Weekly Update — Philadelphia Photo Art Center, DIY with digital


This week’s Weekly has my feature on Sarah Stolfa’s new DIY digital photo center, PPAC. Here’s the link. Below is the story.

Sarah Stolfa’s large portrait photos of the regulars at McGlinchey’s bar created a stir in 2004 when the artist, then an undergrad at Drexel University, won the student photography contest run by the New York Times. Since then, Stolfa’s had solo shows in Philadelphia and New York and picked up her MFA from Yale.  And “The Regulars” — as the series of McGlicheys photos is called – was just published as a 96-page paperback by Artisan Books.

Sarah Stolfa, at her new community photo art center, PPAC, located in the Crane Art Center's first floor
Sarah Stolfa, at her new community photo art center, PPAC, located in the Crane Art Center’s first floor

Stolfa is not a digital photographer although she prints her large photos on a digital printer working from electronically-scanned negatives. Printing digitally is an economical alternative for large costly color photographs.  “A lot of photographers shoot film and scan it high resolution,” she says.

To scan her photos, the artist used to schlep to New York to access equipment that rents by the hour at Print Space.  Explaining that there are no scan labs in Philadelphia she said, “To outsource a scan costs $50 a scan; for $50 an hour you can do 50 scans [yourself].”

After 2 years of taking the Chinatown bus to New York every other month to spend several hours scanning her negatives, Stolfa grew tired of wasting time and money to create work. And, she realized she and Philly’s growing community of photographers needed their own scanners—to say nothing of printers, computers, classes, exhibits and a library. Though local film photographers can utilize Project Basho, a community art center devoted to non-digital photography, Stolfa wanted a place for digital tools.

“Photography has moved to digital.  The schools are teaching it,” she said. However, when students graduate they lose access to school photo labs.  “A printer costs $6,000 and a scanner costs $16,000.  Nobody can buy that,” she said. “There’s a missing resource [in Philadelphia] I’m hoping to fill.”

In 2008, her last year in grad school, Stolfa hatched the idea for a fully functioning community art center for digital photography.   Reaching out to private donors, her Philadelphia gallery, Gallery 339, and friends, she talked up her idea for the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, PPAC. What came next wasn’t easy.

PPAC, which opens Aug. 11, will have state of the art computers, scanners and printers for DIY photographers. Stolfa will also scan and print it for you if you prefer.
PPAC, which opens Aug. 11, will have state of the art computers, scanners and printers for DIY photographers. Stolfa will also scan and print it for you if you prefer.

Early on, her business partner pulled out, leaving her alone in the project and without some promised funding — all at a time when her fiance was battling cancer.  But several private donors were very generous, and much of the work by lawyers, graphic designers and others was done pro-bono or at a discount. Recently granted non-profit status, PPAC will now be able to seek government and foundation funding.

“I couldn’t do it without Martin and Tom,” Stolfa said of the two owners of Gallery 339, Martin McNamara and Tom Callan, who are both on PPAC’s Board of Trustees.   And with additional support from an a-list advisory board that includes the photo curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Peter Barberie and Yale School of Art’s Dean Robert Storr, PPAC looks poised for a solid launch on Aug. 11.

Six weeks ago, a crew began carving out PPAC’s labs, classrooms and lounge in a large, sunny space in the Crane Art Center’s first floor. Located on American Street a few blocks from Project Basho on Germantown Avenue in Kensington, PPAC’s digital lab will have state of the art equipment that rents by the hour and the center will be open long hours to accommodate artists’ quirky schedules. Classes will deal with software and hardware issues and with professional development.

Exhibits—including the inaugural show, opening Sept. 10, juried by nationally respected curator Ariel Shanberg of the Photography Center at Woodstock—will offer exposure to the region’s emerging artists.

A resource for the community as well photographers, the non-profit plans to offer photo workshops for families and an after-school program for teens. Lectures, workshops and exhibits will be open to the public.

Stolfa has big aspirations for PPAC. “Photography is always changing.  At PPAC we want to be flowing like the scene is flowing.  My goal for the center is for it to be like ICP [International Center for Photography in New York],” she says.

Philadelphia Photo Arts Center–open for business Aug. 11
1400 N American Street Suite 103
Philadelphia, PA 19122


do it yourself, photography, ppac, sarah stolfa



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