After years of missing out I finally made it to Philly Naked Bike Ride. It’s like a festive cartoon come to life. Although after 8 hours of riding through the city streets with this bright bare bodied bunch I was destroyed. It was quite the day though. Thanks to all the riders covered in color, pride, love and passion for a mightily photogenic pilgrimage.
Meet Danny from Daytona. He crashed my photoshoot with Celeste Denucci of Jeopardy Fame earlier today. Hell of a nice guy though. He arrived in Philly on July 4th after traveling down from Connecticut where his mom was sick in the hospital with what turned out to be a fairly mild case of pneumonia. Then he mentioned something about having worked as a carny and being from Daytona before wishing us a good day and wandering off. See ya round Danny.
Meet Derek (Bagel) Bakal and his puppets. They’re an odd yet wildly entertaining and very photogenic bunch. If you’d like to learn to make puppets you should reach out to Derek. He’s a brilliantly creative teacher/ mad man.
If there’s one thing I love about summer in the city, it’s the unbearable heat paired with the oppressive humidity. I find it both cleanses the body and the mind. Another thing I love, is bearing witness to how others cope. Most adults shy away from the heat and duck indoors to bathe in reconditioned air. But not kids. Kids love the summer sun. It represents a freedom from homework, a freedom from boredom and a freedom from bedtimes. Living in North Philadelphia, I revel in the creative ways kids find to keep cool during these sweltering summer days. From splashing around in the mist of a corner hydrant to lounging in the back of a plastic lined water filled pickup truck, they always find a way. I was sitting around my apartment last Sunday and decided to head out in search of something photogenic. I didn’t have any set plan on where to go but if you want to find kids playing in water all you have to do is follow the blocks long stream that ultimately leads to a hydrant. After only riding for a few minutes I hit the jackpot. There was a gushing hydrant, a grill smoldering, music blaring, a jumpy house and kids swimming in not one but TWO gigantic inflatable pools. It was the quintessential summer in the city scene. I hopped off my bike and walked on over to the adults to ask if it would be ok to get some shots. This usually goes one of two ways. Either I’m met with side eye and apprehension or open arms. This group was very welcoming. I didn’t even have to dive too far deep into my usual pitch. They saw the camera and welcomed me in to document their celebration which I found out was in honor of Xavier’s 7th birthday. The highlight for me was an impromptu yet clearly choreographed performance of the Electric Slide. I was beyond blown away by this. I’m so sick of the Cupid Shuffle. It was refreshing to partake in a throwback from my teenage bar mitzvah circuit years. As the jumpy house started to deflate and the shade covered the once glistening pool water I took my last shots packed up and hopped on my bike. As I waved goodbye one of the kids ran over and asked me to come back next week but this time with my bathing suit.
A couple months back, the photo editor of JUMP asked if I was available to gets some shots of The Dead Milkmen for the summer 2015 issue. I can’t remember what my answer was specifically but even If I was busy I would have cancelled whatever else I doing to make this happen. I was told that I’d be meeting with the band on a Tuesday afternoon after they performed an acoustic set at main branch of the Philadelphia Free Library. I put it on my calendar and set about my day. Fast forward to the Sunday before the shoot. It’s mid to late spring and I’m prowling around on my bike running random errands and wasting time. At around about 4pm while standing five deep in line at the Family Dollar I get a call from that very same photo editor. He frantically explains that when he told me Tuesday he actually meant Sunday. He begged my forgiveness and asked there was any chance I could get over to the library as quickly as possible. I really needed the crappy cleaner I was holding but dropped it where I stood and ran home. I originally had some big ideas for this shoot but there was zero chance of making any of that happen now as I was told they could only hang around for a few minutes after the show. When I got home I quickly grabbed my camera bag and a reflector and rode out to the library in about three minutes. Normally impossible but not on that day. With no plan I was ready to wing it and just cared about getting a decent shot and saying what’s up to Rodney and the boys. We met up in the alley behind the library and I did my best not to gush. They were gracious but indicated that they wanted to make this happen quickly. I scanned the area and caught sight of the Swann Memorial Fountain. It was pretty still warm out and there were kids swimming in it. I thought it would be amazing to get the band to hop on it but that idea was shot down immediately. With patience waring thin I suggested the courtyard of The Rodin Museum. It’s pretty and looks like Paris so why not. We hobbled on over only to discover that they like to close early on a Sunday afternoon. A common thought of ‘shit’ resounded. Since we had just walked all the way over here I decided to attempt some shots with them gathered on the steps in front of the gate. The light was garbage but the mood was jolly so we gave it a go. After a few funny faces and some killer jokes the foursome started wavering and wandered off the steps. I wasn’t going to bug them too much more but asked for one more shot on the way back to the library. As we passed by the Barnes Museum I asked if they could line up behind the long rectangular fountain. While setting up to take the shot they started playing in the water and were picking up the little rocks. In no time a security guard materialized and reprimanded all of us and threatened to kick us out. This put everyone in the perfect mood and we finished up the shoot feeling a bit more punk rock that when we’d started. Two minutes later and a whopping 15 minutes after we started everyone ran off in different directions and my shoot with The Dead Milkmen although rushed and rough around the edges was a success. The only thing left to do at this point was to head back to family dollar for that cleaner.
