Shadow World contains installments of the video project David S. Kessler filmed throughout 2007. As he describes it, “Set under the el tracks in north Philadelphia [sic], [Shadow World] is an exploration of this unique, fascinating and often intimidating space that (at least for this year) I call home.”
He interviews a variety of individuals who are now most likely deaf to the constant rumblings of the elevated train located above a little corner of the city of brotherly love at Front St. and Kensington Ave.
Kessler has already received attention for his work filming the seedy, unpleasant, but often persevering and courageous elements of North Philadelphia, and there’s good reason why.### Using only a small digital camera and a tripod, he captures the deteriorated urban environment of one of the city’s rougher and more squalid neighborhoods and interviews the funny, honest, boastful, sad and dispossessed characters that inhabit it. Without adding sound and without judging the people who speak to him, Kessler has put together a startling portrait of “the other side of the tracks.”
Much of Shadow World is simply unforgettable: a deaf man who dresses in a gorilla suit for a living, a hirsute old man who once was a world champion weightlifter, a sewing button collector, a dedicated airbrush artist, a gang of teenage girls, crack addicts, prostitutes, a bike shop owner in possession of thirty-five years of surveillance footage.
The twenty-five episode series runs a gamut of personalities, all of them edited into fragmented glimpses of the el and surrounding areas, though their humanity is never lost. The most compelling aspect of the project is how, through the inclusiveness of the internet, it has allowed many of its subjects, and those who have their own take on the subjects, to chime in with support and comments.
Much of Shadow World is fairly depressing (although simultaneously eye-opening) in certain cases it can be purely beautiful and inspiring. One day Kessler captured scenery after a recent snowfall, and the results are quite lovely, with the urban blight somehow adorning it. And the last episode is an interview with a good humored, optimistic Puerto Rican storeowner who plans on making it in America.
Though largely a study of broken dreams and lives, Shadow World, like the subjects who make it what it is, still holds onto hope.