These photographs were first shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1971 as part of a larger exhibit of the public’s use of space in the city. This theme was borrowed from an idea of the late Louis Kahn, the eminent Philadelphia architect who stated that in any given city half of its space was more or less public and that they could be envisioned as extra living rooms for the public-at-large in which to enjoy.
Keeping Kahn’s idea in mind, I set out with my camera to observe people interacting in the city’s parks, street corners, sidewalk cafes and other venues. I noted people passing each other in the vast public spaces with hardly a nod of recognition. Jane Jacob’s metaphor “ballet of the streets” that referred to people’s close encounters in public, and Goffman’s idea of tacit rules of conduct lingered in the back of my mind. People seemed to meet but did not acknowledge each other’s presence. Was it a cultural phenomenon or the repressive social/political climate of the 1970s? The Vietnam war, racial unrest, the vigilant FBI, city’s civil disobedience squads-- keeping an eye on things.
Forty-one years later, I am still searching for answers; in the intervening years, however, I continued my observations of people in public across racial lines in Philadelphia, separation and interactions between black and white populations. It appears that the separation is as visible and tangible today as it had been through the 1970s, ‘80s and even the ‘90s.