Raising the Flag for Swarthmore
Andy Shelter had an opportunity to apprentice with a photographer. He was coming out of active duty with the Navy and needed a job. But he turned down the apprenticeship — the timing wasn’t right for this kind of work, he decided, as he was newly married with his first child in the way.
Luckily for Swarthmore, Shelter saw photography as more than a job opportunity.
Beginning at age nine, Shelter says he was “always holding a camera.” Captivated by a photo he’d seen on a family museum trip, he set out to recreate the scene with the help of his brother. He began shooting hundreds of photos of a single subject. His camera came with him while he served in the Gulf War. Once he found a 1950s Kodak just like his dad’s in a thrift store.
Within this space, and alongside family life, military service and a career, Shelter developed into a sought-after name and Swarthmore’s “unofficial official photographer.”
Camera in hand, he may be found at the Farmers Market or catching the mist rising from Cunningham Field on a June morning. His list of favorite spots is long, and he sees the town through a camera’s lens better than many know it by sight.
Shelter also curates an Instagram profile that is equal parts paean to the town and window to his soul. Scrolling through, one sees notable Swarthmore residents like Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, author Jon Cohen, educator Sandy Sparrow and State Sen. Tim Kearney, and scenes of town life, alongside his stunning travel photos and images of family and friends. Shelter admits to a preference for candid shots, and to a self-imposed limit on dog posts.
It’s no wonder, then, that Shelter’s work was selected for a new project meant to beautify Swarthmore’s business district. His photos grace a set of flags now lining Park Avenue.
Each flag features a quintessential Swarthmore scene: the Fourth of July fireworks; the “Michael’s Pharmacy” corner; the town clock; a charming Harvard Avenue cottage; a Thursday Night Live crowd; and an autumnal view of Park Ave. This series of images will be displayed until the holiday season, when a series of winter scenes will take its place.
The photos were carefully shot, edited and produced for maximum impact. As Shelter explains, “The goal is to approximate what our brains see.” For example, this approach led him to layer multiple fireworks images into the same frame to create the final photo used on the July Fourth banner.
The flags are a project of the nonprofit Swarthmore Town Center, which promotes Swarthmore’s downtown “as an exciting place to live, shop and invest.” Board member Martha Perkins and Anita Barrett, STC’s coordinator, were instrumental in bringing the group’s project to life.
Look out for more of Shelter’s work in an upcoming issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, set to feature Swarthmore in a profile of college towns for retirees. He is @andyshelterphotography on Instagram.