Society is quick to judge and distance itself from anything that doesn’t seem “normal” or “safe.” It is for this reason that photographer and activist Jeffrey Stockbridge, 36, created the Kensington Blues series. The fine-art photography book documents the trials and tribulations of the people affected by drug addiction and prostitution along Kensington Avenue, in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
As Stockbridge explains on the Kensington Blues website, Kensington was a working-class neighborhood and a national leader in the textile industry during the 19th century. It was also home to a diverse population of immigrants. Hard times befell many during the mid 20th century, however, as industrial restructuring led to high unemployment rates and a significant population loss.
Today, Kensington Avenue is infamous for drug abuse and prostitution. The avenue runs through three miles of what now is a dangerous and crime-ridden neighborhood. According to Stockbridge, women as young as twenty and others who have worked in the area for decades abound. He wrote,
“Prostitution has become a social norm. Drugs such as Heroin, Crack and Xanax are sold out in the open. Addicts sell clean needles for a dollar a piece– ten needles equals a bag of dope.”
Despite its poor reputation, Kensington Avenue is in a constant state of hustle. With a 4×5 camera, Stockbridge deliberately chose a slow photographic process to “slow down the rapid speed of life as it happens along the Ave.” On the website, the photographer explains that his focus is portraiture. His goal is to “tap into the state of mind of those who live in Kensington.”
“I am interested in how people survive the neighborhood and themselves. I ask residents to share their stories and I record the audio or have them write in my journal,” the photographer wrote. “The goal of my work is to enable people to relate to one-another in a fundamentally human way, despite any commonly perceived differences. I rely on the trust and sincerity of those I photograph to help me in this process.”
You can purchase the Kensington Blues book by visiting the website. The resource has ninety-one large-format color photographs which are paired with audio transcripts and handwritten journal entries. It took five years for the photographer to meet with and document the personal stories of those who are fighting to survive the neighborhood and themselves.
“The goal of my work is to enable people to relate to one another in a fundamentally human way, despite any commonly perceived differences”- Jeffrey shared on his website. “I rely on the trust and sincerity of those I photograph to help me in this process.”
Following are 10+ photographs from the Kensington Blues series:
#1 The Twins Tic Tac And Tootsie
“We out here so we can get money so we has somewhere to rest our heads. We look out for each other. If I can’t get money, she gets it, and whatever money we get we share…We need quick money cause we need somewhere to sleep every day. I mean, trust me, we don’t want to be out here doing this. This is the last thing I want to do. But I do what I have to do to take care of my sister. Cause she’s all I got and I’m all she’s got.”
She told that she often sleeps on the streets during the day to protect herself at night.
She is 25 years old, working in the sex industry since she was 18.
“I’m 55 years old, I have a master’s degree in psychology, but after my husband, mother and father, died in a car accident two years ago, I lost my whole family, my career, one, my health, all in one go.”
“I’ve been raped, and, you know, almost killed really”
A local resident, at the time she was 41. Carol told the photographer that she had been doing heroin for 21 years and it became “the love of her life”.
Al lives in a house off Kensington Avenue without electricity or running water. He sometimes rents his upstairs bedroom to prostitutes in need of a private location for engaging in sex and drug use.
#10 Sarah And Dennis
The veins in Sarah’s arms were no good for injection, so she asked Dennis for the drug to be injected to her neck.
#11 Matt And Brian
Matt shoots Brian in the neck in front of the McPherson Square Library on Kensington Avenue. It’s 10 AM on Sunday morning.
#12 Melissa’s Arms
“I don’t just do this for drugs. I do this because I wanna eat, because I like to buy clothes, because I like the small things, you know. I did have a normal life once but…I really believe, like if my, if my family say like, “Mary come, come home stay with us” like, if I could I would…”
#19 Matt Neal
He struggled with drug addiction after being released from prison. Sepsis developed in his left leg. Because of his addiction, he failed to meet the treatment regimen and eventually the doctors had to amputate part of the leg.
One might conclude that the series is humbling, as it confirms that those who live on the streets and/or struggle with addiction are just people, too. Hopefully, Stockbridge’s work inspires people to live from a place of humanity and help others.
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Source: Bored Panda