Interview – Sarah Stolfa on making your own opportunity and printing for Zoe Strauss

For the Daily News article on the Philadelphia photography community I talked with a number of artists and others in that community. Here’s the first of several interviews I’ll put up in the next week or so. Others coming up are Martin McNamara, Stephen Perloff, Grisha Enikolopov, Al Wachlin, Jr and Harris Fogel.  Note: this post is a re-publish of one that was somehow vaporized in our recent blog transition.

The day I talked with Sarah Stolfa of PPAC, their website had briefly crashed from all the traffic they were getting from Living Social, a coupon site, where they had some half-off coupons on offer for their upcoming workshops. ($30 instead of $60). The fact that they’re using a coupon site for class coupons tells you how web- and business-savvy this organization is.

photo of woman looking concerned, dark hair, dark t-shirt, tattooed arms
Sarah Stolfa, photo courtesy of Workman publishers, publishers of Stolfa’s book, The Regulars


PPAC opened in late summer 2009. It opened because while there were co-op dark rooms for hands-on professional photographers in Philadelphia, “No one in the city was running a nonprofit, high end digital equipment center for the creation of work,” Stolfa said. And, for one photographer to purchase the digital scanners/printers needed made no sense — it was not affordable and took up too much space. But to share the equipment in a community art center made a lot of sense. As with many organizations, PPAC grew as its mission grew. From a space with equipment it is now a place with an educational program, a gallery to show work, and a lot of free or low-cost programming open to the public. Here’s the interview I did with Sarah, by phone, on Dec. 22.

photo of woman sitting in chair, black hair, black dress, black boots, arms crossed at wrists, looking concerned
Sarah Stolfa, photo courtesy of Workman publishers, publishers of Stolfa’s book, The Regulars

Roberta: Are you a membership organization?
Sarah: We are free and open to the public but also a membership organization.

You are an active photo community with lectures and other programming, and an art gallery. What printing services do you provide?
PPAC makes museum quality prints 60″ wide for practicing artists.


Tell me about printing for other artists. You printed the Zoe Strauss show at the PMA.  It’s a great coup to print a museum show.
We created two sets of prints – one for the museum and one to travel (the show will travel)….and we did match prints for the book. We did everything. Zoe got to choose who printed [the show]. She’d never worked with us before and was very excited about it. She wanted the work [the printing] to stay in Philadelphia. She’s giving back to the community. It’s really a great way to highlight Philadelphia, the community, support the community.  Peter Barbarie was on our advisory committee. But he had nothing to do with it. It was great to work with him in another capacity.

How did the printing go?
It was a lot of proofing and talking to see how the images should feel…it’s a process. It’s a great project.

How many works in the show and do you frame it too?
There are 170 photos, different sizes-“20×30” to “8×12” in the show. Framing is done in house at the PMA.


How about the book?
I just got an email today [Dec. 22]. Zoe has the book in her hands.

When did the project begin?
We started on the project in April or May…it’s roughly 8 months of work.

Have you printed this massive quantity for an artist before?
It’s the first time we worked with an artist for this big a show.

Who else have you printed for?
We were printing and scanning with Daniel Traub since May 2009 [even before PPAC opened and the equipment was in her house in Fishtown]. We worked with Janelle Lynch, a New York artist. We do scanning for her.

Are artists hard to work for?
Working with artists is our favorite thing.

Where do you teach?
At Penn and PPAC. Everyone [at PPAC] has teaching experience and is an artist. We understand that practice. It’s in our tool sets. We do this because we’re part of the community.

How many photographers here in Philly
That’s hard. Many artists wear many hats. The census form doesn’t capture it…

How about community…How does everybody get along…Light Room, Basho?
With the Light Room there’s no competition and no overlap. They support us and come to our events. We go to theirs. They are the opposite of us [not digital]. They have a really great darkroom. Basho…We have a healthy competition. Our lectures are drastically different. It’s like fast food chains close together. But helping each other.

How about your programming?
Laura Heyman is giving a talk on her Haiti photos. We’re sponsoring a screening with the Free Library of the film “War Photographer” about photographer James Nachtwey. Zoe is doing a free lecture Feb 18. There’s a show and panel in February…”Of the Ordinary” features artists who use photographs in their work that were never meant to be shown in a gallery context. Our Book Fair is April 28. The Slide Luck Pot Show…there’s a call [see website for more]. Last year more than 125 people came. This year we’re going to have it outside in the garden.

How are you doing with the recession?
It’s a tough economy now. Running PPAC is a tough challenge. I anticipate us continuing to grow. We want to expand things. We will be announcing an artist in residency program in Jan. 2 people per year will come and use the facility for one month.

Is this a residency with housing for out of towners?
Ultimately we’d like to do housing.

What else?
We expanded Philly Photo Day. And next year we will start being a collecting facility…we will get a print from the artists in residence.

How is it being a photographer in Philadelphia?
It’s a hard time to get a job as a photographer. Philadelphia is affordable to live in…it’s a friendly and open community. If you come to events you’ll be in the community…There are great resources for artists. Even if there’s not a lot of jobs there’s space for you to do your own thing.

Do it Yourself?
People can do it; It’s easier [to be a photographer] in NY where the film and fashion industries are. There are photo opportunities there. But I know people who set up here and can work for 10 years.

There’s teaching jobs?
At PPAC! If you have a great idea for a workshop or class, send me an email. There’s a lot of opportunity if you make it…like the fact that PPAC opened.