Alternative journalism documenting Fishtown and Kensington

In Episode 6 of “Shadow World”, David S. Kessler took a break from giving interviews to let the location speak for itself – Front and Berks – the Berks El Station.

I can still recall the elderly man following me from the train station, as the sun was setting, when I was just a kid. He propositioned me for a blow job. He said he would pay me money. I walked faster and acted as if I couldn’t hear him. Eventually, he got the hint.

Right around that corner, on a different day, maybe that same year, I was jumped and earned one of the broken noses I’d keep as souvenirs of my days in Fishtown and Kensington.

David S. Kessler’s effort, to me, qualifies as a powerful act of journalism. One that provides insight into a world many of us in Philadelphia are familiar with, but to those on the outside, would have a hard time fathoming.

He spent a year recording short, under five minute, video interviews with those he met under the Frankford El in Kensington. Philadelphia Weekly wrote about the effort last year but you can experience it yourself at

Another great piece of journalism that documents the true life story of four teens who commit murderer in Fishtown is “Fishtown”. It was was recently published in hardback. You can read more about “Fishtown” at Geekadelphia.

Update 11-30-08: Alfred Lubrano, in the Inquirer, writes about Witness to Hunger, a program of Drexel University that distributed digital cameras to 40 women in North Philly who documented their stories, and in the process exposed realities of living in poverty in North Philadelphia. Make sure to visit the site.

Imagine if the project’s next step was to enable these families to publish to Flickr and YouTube next. It would enable them to reach wider audiences and raise awareness so much further.

4 thoughts on “Alternative journalism documenting Fishtown and Kensington

  1. I have been living in the south now for 12 years. I am a transplant now and can no longer call Philly my home. But I did live here most of my life and can say I have experienced it first hand. When I am up to visit, I do make sure I sightsee the old neighborhoods I used to walk. A drive all the way down Frankford Ave, Kensington and on to the end of the elevated portion of the line reminds me of many things.

    You can watch these videos, read about the area and experiences, but unless you were there with the sounds, sights, smells, you can never really appreciate many aspects of life in areas like this. You can feel why so many perish in such a hopeless area. Imagine living in one of those dives right by the El, waking up to the scraping metal of an El train at 4am. Then walking out of your door at 5:30am to the grungy nastiness of that street to catch a series of buses that will get you to a low paying job 2 hours away as your belly rumbles. Now imagine being a kid being told to “study hard and you will make it far” when you wake up to bare walls and lucky if you have a matress to sleep on. Your only escape is the drugs and hard life outside of that door.

    It really gives pause when you understand this kind of life and makes you think about things you discuss such as “we need to better educate our children and be better parents” when you look at situations like the one above and realize – the problem is much more complex then this ridiculous solutions such as No Child left Behind.

    Karl, for one, is a rare rare case where true will power and never taking his eye off of a better situation eventually led to where he is now. If you can bottle the tenacity and strength him, his wife, his brother and sister in-law have, and give a sip to everyone, this world would be a much better place.

  2. You know us from way back and I appreciate the kind words Steve.

    You’ve been through some trials yourself man.

  3. Karl,

    Wow, amazing find… Seems like another world compared to where I now live. Some of the places I’ve just watched from your link are very fresh in my mind, like Richard’s Bike shop, which was around the corner from where the first Rocky movie was filmed. I didn’t know he still had that store open. Seemed like it was closed the last time I passed by it.

    But the idea is quite pure, there are a lot of stories to be told about those streets, and this guy does it in a really good format.

    Thanks for sharing….


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