Great cities often have iconic symbols that represent them. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, London has Big Ben, and, of course, Philadelphia has the Liberty Bell. All have been photographed countless times.
But sometimes a photographer chooses images that can seem commonplace, yet reach deeply into the heart and soul of a city. For Shawn Theodore, Philadelphia means neighborhoods and everyday life in those neighborhoods. “I like seeing people do what they normally do,” he explained. “These are regular folks. It’s a beautiful thing that most of the people, when they see these folks, they think that they’re all models, but these are just regular hard working people like you and I.” His latest exhibit, at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, is paired with an iconic series of photographs of 1970s Harlem by Dawoud Bey. Bey captured Harlem on the cusp of great change, and Theodore sees the same thing in Philadelphia’s black community. “There are neighborhoods that are beautiful, that are resilient, black neighborhoods that are also in some ways fragile,” said James Claiborne, the museum’s public programming manager. “So I think we’re looking at what Harlem was, what Harlem is, and also allowing through the lens of Shawn for folks to reflect on the beauty that we sometimes miss when we’re walking through North Philadelphia or Germantown, and to reflect on preservation of what stands now.” Theodore’s exhibit “Church of Broken Pieces” and Bey’s “Harlem USA” are on display at the African American Museum in Philadelphia through April 2.