How Philly Moves is a photo series started in 2008 by photographer Jacques-Jean (JJ) Tiziou, of thousands of photos taken of 160 Philadelphians dancing. The participants are of all nationalities, ages and backgrounds; a few have danced professionally, most have not, but they share the joy, energy and love of dance. The photographer’s private project is now about to become very public art as part of the city’s Mural Arts Project and the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA).
Last week, in windy 40-degree rainy weather, Tiziou was bobbing and weaving on scaffolding across from the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts on Broad St. to oversee the first his exhibitions from the How Philly Moves series. The structure houses a projection booth that will beam Tiziou’s photos, as well as video of Tiziou’s studio sessions working with the dancers in the series, on the side of The Kimmel building. Tiziou also took the opportunity to take pictures of his game construction and tech crew.
When people are in motion, Tiziou is moving with them. “Picture taking is more about eye contact and the body language.” He said while taking a few more shots as the crew finished up. “PIFA was reaching out for community partners and they wanted to do something with the Mural Arts Project, so they reached out to me. To have something happening in the heart of the city is very exciting.”
The Kimmel is the headquarters for PIFA and Tiziou’s exhibit coincides this week with the start of a three month installation of How Philly Moves murals to be displayed at the Philadelphia International Airport starting in June. The airport exhibit is a series of painted murals of the twelve of the dancers and will be displayed on multiple stories on six buildings around the airport. Jon Laidacker is the lead muralist with along with a team of artists – Tjai Abdullah, Efrain Hererra, Charles Newman, Laura Velez, and Tom Walton- who are working out of a studio space on the top floor of the Gallery at Market East.
Even with two of his exhibits being installed at the same time, Tiziou was otherwise the picture of calm earlier this week as his crew did middle of the night test runs of the Kimmel projections. The screenings involve blending video, stop motion animation and working with the stills and incorporating a lot of the imagery.” He said. He is collaborating with filmmaker Tobin Rothlein, co-artistic director of Miro Dance Theater, to coordinate the tech designs for the Kimmel site. The images will be projected from dusk to dawn, running from a network of computers, displayed in randomized sequences.
Tiziou worked with videographers to record the ten-minute shoots, which will also be part of the montage. He directed the shoots, but was very much part of the action “doing a little dance, to get the best vantage points. Photography is something a camera does, doing my little dance to get the best vantage points.”
Even with video and other elements, “This is very much a photography project.” Tiziou said. “We are using video in this and stop motion, and animated sequences of stills. Taking the whole batch of pictures I would take – not just what might be considered the best ones – but all taken at high speed to get a sequence. I knew that those who aren’t used to performing on film, would be self conscious and artificial. But there will be one split second where you get their energy and essence of movement.”
The main challenge for the PIFA show are “Compositional restraints. Piecing out all of these bits of film and making them look right on the Kimmel wall. We‘re working with a canvas that is a boxy vertical one and the imagery started out horizontal, so it‘s tricky. There is a lot of tech to that has to make this a quick, hi-def process that will transfer.“ He also “didn’t want just the images to pop on like a light switch. It will start to fade in at dusk as the outside light go down.”
Tech details aside, Tiziou’s focus as a photographer is the community engagement. For the dance shoots Tiziou didn’t have much in the way of funding but relied on “calling in favors, asking friends to volunteer and getting spaces donated. With digital transition. You can make it more flexible, show the work right away, a public art practice that I started with the Live Arts Festival where I shot thousands of images, for instance, photographing not just the performers, but celebrating the community.”
The dance sessions represent that spirit as well as the uniqueness of his subjects. The photos for the exhibit represent all variety of dance styles and Tiziou‘s dance photos are known for their kinetic elements and he views each person’s physicality is as different as fingerprints. “The way someone moves a key to their expression as individuals. In fact, every single person walking by fascinates me as a photographer.”
~Hard to imagine a spring without Jan’s flowers, the ones that she grew on her land and the ones that came up naturally. She had a particular fondness for weeds and not only would photograph them, but try to figure out their hybrid. Of course, as much as she filmed the blooms above ground, she had equal interest in subterranean botanica — especially of the fungal variety. Trying to remember her joy in such things today in the buds and leaves that are starting to color in the trees on the streets of Philadelphia. Biking past today’s new colors in Rittenhouse Sq. hinted at mauves and pinks and the promise of vibrant greens.