Photographers capture Germantown’s past and present beauty during inaugural event

As photographer Gary Reed insisted, right up until the participants in Saturday’s first-ever Germantown Photo Walk fanned out through Vernon Park, “I would’ve been happy if ten people and a dog showed up.”

But by 9:15 a.m., about 45 photographers had gathered at the park’s Greene Street entrance for the planned two-hour session. As temperatures creeped into the mid-90s, participants stayed cool under the park’s generous trees and armed themselves with as many water bottles as cameras. They shook hands, greeted friends, and quickly scoped out everyone else’s gear. 

‘ A hidden treasure ‘

Though he’s not from the neighborhood, Nashville, Tenn. native and current Lansdowne resident Jeremy Fountain felt drawn to participate. He’s been trading photos online with Reed for a few years now, but Saturday was the first time the friends met in person.

A Revolutionary War enthusiast, Fountain was also lured by the area’s history. The Battle of Germantown is of particualr interest to him because the namesake of his hometown, Brig. Gen. Francis Nash, was fatally wounded during the 1777 clash.

Despite the burgeoning heat, Fountain had plans to stay in the neighborhood all day. “You don’t know a neighborhood until you’ve walked it,” he said.

 Local participants Peter Handler, a furniture-maker who works out of East Falls, and Karen Singer, whose ceramic tile studio is on East Church Lane, were also looking forward to a stroll around the neighborhood.

“I love Germantown. I think it’s a hidden treasure,” Singer said, noting that there’s a “renewed spirit and excitement” in the area.

On Saturday morning, she was particularly looking forward to photographing her favorite local thrift shop.

Past and present

Reed soon welcomed the crowd, locals and out-of-towners alike, and suggested an optional route that would take the group’s lenses through Maplewood Mall, past the Germantown Historical Society, and onto the grounds of Grumblethorpe, before heading west for the old Town Hall and the Wyck Historic House, exploring Greene Street, School House Lane, Armat Street and Germantown Avenue along the way.

Several participants with their own agendas peeled rapidly off, but a majority opted to stay inside Vernon Park and put the Vernon-Wister House in their viewfinders, many getting cozy with the unkempt pink-flowering bushes on the house’s south side in the process.

Then they trained their cameras on the nearby Battle of Germantown monument, sporting small black rashes of graffiti and a single empty cigarette pack.

Next, the group worked its way down Germantown Avenue, past pounding car stereos and brief floods of SEPTA foot-traffic. The trees of Maplewood Wall brought another welcome dose of shade as happy photographers stopped to capture ecletic storefronts.

The bevy of cameras brought Nicholas Thaete of Cane-Rush, a furniture shop, to his doorstep. When Reed explained the day’s activity, Thaete offered a few grateful walkers a mug of cold water from a plastic jug.

A chance to sharpen skills

Participant Heidi Mercado-Littles, a photography hobbyist and staffer at The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown,  was among those who took advantage of Thaete’s kind gesture.

“Germantown has a lot of nice secrets,” she said as a trumpet-player’s scales sounded from the Maplewood Music Studio.

Mercado-Littles, who has gotten to know the neighborhood quite well while working, said she has a particular interest in houses, gardens, and Germantown’s decorative ironwork.

“I do lots of visitations for church work, so I drive around a lot,” she explained.

As the group reached Market Square’s Civil War memorial, 15-year-old Justin Williams and his grandmother, Germantown resident Rosetta Belton, were still unfazed by the heat.

“It’s nice for a grandma to just come along,” said Belton, who had no camera, but was enjoying the day with her grandson nonetheless.

Williams, for his part  has been talking photos since he discovered his parent’s old 35mm film camera in the basement when he was 11-years-old.

Now an expert for his age, Williams enjoys capturing “the small things that usually go unnoticed,” such as architectural details. When he grows up, he looks forward to having his own photo studio or maybe being the chief executive photographer for The New York Times or National Geographic.

Varied visions

The group’s varied tastes were apparent.

The peeling, weathered steeple of Trinity Lutheran Church, framed by lush summer greenery, proved a magnet for several photographers. Meanwhile, Green Tree School art teacher Zipora Schulz headed into Grumblethorpe’s gardens. The chickens captivated her.

“I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve passed by here,” Belton said of coming into the historic home’s gardens for the very first time.

A cup of homemade ice cream from the Grumblethorpe farmers market refreshed the remaining photographers, who then headed west for the Wyck House.

Encore in the works

Given the good turnout for the inaugural Photo Walk, Reed is pleased to contemplate future events, which he hopes will attract sponsors and perhaps a venue to show a selection of participant photos.

“It’s amazing,” Reed said of the turnout for the Photo Walk. Another one in the fall “is definitely going to happen.”

For now, Germantown Photo Walk participants can upload their photos to the group’s dedicated Flickr stream until Wednesday. A vibrant Germantown slideshow is already growing on website.

Those who did not join the group on Saturday are also welcome to add any pictures they may have snapped in their own Germantown yard or block on June 30.The event has already attracted the attention of PlanPhilly.com.

Once all the photos are uploaded, Reed will choose the ten best pictures for display on the PlanPhilly website.

 

Missed Saturday’s inaugural Photo Walk? You can check out photos from the day at http://www.flickr.com/groups/gtartistrt/

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