Ellie Seif: A life captured through the lens and learning

Ellie Seif, a retired teacher and principal, has always been fascinated with cameras. Her first exposure to film was in her preteens when she watched her father work as a motion picture projectionist. She’s not sure if that’s why she loves photography so much, but she likes to think so.

In 1972, she began her photography career taking pictures of her friends’ children. She fused together her love of education and photography by teaching her students how to use cameras, and develop pictures in a bathroom that she converted into a dark room.

“The eye of the camera is like empty toilet rolls where you can isolate regions,” said Seif. “There is a different way of seeing, using creativity and the opportunity for the students to view the world from their own perspective.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

When she retired in June 2003, she knew that photography was something that she wanted to continue so she began taking classes to hone her craft. Today, she is using her talents to explore her own creativity and to help different causes.

The 70-year-old Mt. Airy resident is an ardent volunteer at Public Citizens for Children and Youth’s (PCCY) Picasso Project, which is dedicated to increasing and improving art education for students in the School District of Philadelphia by providing teachers with up to $5000 in grants to include arts projects in the curriculum. She is on the Picasso advisory committee that fundraises and reads grant applications. She also serves as a liaison with the winning schools and chronicles the project’s progress through her photography.

This year Seif will work with students at the Henry H. Houston Elementary School in Mt. Airy.  The project will use original poetry and music to shed light on bullying in the school and community.

Because she believes in the work and the cause of the PCCY, she also sells greeting cards displaying her work on her website to benefit the organization.

Seif says she is appalled at the way visual arts, music, drama and dnce are being cut ouf of Philadelphia schools.   “I am set on doing what you can to try and bring the arts back in the school and it’s minimal. It’s not like having an art or music teacher, it’s a project and it’s a wonderful project”, said Seif.

Seif also volunteers for Weaver’s Way Co-op, photogrographing speicial events and at Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia, creating a visual document of the construction progress of homes and the ceremonies when they are presented to families. Her work with Habitat has been some of the most rewarding work that she has done. “I have photographed several dedications over the years, and I have always shed tears behind the lens,” she said. “I am continually overwhelmed by the family partners’ stories, experiences and extraordinary challenges they must overcome to enable them to finally receive those keys to their new home.

Even though Ellie Seif is retired from teaching and actively pursuing her passion for photograph, education is still an important part of who she is. Seif is currently a university mentor for the University of Pennsylvania’s School Leadership program where she helps aspiring principals while they complete the school’s certification program. As a support system, Seif helps solve problems, responds to weekly journals, and grade papers. She began working with the university just months after she retired.



This month we’re profiling a variety of Northwest women whose life experiences give us a first hand view of the changing roles of women.

 If you would like to see some of Ellie Seif’s photography, visit her website, ellieseifphotography.com.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal