Favorite Spot: Graffiti Pier
Neighborhood: Port Richmond
I am: A writer and editor
Years in Philly: Born and raised
Current Home: Cedar Park
My Love Note
I’ve done a lot of traveling but most of it has been outside of the U.S. Invariably what I come home with (digitally speaking) is a raft of photographs of walls — walls in Montreal, walls in Barcelona, walls in Paris. Sometimes there are trains. And vans. Maybe some trash receptacles or light posts, definitely sidewalks. See, I’m obsessed with street art: I like wheatepastes, stencils, stickers, graffiti, even the humble single-hued tag. No one looking at my photos of Paris would get a great sense of what the city looks like, but they’d get a nice survey of its street art.
Funny thing is, graffiti started in Philadelphia. We’ve got amazing street art here. Yet there I’d be, running from alleyway to riverbank in some other country, completely ignoring my hometown.
I guess that’s how I missed the Graffiti Pier, aka, the Graffiti Underground, which is one of the most staggeringly beautiful, diverse, and passionate canvases I’ve ever seen. It’s a vast old coal pier site that extends into the Delaware River off of Richmond Street. The concrete walls and supports are a blur of color and creativity in so many different styles — from prison-style art to whimsical characters you just know you’ll see on an Urban Outfitters t-shirt soon. The first time I went there, I turned a corner to start my self-guided tour (no other kind) and saw big white letters on a red background: “I WANT TO BE FREE FROM THE PAIN…” Hell, yeah. Me too. I fell in love right then.
The way much of the pier is structured seems like a series of rooms, each of which is defined not only by the paint on the walls, but also by the way trees and grass have grown into and around the concrete. And it seems like the rooms and hallways never end — you keep walking and walking and looking at art, and then zigzagging back because you don’t want to miss that tiny stencil on the bottom of that support column that has grass growing beneath it.
Surrounded by the Delaware, and with all these trees and plants growing wild, the Pier seems very Philly to me. It’s self-expression, both human and natural, that won’t be denied. And as it turns out, I think the best graf photos I’ve ever taken are from Graffiti Pier. So I didn’t have to go anywhere after all. Philly is very sly that way.