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The Flickring of Philly: Al Stegeman

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By Elise Vider

Other photographers on Flickr may dwell on the physical beauty of Philadelphia's picturesque architecture and scenery, but Al Stegeman is drawn to the gritty allure of the people who populate the buildings and streets.

Part photo-journalist, part portraitist, Stegeman's studies show an edgy side of Philadelphia, but always with the utmost respect for his subjects and love for his adopted city. A Drexel University professor of culture and communication, Stegeman, 55, has no objection to photos of "shiny, happy people" and beautiful buildings.

Girls on South Street.jpg"I like architecture," he says, "but a person at a point in time is never there again. What interests me are stories - something that gives me a sense of who a person is, in a place and at a moment in time."

Stegeman always asks permission before he aims his lens, so his subjects are posed, not candid. "But it's their pose," he says. "I respect all my subjects. I won't do something that's demeaning to them."

Nor does he use a flash - too disruptive.  Instead, he relies on a superfast lens on his Olympus E-30 and available light to create his moody nighttime scenes.

Stegeman's favorite Flickr group is the slightly outlaw "Philadelphia, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly," which he considers the most honest.

His  preferred subjects include the gang at Dirty Frank's, his watering hole of choice; the surreal images from Carnivolution, a circuslike West Philadelphia happening about which he plans to publish a book of photographs, and the after-dark scene on South Street.

Girl in Makeup.jpgHe's been chronicling South Street at night for several years, drawn first by the motorcycle scene (he's a biker himself.) So it was that he found himself on South Street the night of the infamous flash mob, even before the media cameras showed up

It was "very crowded, very weird," he recalls, but he didn't find it threatening; the crowd and the police were mostly well behaved, he says. And the kids were begging him to take their photo. (Still, he got knocked over and retreated behind the rows of parked cars.)

To Stegeman, who's been shooting photos for 40 years as a "professional amateur," Flickr is a distribution medium, a way to exhibit and share his prolific visions of the city.  "If you take my photographs over the next 10 years," he says, "I'll have told a story of life in Philadelphia."

 

Al Stegeman appears on Flickr as "Al in Philly."

 

All Photos by Al Stegeman

Masthead Photo: Bikers on South St.

Text Photo 1: Girls on South St.

Text Photo 2: Woman in makeup.

 

Click here for a slideshow of Al Stegeman's work:

 

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