Through teenage eyes

Philadelphia Photo Arts Center presents ‘epiphany’

3 minute read
Evoking photographer Robert Frank: a street scene from Philly high schooler Leila Ibrahim. (Image courtesy of PPAC.)
Evoking photographer Robert Frank: a street scene from Philly high schooler Leila Ibrahim. (Image courtesy of PPAC.)

Anyone doubting the talent present among Philadelphia’s public high school students need only step into the galleries at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC) in South Kensington between now and June 5, where epiphany, the culminating exhibition of PPAC’s 2018-2019 Teen Photo program, is on display.

Take in this year's work of 61 students in PPAC’s yearlong, free after-school program, the ninth year such a bounty has been exhibited. Supported by more than a dozen foundations, the program gives the students access to PPAC equipment, materials, and staff. They are also given DLSR cameras to take home and have weekly meetings with mentors, plus field trips and photo walks.

Energy and sophistication

Not surprisingly, the exhibit defies overgeneralization, running the gamut from the abstract to the concrete, but with considerable energy and sophistication.

Huong Vu’s richly colored woman with a rose for a head and Avani Alvarez’s face of eyes are counterbalanced by Kayla Johnson’s spare light pole against a sky of clouds and Wendy Wang’s shot of two people’s clasped hands. (The photos are mostly untitled.)

Leila Ibrahim’s street scenes featuring anonymous people evoke past giants in this genre like Robert Frank.

In a small collection titled “the simple things,” Sahar Newman sees bridges and buildings as basic geometric forms. Victoria Golden bathes City Hall and the Love sculpture in strange, unearthly light.

Diverse portraits

Youth education assistant Michelle Wallace says that with the increased availability of strobe lights, there was more interest in portraiture this year than in the past.

She also said that her interactions with the students left her struck by how difficult many of their lives are away from the studio. This is perhaps reflected by the somber quality of many of the portraits. Here, one rarely finds the giddy yearbook-type poses that might have been displayed in such an exhibit a couple of generations ago.

“Friendship for women is different,” reads Payton Fulton’s commentary on a photo essay.

“Today, women are isolated from one another. The opportunities to meet up are much more limited. But that doesn’t take away the need to feel connected.”

In “We the people,” Erika Rivera celebrates the diversity of the LGBT community by clustering six very different individuals against the faint backdrop of a Pride flag.

A multimedia collection by Kayla Anderson accompanies a collection of somber faces with a short essay on the frustration of dealing with someone she knows who suffers from schizophrenia and resists help.

Skill and imagination

Throughout, the young photographers’ skill in editing is just as evident as the imaginative choices of subject. And it rarely seems used just for its own sake.

“As the teens expand their thinking both critically and creatively,” reads a plaque accompanying the exhibit, “they build confidence and develop a love of learning that helps them grow in every aspect of their lives.”

This program is a relatively small one, and it’s poignant to wonder if more opportunities like this in all creative areas couldn’t be made available in a school district struggling just to offer students a high-quality basic curriculum.

PPAC is free and open to the public from 10am to 6pm on Tuesdays through Thursdays and from 10am to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

What, When, Where

epiphany. By the students of PPAC’s Teen Photo program. Through June 5, 2019, at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, 1400 N. American Street, Philadelphia. (215) 232-5678 or

This PPAC exhibit and restrooms are on one floor, but wheelchair access is available only through the side entrance. Call PPAC to ensure it will be open.

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