Jacob Hellman’s disappearing Philly wonders

One of Jacob Hellman's photo collages of abandoned buildings in North Philadelphia
One of Jacob Hellman’s photo collages of abandoned buildings in North Philadelphia

In a modest, December exhibit of photographs, photographic collages, words and found objects, Jacob Hellman managed to have big impact. The exhibit, Philadelphia Has Wonders, was at White Lodge, an art space available for rent at reasonable prices at the Philadelphia School of Rock.

Hellman used photographs, collage, words and artifacts to raise questions about the nature of time and change, about values, neighborhood, the economy and people’s lives. The exhibit was a monument to how ephemeral and at risk everything can be, including ourselves.

Hellman exhibits the lagniappe and American flag that are in his photograph.


Inspired by his experience working in construction in North Philadelphia, he started documenting the crumbling urban residences around him, salvaging some things, making photographic records of others, preserving traces of people’s lives left behind.

Hellman, was not only imagining these traces of the past being discovered by some future civilization. He also was imagining how the decay of these buildings reflected international, capitalist economics and social conditions that led to the urban decay.



The ideas were expressed in objects like a fractured, but once grand, door archway, or expressed in shrine-like arrangement of books, a flag, and lagniappe that belonged to a former squatter. The shrine included Hellman’s photo of the same arrangement, as he first found it.

The installation read like a cross between a museum exhibit and the bulletin board of a socially engaged church or union, a little worn out and crummy, but mournful and passionate.

Hellman is a teller of stories about the injustices built into the social system. His background may not be art, but he has something he has to tell us. And the exhibit, with its variety of media and its wit and scope and sincerity overcame all obstacles. He said what he had to say, loud and clear.