Story and shorthand design by Brent Baum
Photography by Joseph V. Labolito and Ryan S. Brandenberg
If you ask Joseph V. Labolito how he got hired at Temple University in 1996, he’ll joke that it was a pork sandwich at Willie's Sandwich Shop on 842 Christian St. in Philadelphia.
“One day I went to Willie’s, who makes a great pork sandwich. I gave a guy working at the shop a print that I shot of their shop’s staff and after he looked at it he said, ‘wow gorgeous’. Then he took a push pin out of the drawer and pinned my immaculate print to the greasy wall behind him,” laughed Labolito, who works as a senior photographer in the university’s Department of Strategic Marketing & Communications.
“And I thought at least the guy liked the picture.”
“Fast forward to two weeks later George Ingram, the associate vice president for university relations at Temple (at the time) who was a ‘foodie’ before it was fashionable shopped on 9th St. every Saturday and Willie’s was one of his favorite sandwich spots. So, he goes into Willie’s and says ‘that picture on the wall, tell me about that’. Then a guy comes out from the back of the shop and says, ‘an Italian kid came by and shot that, real nice kid’,” added Labolito.
“A week later George calls me and says the guys at Willie’s said you are alright, so we hired you.
"When Temple hired me, I had no idea how big it was,” he said. “Once I got here, I decided that this campus would be my new neighborhood, so I'm going to treat everybody, well, the same way I treat people in my neighborhood.”
Labolito fulfilled that promise this past May by giving back to his “neighborhood” in a very special way.
From capturing candid shots of people racing through the 1986 North Broad Street Run to documenting in black and white the early construction stages of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in 1993, Labolito has been archiving a collection of more than 1,200 images of people, places and things in Philadelphia since 1981.