The following is a repost from the November 16, 2017 post over at the Photography by Tieshka Smith Facebook page
My image entitled “Birthing Possibilities” (Michelle, part 4, photographed in Germantown in 2012) is now a part of #CrossCityCommunication, a brilliant new photo project by fellow #PhiladelphiaAssembled collaborator and photographer Sheldon Abba.
In Abba’s words, #CrossCityCommunication (this is DIY all the way!!!) highlights ephemeral moments in a changing city and areas across the city via photographs installed in previously unused trash can pay phones.
I’m excited and thrilled to be a part of #CrossCityCommunication because it is an unconventional and fresh staging of visual images made about everyday Philadelphia, it not only breathes new life into images like mine, but it breathes new life into pay phone booths. It definitely takes street and documentary photography to higher heights, and I absolutely love it!
As someone who has investigated gentrification and displacement in a number of cities and in a number of Philadelphia neighborhoods, I’ve always said that the gentrification narrative is nothing new and no one is safe from or immune to its effects. To counteract it, I believe wholeheartedly in the power of sharing our stories, the exchange of energy and understanding that happens when we talk and when we listen to and relate to the struggles of our fellow human beings. Talking and listening, truly hearing one another not just with our ears, but with our hearts, is what we really need right now. We need to focus on cultivating empathy for one another around gentrification and other quality of life issues because shit is definitely going to get worse before it gets better.
We must understand that wherever there is land, there will be people and forces conspiring to artificially inflate its value so they and others can basically hoard it for themselves with little regard for the implications of their theft. This is nothing new. They would rather orchestrate the breakdown of community after community because they resent the fact that the essence of what makes a community a community, can’t be commodified or packaged or sold, only the land and structures that house the people who endeavor to build and sustain community ties and relationships.
Take the land from a vulnerable group of people, force them out of one community, but you’re still losing. Why? One because that act of supreme selfishness, rationalized in language extolling the “virtues of capitalism” says more about you than them. Two, despite your selfishness, they are still going to find a way to come back together and pick up where they left off. It doesn’t matter where they live, it just matters that they choose to keep living and keep fighting, despite all the machinations of a group of greedy ass people who think we are not on to their weaksauce attempt to justify and rationalize their greed.
Think about it: These same people have gone to great lengths to commodify bodies for profit through mass incarceration, the new slavery. They have figured out how to exploit sickness and pain for profit through a healthcare system that is operating just as it should to accomplish these selfish ends. All of these strategies serve to weaken and destroy community ties, but we can resist and build resilience through empathy, by putting ourselves in the shoes of our fellow human beings. Empathy works.
Heartless people may laugh and mock the idea of empathy and I pity them. But we will need even more empathy to create authentic interpersonal connections that lead to the creation of new and powerful strategies that serve all and not just the moneyed few.
And, to see the story of Michelle be told in a new way, feels incredible. To see an image I shot five years ago, re-contextualized and re-situated in a new geography in this fresh way, makes me proud to have made something that had a life of its own, something that has meaning and purpose beyond the moment I shot it.
To see one of my images sitting next to one of Sheldon’s images of a memorial on north 4th street (in olde Kensington, another community that is struggling to not be gobbled up completely by the gentrification monster, swallowing up everything and everyone in its path), tells me that death can be beaten if we choose life and fight to live not just for ourselves, but for each other.
To have one of my images occupying a prime corner in this city that will catch the eyes of people hurrying here and there, and compel them to not only stop and look at these images, but to pause for a moment longer to think about our role in trashing things and people that are left behind for the “shiny new things,” yeah, that feels good.
Sadly, many of them will be the same people who will, in real life, ignore and blame and shame the Michelles of this world because they are too ignorant to understand or care about the net of greed we are all caught up in. We can’t afford to incubate this kind of passive aggressive hatred of our fellow human beings. Choose love and respect, not because it’s convenient, because it’s necessary.
Check this installation out; it’s at the southwest corner of 13th and Market near the Trolley and El stations, across from the Macy’s Department Store.
Peace and love, y’all.