Manayunk photographer takes work to Somalia

Manayunk-based artist and photographer Bruce Kravetz has carved out quite an eccentric career for himself. But his latest mission, and quite possibly his most dangerous, could be summed up in one word: humanitarian.

On Sept. 17, Kravetz will travel to Mogadishu, Somalia and Somaliland on a photo and video shoot. He’ll be documenting refugees and working with a Dutch non-profit organization, Daryeel Foundation, which drills water wells in and around the refugee camps in Kenya, Somalia and Somaliland.

“I don’t know how far into Mogadishu I’ll get; I guess it depends on if I value my life,” said Kravetz.

Kravetz received special permission from the United Nations and other Non-Governmental Organizations to go on this trip. In the past, he has raised funds for the homeless and provided an ultrasound machine for a hospital in Berbera, Somaliland.

“I visited that hospital last year and had a show of photographs of the refugee camps at the Trust Gallery,” said Kravetz. “I have since learned that there is a mental hospital where they still chain patients to the floor.”

Kravetz is prepared for the tough road ahead of him. The 71-year-old Rochester, NY transplant has the energy of a much younger man. Kravetz served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army from 1956-1958.

“I performed 18 jumps but no wars,” said Kravetz.

Before settling in Manayunk, Kravetz owned an art gallery in Rochester, served as an art film and theater producer and traveled the world. Kravetz said he has visited more than 50 countries including most of Europe, parts of Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

“Yugoslavia probably counts as two or three countries by now,” said Kravetz. “Oh, and I’ve had guns pointed at me in Uganda.”

Despite all of this globetrotting, he has been a fixture in the neighborhood. Kravetz was the owner of the former Main Street gift shop, Pacific Rim. The shop specialized in crafts from its namesake from Asia to Mexico. The store had been a mainstay on the strip for 14 years. Kravetz closed the store in 2005, which is now the site of Agiato Bread Company.

“My store allowed me to travel to Asia to collect primitive art and handicrafts from such places as Borneo and New Guinea,” said Kravetz.

Kravetz moved to Philadelphia in 1992 because he “wanted to move out of Rochester.” He said that his brother and some friends were already here. He finally settled on Manayunk after checking other neighborhoods out first.

“I thought South St. at the time was too trendy,” said Kravetz. “And Chestnut Hill was too full of itself.”

Kravetz now works out of The Mill complex on Leverington Ave. One of Kravetz’s first projects after closing the store was to photograph the people who walked by his old store. Kravetz’s unique eye finds something strange and humorous in his subjects. Another of Kravetz’s pieces showed St. John the Baptist Church, “Manayunk’s Cathedral”, in all of its glory. In 2009, Kravetz experimented with a massively large House of Cards exhibit. The Manayunk artist has also worked on portraits of homeless people.

Kravetz cites photographers Irving Penn and Anne Liebowitz as his influences, noting their dedication and commitment to detail. Kravetz said he finds older faces most fascinating to document while capturing the expressions that tell stories without words. 

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