/26 Habitare

Jeffrey Stockbridge

Kensington Blues

“Just have one more try — it’s dead easy to die, It’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.”
Robert W. Service

Kensington Blues is a portrait photography project of the residents who live along Kensington Avenue in North Philadelphia. During the nineteenth century, Kensington was a strong working-class neighborhood, a national leader of the textile industry and home to a diverse population of immigrants. Industrial restructuring of the mid 20th century lead to a sharp economic decline including high unemployment and a significant population loss.

Today, Kensington Avenue is infamous for drug abuse and prostitution. The Ave runs 3 miles through what is now a dangerous and crime-ridden neighborhood. Women-some as young as twenty, others who’ve been on and off the Ave for twenty years–populate the neighborhood in great numbers. 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.

With the roaring El train overhead, Kensington Avenue is in a state of perpetual hustle. Working with a 4×5 camera, I have deliberately chosen a slow photographic process in order to slow down the rapid speed of life as it happens along the Ave. The focus of my work is portraiture. I want 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 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.