Snapshots from Philly Photo Day in Germantown

Initially, John Moss wasn’t too keen about participating in Philly Photo Day.

The Germantown resident wasn’t sure of how he was going to occupy his Friday morning, but it most likely wasn’t going to be spent in Vernon Park taking digital photographs.

His wife Frances wasn’t feeling too well that morning, but as she had expressed an interest in participating, Moss assumed the role of dutiful husband.

He put on his black Obama baseball hat and escorted her to the Center in the Park just off of Germantown Avenue, where instruction for Philly Photo Day was going to take place.

“I’m going to be getting into something today,” he said to himself.

Final preparations

Entering the Center’s computer lab, which occupies a small space off of the dining area, Frances was greeted by Jessica Kourkounis, a teaching artist hired by the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center to guide participants in Philly Photo Day through the elements of photographic composition.

Kourkounis is a veteran photog — her credits include the New York Times and WHYY — who came to the Center armed with a yellow drawstring bag full of Vivitars on loan from the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, which sponsored Philly Photo Day.

Fortunately, all her photo protégés had their own equipment, even Moss, who wielded a maroon point-and-click.

Despite his preparedness, he was still reticent when he poked his head into the temporary classroom.

“I’ll sit out here,” he said, pointing to the adjacent dining hall.

Kourkounis tried to cajole him to staying, informing Moss that participating could change his life.

“It’s changed so many times I don’t have room for anything else,” he said, reluctantly taking his seat.

After a brief tutorial on the basic elements of composition — symmetry, repetition, motion and the “rule of thirds” — Kourkounis readied her wards for the journey up the stairs and out the doors to the park to secure their submissions.

“Are there any questions before we go out?” she asked, to which Frances replied with a question of her own:

“Are we going to win a trip to Paris?”

Event background

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown kicked off the third annual Philly Photo Day by taking the first official photograph at Love Park on Friday. Her photo: The LOVE sign.

Philly Photo Day is an event run by the Kensington-based Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC) in which everyone in Philadelphia is invited to take a photograph on the same day. There were no limits to the subject of the snapshot, but had to be taken within the city, and only last Friday.

Every picture received will be printed and hung for exhibition at the Crane Arts Building in Kensington in December. In addition, 40 Philly Photo Day pictures will be placed on billboards throughout the city, and 200 more pictures will find homes on SEPTA buses and trains, creating a roving public exhibition of the work.

Last year, nearly 900 images were submitted. The goal for this year is 2,000.

“It’s a pretty reasonable jump,” observed Julie Taylor, development director for PPAC, a non-profit organization devoted to the study, practice and appreciation of photography in the region.

This leap in submissions will be assisted by participants in the teaching-artist program, which is new this year.

To increase access and participation, PPAC recruited teaching artists to visit 40 local community centers across the city.

“We wanted to reach out to everyone in Philadelphia,” she said, noting that in its first two years, Philly Photo Day had no specific neighborhood-outreach program. She expected that 500 unique submissions would come from the initiative.

“At its core, Philly Photo Day is about increasing access to the arts for everyone in Philadelphia,” said Sarah Stolfa, executive director of PPAC. “By designating this day annually, PPAC provides a distinct opportunity for everyone in the city to make and view art.”

Focus on the Germantown group

Standing in the park beneath overcast skies, the group was initially hesitant to proceed. Moss took the initiative. He gave his classmates an opportunity to put the technique of capturing motion into play: He began to run away, which is no small feat for someone wearing black tasseled loafers.

When Moss returned to the group, the participants began wandering the park in search of subject matter.

Sam Robinson of West Oak Lane was the lone wolf of the bunch. He set off to take a snapshot of a statue of John Wister.

“I do better by myself,” said the photography enthusiast before admitting that the hustle and bustle of street scenes is more his speed than those of tranquil park settings.

Nevertheless, he demonstrated a sporting attitude. Taking a picture of a tree, he quipped, “I think that would look good on a bus.”

Frances Moss stood nearby and took pictures with her back supine.

“I take a lot of pictures of the sky,” the Germantown native shared. “The sky is everything: It’s sad, it’s grey. All those emotions, you can see right up there in the sky.”

Returning to earth, she inquired, about her husband, “Is he still running?”

Waiting near the Center, John Moss was, in fact, standing still.

After taking his snaps using a unique but assertive forward-leaning stance, he’d had enough.

“I have taken more pictures today than in my entire lifetime,” he said. “It’s not really my thing. My wife coaxed me into coming down. I bought her that camera last Christmas, and I don’t think she’s put it down yet.”

Photographic fruits of their labor

Back in the lab, the participants queued for the selection and submission process, which Kourkounis led from her silver MacBook.

After several other participants selected their favorite shots — for Sam Robinson, the picture of John Wister went in — it was John Moss’ turn.

“It seems like you were shooting pictures like crazy,” said Kroukounis.

After reviewing his work, Kourkounis nominated Moss’ picture of a stand of trees, which was fine with him, since he wasn’t too eager to get in people’s faces with his camera anyways.

“You’re going to be a full time photographer,” she said.

“You better believe it,” Moss responded.

Citywide, the initial results are encouraging. Final results aren’t yet available — participants had until storm-shedding Tuesday to submit — but 1,200 entries were counted by Sunday evening.

“Overall, it was very well-received,” said Taylor, noting that neighborhoods underrepresented in previous years had stronger showings.

PPAC will be keeping up with the community outreach in 2013, most likely focusing on the sites that demonstrated the most community engagement, like at Center in the Park, where Kourkounis selected, for her own submission, a photograph of Moss during his run.

“This is the one I’m turning in,” she said.

“And he didn’t even want to come with me today,” said Moss’s wife Frances, laughing.

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