Thank you to Marco Pigoni for bringing this film to my attention. For anyone who has been around my site for any length of time, you are probably sick of hearing me talk about print as “evidence of intention,” and how print can be used in the field to help gain access, trust and permission. Pulling out your phone and pulling out a book will often receive opposite reactions. I create what I call “Field Guides,” to help those I wish to photograph better understand what my intentions are, and more importantly, what they are not. (Instagram)
Carrying a camera back in 1990 was a novelty and came with an astounding level of access and acceptance. The internet and social media forever changed this dynamic, and not in a good way. Trust and curiosity became like rare Earth metals. Guilty until proven innocent became the norm. Places I had once easily accessed slowly closed off. Authorities became more aggressive, more restrictive. The time required to work has almost made this style of photograph beyond my capability. Yet that’s all I want to do.
This film follows Jeffrey Stockbridge as he creates work in the Kensington area of Philadelphia, also known as the “Badlands,” due to its notorious, open-aired drug market. The opioid crisis in American is impossible to ignore and work like this will forever live on paper as evidence of what America did or didn’t do. This work ain’t easy people. Love it or hate it, it needs to be done. Print, books, dialogue, studios and the TIME required to be confronted by things we do not want to see.
THIS is what reality-based photography is supposed to be. We are not here to eat fast food. We are here to eat simple, clean, nutrition meals. On a side note, the guy knows how to shoot. He knows light, composition and my guess is knows how to work quickly. This is not the kind of thing you pull off the day after buying yet another new camera. This work take time to polish. Heck, navigating these scenes takes more time than most photographers are willing to commit, which is why we see so little of this work being produced.
And finally, this work is story or project based work. This is NOT a story about Jeffrey telling us how great he is. This is a story about the human beings IN the photographs. This speaks to the difference between story-based and artist-based work, both valid but both very different from one another.
Enjoyed that. I love documentary photography, but it is challenging in so many ways. Ways far more important than the taking of the photos. I believe it’s a powerful means of understanding the world around us, but it’s a tool that can be abused. Do you follow duckrabbitblog – “Benjamin C. director/writer/journalist/founder duckrabbit but personal opinions only.” He highlights racism and privacy violations in the photo world, and it often involves photographers traveling to Africa. It can all get confusing fast. Stockbridge seems like he’s constantly thinking about the ethical issues.
That racism and privacy conversation has merit, but it is also being exploited. I heard someone bashing Gene Smith for Minimata. Not like he didn’t get beaten to an inch of life to bring a horrendous story to light. I didn’t see a massive list of other photographers capable of bringing back that work. People are offended by just about anything now, and some actually search out things to be offended by. I run into them consistently now, and it’s only gotten worse over the past few years. Has exploitation happened, surely, but calling me a racist for working in countries comprised mostly of other races is actually, in itself, racist.
I have not started doing doc work yet but plan to. Nothing on the scale that you and others do. Mine will be short-form and probably light weight in comparison. I truly admire people who do real doc work. Thank you for calling attention to “Kensington Blues”. Hopefully there will always be Jeffrey Stockbridge’s (and people like yourself) out there somewhere doing this caliber of work.
Start small, start slow.
From a human point of view, this can’t leave you unmoved. I love how he uses his camera to give the marginal society a voice. It is such a strong body of work, it’s almost painful to watch. He acts like a social worker for these people. With attention for the person and genuine listening to them. But not to chase likes, views and followers. But to really make a difference.
He recognizes the power of photography as a means of social commentary and change, and uses his skills as a photographer to bring attention to important social issues, while also using his knowledge and experience to provide support and resources to those in need.
Thanks for sharing Dan! Keep those short docs recommendations coming.
When I’ve done work like in the past it quickly became far more than photography. There was a relationship that formed. And with it responsibility. It’s a hard line to walk at times.
This was incredibly powerful. Thanks for sharing it.