Faces of Philadelphia

A couple days ago I got an email requesting photographs of some hot spots in Philadelphia for future issue a travel magazine.  One of them was a strong opening photograph of the city. I was in Philadelphia on Wednesday to visit Spot Burgers at the N3rd Market and asked Josh about this.  

"Hey, Josh!  How are you doing?"

"TED!  How are you man?  What are you up to?"

"Not much. Working on a current assignment.  One of the photo requests was an opening photograph of Philadelphia.  And I am at a loss of what and where.  I'd prefer not to submit the cliche, tourist spots.  I'd rather send in something food related.  Maybe I need to look at things with new eyes."

"Sounds tough, man!"

That was rough description of the exchange.  After eating my burger, I had the Rodeo if you were asking, I was still wondering about that photograph.  Even if the editor takes it or I submit one it was one that I wanted to think about.

As I looked through my backlog of photographs of Philadelphia, and looked at all the city and street scenes that I took, I started to think to myself... what and who really brought Philadelphia to what we see it is today?  Food

If you look back ten to fifteen years ago, no one has ever thought of Philadelphia as nothing more than US history and cheese steaks.  Today?  We have exposes in many of the national food publications- Bon Appetit writing Pizzeria Beddia as the state's best pizza, hummus from Dizengoff as the dish of the year, etc.  This is an drastic change from just thinking of Philadelphia as cheesesteak. Which, to be honest, I do not like.

So I thought about the food and how it made a great change in Philadelphia's reputation from the pit stop between NYC and DC.  It is the people who made these dishes.  All the days of toiling in the kitchen to come up with these recipes, the people who grow and produce those ingredients, the people brought ingredients to them, pretty much everyone in front and behind the scenes of every dish. 

As I zipped up my photographs to send over to the editor, I thought about writing this post.  My posts on Exposure, "Portraits of Food in Philadelphia" touches on this, but something that I hope would celebrate in its purpose.  It is these individuals, businesses, hard work, and creativity that has brought Philadelphia back in the forefront of every travel and food destination in the US and globally.  


Early Morning and the grind.

Pursuing my project, "In Search of Little Saigon in America" has been an endeavor of personal journey and understanding.  One of the reasons I came up with doing this project was to understand where I particularly fit in America and in Vietnam, well if found myself uprooting my life to live there.  As I mention in the story, I am a Vietnamese American.  My parents emigrated to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War, then had us four.  We grew up with a dual cultural identity. 

Being a food and culture photographer, the other pressing idea that I wanted to address in this project, not just to discover where I fit in, is how as our food changed.  Either from cooking methods to ingredients.

As great as all of that sounds above, the hustle is real.  I have been finding difficulty in trying to get more portraits and interviews in.  I am not complaining, it is training me to just keep going and pounding the pavement.  There are three major reasons for this.  At least in my perspective.

  1. I am not fluent in Vietnamese.  I said it.  Although I am trying to learn it, being able to discuss this prospect with the cooks and owners has been pretty daunting with me not being able to fluently speak and understand the language.  To alleviate this I have been asking friends who can speak it to go with me. 
  2. I am terrible at pitching this project.  But this could just be an issue that goes with #1. 
  3. They don't want to talk to me about their story or for me to take portraits of them

But all of those problems to be able to interview and get portraits are trite in the end.  There are always solutions to problems.  So I am just going to keep on pounding the pavement to continue this series of work.  I do really want to put it all into book form. 

One of the shops that I really want to get portraits and interview with is with Cafe Pho Ga Thanh Thanh on Kensington Ave.  The two top photos are from that shop.  They make one of, if not the, best pho ga (pho with chicken) in Philly. 

The next project I have been working on is called "Portraits of Food in Philadelphia." It's a brief overview of the restaurants and food in Philadelphia.  Check them out on my Exposure.  On Sunday I went to Philly Style Bagels for their bagels and piece together photographs for their eventual addition to the series.  They will be moving into their own brick and mortar sometime in September.  Also I am going to do a Spot Burgers piece too.  Especially when they will get their own Brick and Mortar as well.