The border in the yard: A study of homes in Philadelphia shows how neighbors share space

Before becoming a photographer, Ira Wagner frequently commuted by train from New York to Washington for his career in banking and consulting. Looking out the windows, he became captivated by the landscape the train passed through during the trip. Thus began a project that took him off the train and into Northeast Philadelphia where he saw a mix of rowhouses and townhouses and where he would focus his lens on twin homes.

In his artist statement, Wagner describes the project as a reflection on shared borders.

“Some families choose to mark their space with a fence or shrubbery. Others differentiate themselves with varying architectural elements and subtle changes to trim, windows and paint colors. One family chooses to hide completely behind a tall hedge; another lives in front of the house with common backyard elements — chairs, grills, patio tables, open for all to see. Common upkeep, such as mowing the lawn, ends at a rough approximation of the property line rather than being shared. One side of a structure shows pride of ownership, the other is missing a shutter on a window. When borders are such an important issue in the world, these images reflect a human inclination to mark and delineate one’s space rather than share it.”

Wagner’s exploring extends beyond the Northeast Corridor, with work in the Bronx and Miami. In an interview with In Sight, he noted that by surveying the architecture of a neighborhood he is also studying its people.

“I believe that you can tell a lot about a place and its residents by the places they choose to live and what their homes look like. I also think there is something universal in our desire to have a safe home in which to live and raise a family.”

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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