I had the esteemed privilege of attending Wing Bowl 23 which was held in the early hours of January 30th at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia. There’s a great deal that could and probably should be said about this celebrated tradition but this sums it up just fine:
“PHILADELPHIA — I have found the heart of the Philly sports scene … and it isn’t pretty.
You know Paulie, Adrian’s brother in “Rocky”? Multiply him by the thousands, dress them in Eagles jerseys, fill each with a six-pack and stick them in a line so long it wraps around the Wachovia Center, throughout the parking lot and practically into New Jersey. Sprinkle some of these guys among the parked cars where they can urinate in semi-privacy. Carpet the lot with crushed beer cans and broken beer bottles. Throw in a cold wind and a winter rain.
Now, close the arena doors a half-hour before the competition begins because there is no more room inside the 20,000-seat center, forcing thousands of disappointed and angry fans to go home without the pleasure of watching 29 contestants eat as many chicken wings as possible in 14-minute rounds.
Oh, and did I mention? It’s 5:30 a.m. on a weekday. That’s right — 5:30 in the morning.” You can read the rest of the article here.
Thousands of people gathered to march from the Philadelphia School District HQ on North Broad Street to Independence Hall in an effort to reclaim Martin Luther King Day on January 19th. The protesters formed a strong united front to address a laundry list of social concerns from ending stop and frisk and police brutality to increasing the minimum wage and education reform in Philadelphia and beyond.
Volunteer and grant writer brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm
Bryan Thompsonowak says volunteering at the Emerald Street Urban Farm has made him more invested in the neighborhood. | Photos by Jared Gruenwald
When Bryan Thompsonowak, 37, was young, his father, a bricklayer and “all-around handyman-type of a guy,” taught him to not be afraid of trying new things. He applied that lesson when he tackled the construction of a three-bin compost system and a rainwater catchment system at Emerald Street Urban Farm in East Kensington.
The farm’s managers Nic and Elisa Esposito needed to expand their volunteer base because they were expecting their first child. That’s when Thompsonowak stepped up, volunteering on Mondays from May to October.
“It’s nice to have a project close to home, and it’s not just the work; it’s the people that you’re there volunteering with,” says Thompsonowak, whose last name is a result of combining his and his wife Sharon Nowak’s last name.
Founded in 2009 by Elisa Esposito and the former farm director of Marathon Farms, Patrick Dunn, ESUF reclaimed and transformed five vacant lots in East Kensington. The farm, which sits a few doors down from his home, offers produce through a weekly donation-based farmstand and several pick-your-own community garden plots. The core group of about a dozen volunteers also runs an outreach and education program.
The East Kensington Neighbors Association has worked closely with ESUF and various other organizations, such as the Kensington Community Food Co-Op and Hackett Elementary School, to improve the East Kensington neighborhood. President Clare Dych helps lead the various sectors of EKNA in addressing the concerns and actions of the community by hosting monthly meetings to discuss zoning and planning within the neighborhood, and by promoting the Clean Up and Green Space Committees that work to protect and maintain the local parks.
This past spring, the farm received a $1,000 grant from the association to support the farm and their youth programming. “ESUF has given so much to the East Kensington neighborhood, all on a shoestring budget, and we felt it was time to give back,” Dych says in an email.
Thompsonowak also wrote an application on behalf of ESUF for a grant provided by the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust given to nonprofits that further the field of ornamental horticulture through education and research. Esposito was blown away: “This went beyond the commitment of coming out every Monday. If we get the grant, it will be a huge game-changer for us.”
This winter, Thompsonowak, who’s also a graduate student of the Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, will continue the program through the University of Delaware with hopes of advancing his career within public gardens. But he won’t be too far from the farm.
“Volunteering at the farm has made me more invested in the neighborhood,” Thompsonowak says. “Being a part of something that is 100 percent good for the neighborhood is great.”