ILLADELPHIA HALF-LIFE: Postcards From The Edge

INQUIRER: In the tight rowhouse streets of North Philadelphia, people share walls and worries. Few outsiders see, know or feel the cycle of want and chaos that a week of privation creates. To show what life north of Spring Garden Street looks like to some of the people who live there, Mariana Chilton, a professor and anthropologist at Drexel University’s School of Public Health, gave digital cameras to 40 women. Out of a simple idea, complex images and narratives emerge.

An exhibit of the photos, called Witnesses to Hunger, will open to the public Dec. 11 at Drexel’s Bossone Center. The women aimed their cameras at precious children and faithless lovers, falling-down apartments and asthma nebulizers. They also shot empty grocery carts and unstocked refrigerators, sewage puddling in the street, clouds and sky (to show elusive freedom, Chilton said), and food-stamp forms and child-care subsidy paperwork, because to be poor is to be, among other things, a harried bookkeeper.

At turns hopeful and desolate, the Witnesses pictures are the unvarnished view of blunt women whose life visions have been planed down to their irreducible essence. The women know Philadelphia better than they want to. “My 4-year-old son saw a shot person and has prostitutes in his face,” Tianna Gaines, 29, said in an Inquirer interview in her crowded apartment. “This is not The Cosby Show. That wasn’t a stunt double dead in front of my son. I know a woman who sells her body to buy Pampers. This is the real world.” MORE

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