After 40 years of selling art, Bruce Kravetz took up photography. From refugees in Ethiopia and Palestine to tribes in Papua New Guinea, he has been documenting the darker side of life since 2005. Kravetz occasionally drives homeless people to his studio at 123 Leverington Ave. for photo shoots. “I meet the homeless, I get to befriend them. It’s harder than you think, a lot of them have mental problems,” Kravetz said.
But the 71-year-old tries to use his talents to help the disadvantaged, raising money for a homeless shelter at his opening at the Trust Gallery and ultrasound equipment for a hospital in Somaliland. “I feel like a rich old fart taking pictures of people in their misery,” he said.
Kravetz grew up in Rochester, N.Y., in a working class Jewish family. “We were as close to poverty as you can get without being poor,” he said. After three years in the army and a stint at Ohio University, he started buying kitsch art in Europe and opened a gallery in Rochester. Kravetz moved on to fine art and eventually international folk art in his Manayunk store, Pacific Rim. “I didn’t wanna spend the rest of my life, which is getting narrower and narrower, being a retailer,” Kravetz said.
Kravetz used his habit of rugged traveling, which includes motorcycling across the United States in six weeks and two failed attempts at crossing over Australia, to cover the camps, where he sees makeshift cemeteries and starvation. “It’s extremely grueling just to get to the refugees over rough terrain. You can’t just waltz into refugee camps and take pictures, you have to get permission,” he said.
Kravetz plans on returning to Somaliland in September to cover a mental hospital where patients reportedly are chained to the floor. Somaliland seceded from Somali in east Africa, but is not recognized as an independent country by the international community.
He said he hopes to shoot a documentary on the hospital. “It gives me a sense of pleasure in a cop kind of way,” Kravetz said, “You don’t enjoy it. It’s something you experience.”