Billy Cress and Austin Hodges met in person for the first time at an Instagram community meet-up in Old City, but they’d been admiring each other’s photos over digital space for months. They happened to be taking the same images.
“Me and him, we take pretty much the same subject and edit them almost exactly the same,” Hodges said.
And that’s houses or homes, addresses around Philadelphia that capture imaginations and stoke all kinds of thoughts: wonder, aesthetic admiration, awe, sometimes fear. #PhillyHomePortrait has since taken on a life of its own with Instagrammers across the city following suit with their own favorite domiciles. Cress and Hodges’ Instagram posts using the hashtag yield hundreds of “likes” and comments, sometimes from outside of the city, that their posts instill an appreciation for a city that’s often wrongfully ascribed descriptors like dirty, rude and filthy.
At one point, their main focus would almost definitely be Rittenhouse Square, Fitler Square and Queen Village due simply to age and character. It’s hard to deny that those three neighborhoods don’t have a great deal of charm built into their brick facades and casted cement frames. Cress and Hodges tend to find intrigue in brightly-colored doors, uniquely-appointed windowscapes or overgrown hanging gardens.
“Most of our popular ones are from the Rittenhouse area, Queen Village and Society Hill,” Hodges said while mosquitos nipped at our ankles in the backyard of American Sardine Bar, 1800 Federal St. “For the majority of the people, the houses that look prettier are more appealing.”
It just so happens that, when he explores his Newbold neighborhood, the eye-catching factors are less-often beauty and old-world charm. His snap of a home at South Colorado and Dickinson streets portrays a dilapidated rowhome with papers and posters in the window and posted on the peeling door, a shopping cart chained to the stoop and a tangle of fencing and decorative pottery. At South Bouvier and Mifflin streets, Hodges found striking the juxtaposition of a bright blue door next to a far-less-radiant twin.
“A good handful of people are using [the hashtag]. I think it’s awesome,” he said. “It gets people to go out and explore things that they’ll pass everyday but not pay attention to. As I like to call it, it’s visual awareness.”
The hashtag has indeed spread. Cress and Hodges are by no means the only IG users employing the moniker when encountering a striking home.
“Kind of the goal of this whole project is to get people off their asses and explore – even if it’s not houses, explore something that stands out,” Hodges added.
Back in March, they teamed up for a three-artist gallery show at Metropolitan Bakery, where Hodges works. They printed four-inch squares of their favorites and posted them around the room and sold 10 limited-edition books with perhaps the fanciest of homes. Hodges said their third book, which they’re working on now, will focus more on “everyday houses.”
Cress’ capture of South Fourth and Fitzwater streets is striking for its purple door, sherbert-colored walls and pale pink trim. At South Hancock and Catharine streets, he found framed steps, unfilled by cement, but instead populated with peonies and wildflowers.
The unspoken thrill is the narratives and imagination we all build around homes we only see from the outside. Who lives there? What are their lives like? How on earth did that color end up on their siding?
“Sometimes I’m curious who does own the house, but then again, if you look at the house itself, they put decorations in front or they put anything on the house. That can help you determine what kind of person owns the house,” Hodges explained.
For instance, one of his favorites, a Kensington residence, had American flags in the windows and a small security camera at the door. South Philly may not be littered with charming, Revolutionary-era rowhouses that have been gardened and maintained to perfection. In fact, the number of new homes popping up makes it less desirable than some of the gems that could be mined in Packer Park, Girard Estate and along South 13th Street.
But as Cory Popp, a multi-media journalist who called up Cress and Hodges to ask if he could tag along and make a mini-documentary put it, “a lot of people think this city is dirty, but I think there’s an increasing number of people that have pride for the city and its beauty.”
The resident of the 1500 block of South Broad St. applauds the IG duo and agrees with Hodges that it has the power to open eyes.
“It’s a reminder, even if you’re walking to ACME on Passyunk Ave., you’re going to pass some beautiful things,” Popp said. “Open your eyes and look for it – be aware.”
Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 117.