPA craze, which unfortunately seems to have taken over most of the U.S. beer world. I can only hope that the same thing happens for sours, because I am 100% on that wagon. Although perhaps part of the allure is that they can be hard to find. To drink at Transmitter, a brewery in Long Island City, Queens, we wandered through a parking lot, below a highway and across the tracks to a warehouse under the Pulaski Bridge.

Brickmaking & placemaking

In August 2017, artist Michael Morgan showed adults and children how to shape and glaze blocks of wet clay at a workshop in Kensington, Philadelphia. Weeks later, he fired the blocks into bricks and used them to build a piece of public art at the "Frankford Gateway," near the intersection of Frankford Avenue and Sterner Street.

Morgan's sculpture is part of a series of projects to turn neglected lots into a source of community pride. The project was made possible by New Kensington Community Development Corporation, Mural Arts and Philadelphia LISC.

Thanks to footage from Bea J.E. Rider and the ongoing miracle of iMovie, I was able to edit and voice this video at my kitchen table one evening after work.

City snow

It was a weird winter, but weird seems to be typical these days. Mind-numbing cold at the beginning of January, then balmy spring showers in February. Here and there, a few bits of "normal" winter. These images from a sudden snow squall in Germantown, Philadelphia.

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Other Music

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Other Music was a record shop specializing in underground, rare and experimental music at 15 East 4th St, New York City, from 1995 to 2016. When it closed in June 2016, Yoko Ono, Sharon Van Etten, Bill Callahan, Frankie Cosmos and Yo La Tengo were among the artists who played a farewell tribute show at the Bowery Ballroom.

Other Music still sends a weekly email and maintains a web presence at www.othermusic.com. Former staffer Rob Hatch-Miller and his partner Puloma Basu are also working on a documentary about the shop's history and legacy.

In March 2017, Other Music and MoMA PS1 presented Come Together: Music Festival and Label Market with live performances, films, workshops and panels celebrating the interactive ecosystem of local and international music communities, along with a label fair featuring over 60 participants. Come Together aimed to reassert "the central and essential role that communities play in both the creation and consumption of new sounds," recasting the "fading" record store experience for the current moment. The market was a success, and Other Music will return to MoMA PS1 on Saturday, March 24, 2018 for "more labels, more performances, more fun."

 The Other Music storefront in July 2016

The Other Music storefront in July 2016

Signs

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graphic designer in me can't help taking pictures of signs. I love well-made typefaces, logos, ads—and old hand-lettered billboards make my heart melt. I also love the uneven and unconventional letters of DIY signmakers, and how letters change when exposed to the elements.

 

Then there's the actual meaning of the words—the intentional and unintentional jokes. These images are just from Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.

Cleaning and greening

Existing land use in the River Wards, from a 2014 Philadelphia City Planning Commission survey. Vacant land (brown) is more than double the 5% city average.

The River Wards section of Philadelphia—a growing district northeast of Center City along the Delaware River—is a former industrial area with more than double the percent of vacant land as the city average.

In 1996, a community engagement process led the local community development corporation (New Kensington CDC) to begin cleaning vacant lots in the Fishtown and East Kensington neighborhoods.

Over the next two decades, with strong community support and a partnership with Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, NKCDC stabilized and reclaimed more than 1,000 vacant parcels. In the process, it set a national best practice for using vacant land management as a tool for economic development. The improved appearance attracted investment, and today those neighborhoods are among the fastest-growing in Philadelphia. 

NKCDC's Vacant Land Management crew continues to clean, stabilize and maintain hundreds of lots each year. On average, it cleans about 900 parcels and removes 30 tons of trash each year. NKCDC also organizes two community cleanup days and facilitates projects with volunteer groups to "clean and green" the neighborhood. 

Here I am

Families and newlyweds used to cull through proofs, wait weeks and pay photographers thousands of dollars to get a collection of mementos from their treasured event. Today, online printing services like Mixbook make it much easier to arrange photos in beautiful bound albums. 

When I take pictures, I usually send my clients a flash drive of digital images within a few days. Sometimes they order their own prints. For those who are short on time or want a designer's eye, I love designing collections.

Below is the cover and first page of a farewell gift for a longtime New York City pastor from her congregation. The cover image is mine.

50 cent Bin

If you want to know whether a recording artist is a musician, listen to them live. In small shows without lights or special effects, real musicians shine. What's compelling is fundamental: their presence, their voice, the conversation between instruments.

I'm lucky to know many musicians. 50 cent Bin is a family with roots in Greece, Iceland and Germantown, Philadelphia, where they share a rambling, quirky home with several other households. Their winter house concert celebrated the release of their first, self-titled album

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Tuesday Tea and Textiles

On January 23, Philadelphia government officials signaled they would be open to establishing the nation's first supervised drug-consumption site to combat the city's surging opioid epidemic. The announcement provoked immediate reaction from residents of Kensington, a large district northeast of downtown Philly that has shouldered the brunt of the drug epidemic for decades. 

“We’re one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation, and we have white addicts from Oregon panhandling,” Juan Marrero, pastor of Christ Centered Church, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s a dynamic I’ve never seen before. Still, that people here give money shows the hospitality they have.”

Two people not stunned by the need or the city's response were Kathryn Pannepacker and Lisa Kelley, artists who have been hosting a weekly weaving workshop on Kensington Avenue for the past year. They welcome neighborhood residents and visitors to sit down together and, with instruction, create a simple piece of weaving to keep and a larger piece that will become part of a community project. 

"Where there is life there is hope," Pannepacker wrote on Instagram. "We know first-hand at Tuesday Tea and Textiles that Narcan saves lives. And we are so encouraged by Philadelphia's announcement this week RE: creating CUES (comprehensive user engagement sites), as this will save lives."