On Friday October 26th, the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC) invited everyone in the city to take a picture for Philly Photo Day. Last year was the first time I participated (it started in 2010), and I had my students in UArts PreCollege Digital Photo class submit work as well. We took a field trip to the PPAC’s gallery to see all the pictures, and concluded the project was a great success. In 2011, the images collectively formed a diverse “day in the life” of Philadelphia with memorable moments depicting Halloween festivities and protesters at the City Hall Occupy encampment.
This year they received so many entries, the entire Ice Box at Crane Arts was filled with them. The 1,800 photographs were printed on large sheets in a grid format in order by last name of the photographer. As a result, image placement was random, but naturally some coincidental pairings occurred. The one below was a favorite juxtaposition of mine, for the two little girls and the skeleton head all playfully missing teeth, and for the classic life/death symbolism in the flower and the skull.
Browsing the exhibition on opening night, I was filled with a wonderful sense that each one of these pictures has a story to tell. Even a blurry photograph of nothing on the ground must have had a deeper meaning to the person who submitted it. Who would choose an image like that to represent their day? What was happening in that person’s life on October 26th? I wish I could know the story behind each and every one of those pictures, but I only know a handful of them.
Two of the photographs I understand more deeply, because I was present during the moments when they were created. On October 26th I met up with my good friend and neighbor Candice Jeffries, specifically for the purpose of taking Philly Photo Day pictures. We had intended to ride our bikes around but ended up being restricted to a half hour of time, so we shot within the vicinity of her house. We found a patch of clover in her tiny West Philly front yard, and took pictures of each other laying in it.
Out of approximately 1800 entries, 40 were chosen to become billboards. There were so many fantastic photographs in the exhibition, it must have been impossible to narrow it down. To our surprise and delight, Candice’s picture of me was blown up bigger than life and placed on Ridge Ave right between East Falls and Manayunk.
She remembers me joking, “Make me a billboard!” as she snapped the photo. I know I covered part of my face just in case.
For me, this picture is proof that something hilarious and magical can happen when you least expect it. There is a feeling of freedom and bliss in my gesture, and the lucky clovers seem as though they could expand boundlessly. Candice shares my love of travel and adventure, and she is the type of person who would say “Let’s go to New Orleans” on a moment’s notice and actually follow through with it. More than I could have imagined, this image has come to embody the message I wrote to her in a “Postcard” before we even knew about the billboard: It’s pretty amazing what you can sometimes find in the five square feet that is your front yard.