A day in the life of Philly: 1,900 photos transform Dilworth Park

An image in the Philly Photo Day exhibition by Jeff Alexander.

On the west and south perimeters of Dilworth Park, there are two pathways, flush to the ground, like ribbons running parallel to one another, displaying a total of 1,900 photographs taken on October 10, 2014 as part of Philly Photo Day. Viewers can walk in the middle of the pathways to see the photographs on either side of them.

“It’s like the yellow brick road,” Sarah Stolfa said of the new photography exhibition-meets-art-installation currently in Dilworth Park. Stolfa is the executive director of the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC), which organizes the annual Philly Photo Day. On Philly Photo Day, all Philadelphians are invited to take a photograph and send it to PPAC. Those photographs were then printed and exhibited in a gallery in the fall, and finally compiled for the outdoor exhibition at Dilworth.

No gallery, no baggage

Located right in the middle of Center City, this exhibition is highly accessible and allows for the expansion of the dialogue about art beyond gallery walls. “The gallery itself has its own kind of baggage: you need to have knowledge and be comfortable in that setting, and that’s not everyone’s experience,” said Stolfa. “The real impetus for the outdoor exhibition is to put art in everyday life and the opportunity to engage with it in that way.”

In the stampede of a morning commute, one might miss the installation, just as in a crazy day of fast-paced life, one might miss small moments. Photography helps us notice, appreciate, and remember these moments, and the photo installation does the same. Its tangibility serves as an unexpected reminder to slow down, instead of the way Instagram and Facebook encourage quick scrolling and clicking.

“When pictures are printed, they become an object, a thing,” Stolfa explained. “When it’s a thing, and it’s not on your phone that you’re used to, or on the Internet that you’re used to swiping or looking or clicking and then moving to another thing very quickly, you miss the opportunity to really look.” Perhaps it’s ironic, then, that viewers of the exhibition and those tapping at the screens of their phones both appear with drooped heads, eyes cast downward. The medium makes the difference.

Tiles in a mosaic of Philly

The images include kids, cityscapes, food on plates, pets, and more — together representing a day on which 1,900 people collectively thought about their viewpoint of Philadelphia, becoming, as Stolfa said, “makers and not just do-ers.” Each print — which can be purchased for $25 with the proceeds split equally between the artist and PPAC — is like a tile in a mosaic of daily living in this city.

“There’s something very powerful and community-building in that,” Stolfa said. Indeed, Philly Photo Day as manifested in this exhibition is a way Philadelphians can show that there’s no place like home.

The exhibition at Dilworth Park is on display until June 30. You can participate in this year’s Philly Photo Day on October 9, 2015, which includes not only the invitation to take a photo for submission, but also various free photography workshops throughout Philadelphia.

At right: a Philly Photo Day exhibition image by Laniya Bazemore.