A cornerstone of American history, Philadelphia has undergone immense change in the last century. One man was able to capture decades of it.
Inside Phillip Taylor’s small North Philadelphia apartment, thousands of photos are stacked, crammed, and shoved into every corner. The 90 year old Army veteran has too pictures to count, ranging from profiles, to animals, to the streets of old city. It was after Taylor got out of the service that he discovered that passion.
“The camera was the way I perceived the world,” Taylor said. “So I was able to capture it, lock it in, as if you can steal a piece of time and freeze it.”
Taylor grew up in the Great Depression. After his father died young, his mother was left to care for him and his brother.
“Things were really tough. We lived in two rooms…I didn’t starve but sometimes supper was milk and rice. You just did what you could.”
It wasn’t just the world around him that was struggling. He was hospitalized as a young child and spent of much of his youth in an isolation ward. After that experience made a permanent impact on him, Taylor used those times as inspiration for his photographs. Anywhere he went, he always seemed to notice things that others would not.
“You see in my work there’s a lot of alienation in it. And we live in our society in a world of tremendous alienation…. Eventually man is ultimately responsible for himself.” These photo’s show some of the alienation Taylor talks about:
Taylor has documented events such as the construction of the Walt Whitman Bridge, homeless life on skid row, and the transformation of Old City.
Even after traveling around the world with the Army and visiting many European countries, Taylor always felt grounded in Philadelphia.
“I saw many different parts of the world, but I was always rooted in a way- family, friends…I always knew I had a base.”
Taylor’s collection can now be seen by Temple students as well. His exhibit ‘Hand Made Mirrors’ is featured in 19 display cases throughout Temple’s Paley Library. In all, he donated over 1,200 photos. Director of Special Collections for Temple Libraries Margery Sly says the collection embodies the true essence of Philadelphia:
“I think it’s a very realistic representation of the city, the nit and grit, and the fact that it wasn’t always an ideal place to be, and still isn’t.”
The collection will be on display until August. Then, those thousands of photos will go into the archives to be used for research and projects.
“If folks want to use it in a book, or in a documentary, or a school project, they’ll he able to find it and use it that way,” Sly said.
Taylor said he feels lucky that Temple took it. Temple libraries does not usually accept an entire collection as they did with Taylor’s. With his work being so comprehensive, scholars and other people who want to do research will have access to the decades of history that Taylor was able to capture.
Below are some of Taylor’s pictures that are on display (courtesy of Temple Libraries):