New attitudes through art

TILT Institute for the Contemporary Image presents If We Never Get Better

3 minute read
A photo taken from behind of a woman with dark skin and turquoise-tipped hair facing a door too narrow for her wheelchair

Many living through the Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant lockdowns found themselves experiencing feelings of isolation and vulnerability, emotions that still reverberate through our collective psyche. If We Never Get Better, a photography exhibition currently on display at the TILT Institute for the Contemporary Image (the former Philadelphia Photo Arts Center), will resonate for anyone who experienced—or still experiences—these emotions.

If We Never Get Better is a group show, presented by TILT in collaboration with the Photographer’s Green Book, featuring artists whose works focus on healthcare, collective grief, disability, and healing. The work is not meant to illustrate circumstances that inspire pity. It is intended to inspire thought that leads to learning new attitudes and skills that allow us to relate to others whose personal circumstances or travails are different from our own.

Stark realism

As with all group shows, the work displays a variety of styles and foci, in this instance reflecting the differing perspectives of a collective of Black, brown, queer, and trans artists. The pieces range from intimately realistic, expressionistic, surrealistic collages to almost starkly journalistic.

A good example of the latter is Jaklin Romine’s Access Denied, a simple photograph of a woman in a wheelchair facing a door. The image subverts the preconception that accessibility is all about providing ramps for buildings with steps. In this, we see a person who cannot enter a simple building because the door is too narrow for the chair. It reminds us that people with disabilities face challenges in daily life that those who are non-disabled don’t even think about.

But an even more direct example of journalistic realism is Anique Jordan’s Codes, an image of a newspaper front page with a banner headline from the height of the Covid pandemic. It’s a reminder of what most of us just lived through, but it also cautions us to never forget the devastation a pandemic can inflict. Jordan provides a series of such images, each serving testament to recent tribulations.

Evocative and provocative

For Robert Rayford by Clifford Prince King is an expressionistic piece that packs an emotional punch. It’s a stark image of a shadowy outline of two men in a dim room. They seem isolated even while together; one man sits up but slouches, possibly despairing. We wonder why they feel so alone, even though they’re together. Why is the one despairing? As we run through the possible answers, we remember how vulnerable we are to forces that can drive us to isolation and despondency.

If We Never Get Better is TILT’s largest in-person exhibition in two years. In addition to Romine, Jordan, and King, it features work by Ari Golub, Debmalya Ray Choudhuri, Frances Bukovsky, Jenica Heintzelman, Shala Miller, and Shanna Merola.

All of the pieces in the show are emotionally evocative, many are moving, some are confusing, and a few are exasperating in their obliqueness. But the exhibition as a whole is challenging and thought-provoking, which is what the best art is all about.

What, When, Where

If We Never Get Better. Through December 10, 2022, at the TILT Institute for the Contemporary Image, 1400 N. American Street, Philadelphia. (215) 232-5678 or

Masks are encouraged inside the gallery, but not required.


TILT is a wheelchair-accessible venue.

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