Named for a berry, but wasn’t shit sweet about it. A few weeks ago I linked up with a fellow photographer by the name of Gabe Spangler. He’s a local street photographer who shoots almost exclusively in monochrome.
It was windy and overcast when I met him on that Saturday in January. We met on City Island just south of the Walnut Street bridge and decided to head across the bridge to the city. Gabe, being a street photographer, likes to go where the action is. And weekend action downtown isn’t exactly pervasive.
We ended up in the food court at the legendary Strawberry Square.
Compared to the surrounding streets, this place was thumpin’! There had to be like 25 or 30 people quietly spread out across 300 seats. It was a blend of homeless people and people who weren’t homeless, but mostly homeless people seeking refuge from the winter wind. We didn’t spend too much time there. There was a cold empty feeling to the entire premises. It felt like the Camp Hill Mall right before she had her Camelot & Wild Wear ripped from her to make way for Giant and Barnes & Noble.
We wandered around the blocks circling Strawberry Square and eventually made our way to the train/bus station. If you’re unfamiliar with the train station, it sits atop the bus station. It had been some time since I was last there, and it was just as impressive as I remembered; although much, much darker. A few people shuffled around the shadowy main foyer purchasing tickets and soft drinks; while a couple more waited patiently above the tracks for their train to arrive. I didn’t dare descend to the Greyhound station. I’ve only been there a handful of times, and each time I felt like I was in the waiting room from Beetlejuice. I kept waiting to see Alec Baldwin & Geena Davis walk in with stretched faces seeking guidance.
Enough was enough and we decided to depart from the station. Nice try at a train pun, huh? We walked through the front doors, then through the horizon of smokers posted up along the facade, and finally we were standing directly in front of the Zion Lutheran Church.
Situated just to the right of a door was a fallout shelter sign, and beneath it an orange cone with “Zion” marked on it. My mind immediately went to the Matrix. I imagined if I opened those double doors I would have been greeted with a stairway cut from rock leading to a voluminous cavern that echoed with techno music and smelled of sweat as humanity danced out their last days.
Just to the right of those double set of doors sat an abandoned shopping cart strewn with bags full of bags.
If I’ve learned any kind of deductive reasoning from never watching Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, it was probably one of those lazy Millennials with $100,000 in student loan debt who left that shopping cart halfway on the sidewalk. Anyone with more gumption would have pushed it entirely off the curb. To borrow a term from Always Sunny, it is clearly a sign of being “new poor”.
Eventually we ended up in the parking garage next to The Villa, previously known as Sneaker Villa; the place to get Johnny Blaze Gear, Triple 5 Soul, and Ecko back in the day. While it has been a few years since everything I’ve owned was too big for me, I remember fondly going into the city and finally be able to get some dope threads. While it certainly wasn’t Dr. Jay’s, it was a welcomed part of the city, at least for my friends and I.
As Gabe and I walked around the garage we both took the time to explain to one another the types of scenes that capture our attention. He considers himself primarily a street photographer, while I don’t self identify with any particular school or genre of photography. I take photographs of things and moments that inspire me to push the shutter, that’s it. No more. No less. Sometimes I’m in the city. Sometimes I’m in the forest. Some photos have people and some don’t.
Gabe told me he loves street photography because of the uniqueness of each photograph. To sloppily paraphrase him, each photograph is representative of a singular moment in time, distinguished by the distinct lighting and action in each frame. Essentially you can’t wade in the same river twice…
Coincidentally I took my first street portrait that day. We were trolling around Strawberry Street, a one way street that runs under a variety of different buildings and is the type of place that you wouldn’t be surprised to be stabbed for your wallet.
Or maybe it’s just the perfect location to use for a mugging scene in a film. Long, cold, narrow corridors lined with shadowy alcoves. A perfect storm of cinematic stabbin’ if I’ve ever seen one.
But back to the portrait. While it is not in my style to shoot non-candid photos of people on the street, as Gabe and I walked down Strawberry Street we were approached by a guy in a hoodie and hat and asked if we worked for a magazine, and if he was gonna be in it. We politely said no, but before we left and kept it moving, I had the notion to ask if he wanted his photo taken.
His eyes lit up and he agreed immediately. I fussed with my settings and snapped two photos before he shuffled off down the street. Unfortunately, I never did get his name and I forgot to give him one of my cards.
So if you know this guy, let him know his photo ended up on the amazing world-wide-web! That’ll sound more impressive than some random dude’s photo blog.
Gabe & I eventually made our way to Midtown. We walked through the Broad Street Market. Flipped through monographs in the Midtown Scholar. And headed back to City Island along the windy river bank.
After getting home and checking my photos, I realized I hadn’t actually taken too many photos of the day. Which was a good thing. Lately I have been trying to reduce the number of photos I take. I find by pretending I am shooting on a roll of film, I become more selective with my shots.
Yes, I may miss something. But odds are I will always miss something. Life is too short to worry about missed shots and tack focus. And life is too big to only see it through a camera. Some things just aren’t made for photographs.