Ben Wong isn’t interested in taking photos of Boathouse Row or South Street. He said he’d rather take photographs of the “underbelly of Philly.”
Wong, a 2011 communications alumnus, hails from Collegeville, Pennsylvania.
“I never really had anything interesting out there for me to shoot,” he said. “But living in the city, you’re surrounded by it. You could stand in one spot for an hour and shoot a bunch of different things and get some cool shots.”
This is evident in Wong’s popular Instagram account, “brotherlylost.” He posts photographs from obscure areas of the city, like an untended playground at 3rd and Lemon streets, a colorful mural at 8th and Thompson streets or a graffiti-marked payphone just north of Chinatown.
“I followed a lot of Philly photographers … and I felt like they all kind of shoot the same stuff,” Wong said. “I want to show that there’s more to Philly than just the cobblestone and all that.”
Originally published as a blog in 2014, Wong expanded his project to Facebook and Instagram, where the account now boasts more than 16,000 followers. Though Wong was initially surprised by his account’s popularity, Wong said he thinks Philadelphians personally relate to his photos.
“A lot of the compliments that I get are like, ‘Oh, I really like that one photo, I work right there,’ or ‘I lived on that street forever and I just never looked at it that certain way,’” Wong said.
In addition to working on Brotherly Lost, Wong is involved in wedding and concert photography. He also shoots band portraits for his blog and for JUMP Philly, a music magazine in the city published by journalism professor George Miller.
Wong’s interest in Philadelphia’s music scene made its way into Brotherly Lost. Each photo posted to the blog is named after a song by a local band, and captioned with lyrics from one of their songs.
Wong wasn’t interested in photography until his junior year of college, when he bought his first DSLR camera for his Still Photography for Filmmakers class with professor David Freese.
“I took mostly film, photography and journalism courses under the communications umbrella,” Wong said. “I sort of veered towards photography because it’s a little bit easier to do with just yourself. … With photography, you can just be in your own creative space.”
Wong added that the photography classes at Temple force you to use the “city as a background.”
Paul Rider, one of Wong’s former professors who currently teaches at Penn State-Abington and the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, said he always tries to get his students to explore spaces overtime, to look at them with an open mind and new eyes.
“I always tell some of my students, [if] they want to go out and make pretty pictures… go down into the city,” Rider said. “There’s lots of wonderful things there for you to photograph, it’s just endless. You’ll continuously be photographing, you’ll never be able to stop.”
While Wong doesn’t make a profit from his blog or Instagram account, he does sell prints and showcase his photos in galleries. The exposure he gained from Brotherly Lost opened up a lot of opportunities for him, he said. Apricot Stone, a Mediterranean restaurant in Northern Liberties, showcases Wong’s photography on the walls.
“It’s a little crazy how [Brotherly Lost has] blown up. And I never really expected to be a photographer, but now…I feel like I can’t really give that up,” Wong said. “It’s crazy how far I’ve been able to go, and how many people I’ve been able to meet and things I’ve been able to see and do just from being able to use a camera.”
Alexis Anderson can be reached at email@example.com.