Joel Benjamin has been living in the Fort Point neighborhood of South Boston since 1994. Long before the gentrified luxury residences, the trendy restaurants and workout spots, Fort Point was a secret no man’s land – a vast and barren part of South Boston with a small community of artists and a sprinkling of postal workers on their way to the US Postal Annex. “There was nothing here. No one knew where this neighborhood was or even what it was called. You couldn’t even get a drink around here until Lucky’s opened up. Now, I think it’s a big part of Southie’s energy and growth,” says Joel.
Moving to Fort Point and becoming a photographer coincided the same year. Joel left his career as an art director and made the decision to pursue his dream of photography. “I always photographed for fun; I’d give myself projects and had some work published but was unsure how to become a photographer full time. A mentor of mine passed away suddenly and one of the last things she said to me was to do my photography. That inspired me to start taking night classes, which I did for about two years. I took some great classes at the Museum School, NESOP and the Art Institute. Boston is a great place to do that.” A friend of Joel’s had an opening on his floor in a building on Melcher Street and he jumped at the opportunity to start working as a photographer full-time.
The scoop on Joel:
- Lives with his partner Dan in Midway Studios with their two pugs Bella and Logan.
- Born in Ohio then moved to Miami with is family when he was six. “Even as beautiful as the weather is in Florida, I always wanted to live up north again. I really like the change in seasons.”
- Moved to Boston via New York in 1985
- He worked at Jordan Marsh as the senior fashion art director then promoted to creative director
- Worked at Boston ad agency Hill Holiday as an art director
Since 1994, Joel has shot everything from fashion, to advertising, to portraits to art projects. He is also a Caught in Southie contributor (see Shop/Style and Character of the Month section). His passion for his career is still evident in every job he shoots. “Having been the poster-boy for mid-life career change, I have to say I still enjoy photographing everything! A day doesn’t go by that I don’t love what I’m doing and I’m always learning in some way. But I really enjoy shooting fashion; it can really call on you to bring out your creativity. And I am always happy to photograph performers; actors and musicians especially always bring so much to a shoot.”
Favorite part of living where you live?
I’m not sure everyone knows or can appreciate what an interesting community Fort Point was in the 90’s and how abrupt and difficult the gentrification in this area was to so many artists living and working here. We all knew that someday it would happen but even after living through the big dig right in our backyard (the new tunnel to the airport goes right under A Street in Fort Point), it was a tough transition.
That is especially why I really feel lucky to live at Midway Studios, which is a vibrant artist studio community. Just this year, the artists in the building, along with New Atlantic Development, formed a non-profit to purchase the building and keep it as affordable artist housing. That was a major under-taking and I feel so appreciative to live here. I encourage everyone to check out the amazing work that’s going on here at the Fall Open Studios, which is October 17th through the 19th.
Favorite spot in Fort Point?
I have been a huge fan of the Harbor Walk that runs behind the Gillette factory but I have to say that I love the new park that just opened up on A Street and Richards Street. It’s beautiful and by far, the biggest green space in this area.
Favorite spot in South Boston proper?
I always go to Castle Island, all year round. I love it during all the seasons and even walk the loop in the winter, though I’m always happy to be there when Sully’s is open. Our dogs, Bella and Logan, really love it there too.
Favorite restaurant in Fort Point?
Even with all the new restaurants, we most often stay in and cook, so I’m listing the new Foodies up there as one of my favorite places. A food store that’s walkable to Fort Point sort of changed my life! Plus, I like their butcher shop and prepared foods. But I also really enjoy My Diner, Row 34, Blue Dragon, KO Pies and I just had a good pizza at Pastoral, so I’d include that on the list. And I shouldn’t forget the BLT at Flour. It’s consistently the best one of that sandwich I’ve ever had.
Are you photos any where on exhibit right now? Or upcoming?
I just had a show at the Boston Center for Adult Education, on Arlington Street, in June. I photographed same-sex couples who were married in 2004, the first year that it became legal, including all seven of the plaintiffs in that historic case. I wasn’t sure what would really emerge from the photographs when I began the project but what became abundantly clear was that the photos really were so usual; they were beautiful portraits that captured the love in the relationships and that felt so universal, which was the point in the first place, I think.
I am starting a new project that’s a continuation of a show I did at the School of Fashion Design called “Debbie’s Barbies,” which was just what it sounds like: my friend Debbie found the original dolls she played with as a child and the clothing her mother made for the dolls. We worked on the project together. Her mother just passed away a week ago and I’m so glad she got to see her creativity appreciated again, fifty years later!
You can see Joel’s work on Caught in Southie in our newest children’s piece – Back to School and on his website http://www.joelbenjamin.com/