In the middle of a Philadelphia photojournalism conference in 2004, an umbrella factory caught fire.
The photographers, grabbed their equipment and rushed to document the blaze in Old City. Seeing the photographers head out to take the photos was a moment that got her “hooked” on documentary storytelling.
Edlow, a 2004 film and media arts alumna and freelance photographer, was named on TIME’s 51 Instagram Photographers to Follow in the U.S. – 2016. Her Instagram account includes street, portrait and documentary photography.
Edlow said she was a “latecomer” to Instagram around the end of 2013, but has found it to be a great vehicle for storytelling.
“It made me feel like I could get attention on stories and my pictures a lot easier than I had been at any point in my career, and I could do it myself with an audience that was dedicated to seeing my images,” she said.
She added that she considers her account to be a “sketchbook” of her mind. It’s not just protest and politics, but also street and music photography.
Edlow was “ecstatic” to find out she was named to TIME’s list of Instagram photographers to follow.
“It was a really profound moment,” Edlow said. “A lot of times, you don’t get a lot of Black females that get that sort of attention and that was something that was really important to me and validating as someone who really puts a lot of effort into their craft and takes it very seriously.”
Conrad Benner, the founder of Streets Dept — a Philadelphia street art blog — met Edlow through a mutual friend when Benner was searching for someone to take him into the subway to see graffiti.
Although Edlow had only been down in the prohibited parts of the city’s subway once at midnight around three years ago, she retraced her steps to show Benner the graffiti work.
Benner said she brings a “natural eye” to photography.
“Her [photography] lends itself to exploring things as the way they are in a naturally beautiful way,” Benner said. “She seems like a classic photographer living in the modern age.”
Edlow said she never really enjoyed writing down her thoughts when she was in high school. She convinced her Latin and English teachers to allow her to make visual projects instead of writing essays to convey her ideas.
“I understood that there was something visually that I understood about communicating better than writing it down,” Edlow said. “That kind of sparked it all.”
Edlow was born in Philadelphia, but grew up in Yorktown, Virginia. She became infatuated with Philadelphia after she volunteered with the Welcome America! Festival.
“My world just exponentially expanded,” Edlow said. “I was able to meet people who were transgender volunteers and that was a new thing coming from Virginia, which is very homogeneous and very Christian, and so seeing all these different types of people was exciting.”
After studying at Villanova University for two years, Edlow transferred to Temple to pursue film. Other than a point-and-shoot three-megapixel camera she had in high school, Edlow had never picked up a camera until she came to Temple.
She recalled using a Bolex H-16 REX-5 camera in her filmmaking class.
“That kind of shooting and executing and trying to craft images that way is so limiting, but you learn so much from the limitations and what you could do if you had more options,” said Edlow, now a teaching assistant for Design for Journalists.
After graduation, Edlow worked in event production, but she wanted to work in journalism.
She researched photojournalism during her lunch breaks at work. One day she stumbled upon journalism professor Edward Trayes’ photojournalism class website.
She joked she “took” Trayes’ class, because she followed along with the work online. From the class site, she made contact with other Philadelphia journalists like Jim MacMillan, who told her about the photojournalism conference, a monthly meetup of the city’s photojournalists. MacMillan is the assistant director of external affairs in the School of Media and Communication.
Edlow freelanced with the Daily News from 2004 through 2005, then took a staff job with the South Philly Review, which she said was an opportunity to see how community journalism works. Since then, she has worked and lived at International House Philadelphia — a center for international arts, culture, educational and residential activities, according to its site — documenting the lives of international students.
Rakia Reynolds, a 2001 marketing and international business alumna and the president and founder of Skai Blue Media — a multimedia communications agency in the city — said she sees this as a “great accolade” for Edlow.
“She’s really honing in on her artistry because she takes a multidimensional approach to photography and in that she knows about her subjects,” said Reynolds, who met Edlow through the photographer’s work at Visit Philadelphia. “She gets her subjects, she’s talking to them and interviewing them.”
Edlow said her spot on the list is a testament to the craft of journalism today.
“They didn’t have to choose someone with my following,” she said. “My following isn’t the largest in Pennsylvania and a lot of times they just seek out what is the most popular, but if you do a little digging, you’ll find some people doing some really great storytelling and image-making.”
Emily Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Emilyivyscott.