Frozen in black and white, his hands shoulder high and clutching a cutoff broomstick, he could be any working-class boy who ever grew up in Philadelphia.

"Boy playing stickball, C. 1950" reads the tag next to his picture at a photo exhibit that opened yesterday in Center City at the Art Institute of Philadelphia.

The photo of the nameless boy is one among 52 pictures in "Philadelphia Stories," an exhibit that seeks to convey the feel of Philadelphia neighborhood life - much of it immigrant games, shops, food, worship sites - from the late 19th century to the present.

Two video screens also feature stories of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Northern Liberties, and the Ninth Street Market and Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Episcopal Church in South Philadelphia.

"I really wanted it to be about the people, and I wanted it to be fun," said curator Maria DiElsi. She also curated the successful "Building of a Great American City" exhibit at the art institute in August 2007.

As DiElsi sifted through about 500 photos for possible inclusion, she said, she "realized we all come from someplace else."

Except for American Indians, "all our roots are immigrant," she said. "That's what makes Philadelphia and other large cities so special."

The show, at 1622 Chestnut St. through Jan. 23, focuses on just two neighborhoods chosen for their long history as home to Philadelphia's working class: Queen Village and Greater Northern Liberties, the latter a broad expanse comprising some of Fishtown, Kensington and Nothern Liberties.

Grouped under such themes as "We Eat," "We Drive," We Pray" and "We Play," the exhibit features photos of early cars, girls in First Communion dresses, boys at a boxing lesson, street vendors, men at an integrated pool hall and, of course, Mummers.

"It gives me a better sense of the city, of how each neighborhood evolved," said Joan Decker, commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Records. Her department, which possesses an enormous historical photo collection, contributed some of the pictures.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania also contributed photos, and its PhilaPlace project plans to turn "Philadelphia Stories" into an online virtual exhibit about the whole city next year.

That online exhibit will invite anyone with a story about a particular street or neighborhood or address to share it in video, audio or with photos, said Joan Saverino, director of the historical society's PhilaPlace project.

"The idea is to document neighborhood history and culture over time," said Saverino.

The Web site will feature an interactive map of the city on which people may click to learn about a brewery, school, factory, orphanage, playground, synagogue or any other site, or add their own stories.

"The idea is to 'go beyond the bell,' " Saverino said, meaning to tell the "larger history," Philadelphia beyond Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

"We were the 'Workshop of the World' in the 19th century," said Saverino, and most of the immigrants who poured here to work in the factories lived - and played and prayed and ate - within walking distance of those factories.

"Some are still living," she said, "and we want to tell their stories."

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com.