A lifetime of great photography for Mt. Airyite, 80

by Len Lear
Posted 7/14/21

Mt. Airy's Ellie Seif, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday, had her first exposure to film and imaging as the daughter of a motion picture projectionist in a local movie theater in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1950s.

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A lifetime of great photography for Mt. Airyite, 80

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 Ellie Seif, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday, had her first exposure to film and imaging as the daughter of a motion picture projectionist in a local movie theater in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1950s. She spent many childhood days in the projection booth. Her interest in still photography began with Brownie cameras, which led to more sophisticated camera models and now, of course, to the world of digital photography. “Whether my hours in my dad’s projection booth impacted my interest in photography, I do not know,” Ellie said last week, “but I like to think it did!”

In 1972, Seif began her creative and professional work as a children's photographer, taking pictures of children in their home environment, mostly in Mt. Airy. In 1975, she returned to education and began to teach in the Philadelphia School District's Gifted program. Her curriculum included teaching photography and darkroom skills, beginning with making pinhole cameras. The students exhibited their work in a local mall.

During her years as a teacher and later as an elementary school principal (two schools in Bucks County from 1984 to 1988 and one in Montgomery County from 1988 to 2003), she continued to photograph children and use photography as a means of expression, but it wasn’t until she retired in 2003 that she began a serious exploration into other forms of photography. “I honed my skills through years of photographing many different environments and participating in many photo seminars and workshops.”

There is literally not enough space here to list all of the local venues that have exhibited Seif's photographic art or of all the awards she has won, but here is just a sampling: nature and landscape photography at the Sedgwick Cultural Center, InFusion Coffee and Tea Gallery in Mt. Airy, and Friends of the Wissahickon. A solo exhibit at International House at the University of Pennsylvania (34 images taken in Vietnam), Awbury Arboretum in Germantown, a solo exhibit at High Point Café in Mt. Airy, Kathy Davis Studio in Horsham, Cheltenham Center for the Arts, Mt. Airy Art Garage, et al.

Seif, who has been married to her husband, Elliot, for 57 years, developed a brief slide show with photos taken on her walks to share with friends in the early days of the pandemic. It is called “Photography Walks in My Mt. Airy Neighborhood; A Sign of the Times.” The photos are all of people and locations within a few block of her house.

“Then I began photographing flowers, insects, trees, spring blossoms, leaves, etc, on my walks,” she said, “not my usual photographic scenario. It really has been special. Someone once told me, and I now value it 100%, that part of the joy of photographing is not the images one creates but the journey that one travels when taking photographs. And that journey can be on a quiet neighborhood walk.”

A major focus of Seif's photography since 2008 has been her volunteer efforts with Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth’s (PCCY) Picasso Project, which provides grants of up to $5,000 for teachers in the Philadelphia School district to bring art projects into their classrooms.

Seif creates greeting cards from her photos, and all proceeds go to the Picasso Project. She also volunteers as a photographer for Habitat for Humanity and Weavers Way Co-op. She is a member of the Mt. Airy Art Garage and Cheltenham Camera Club, where she has won many awards over the past 15 years.

“My current work and creative challenges emanate from my varied interests in people, nature and diverse environments throughout the world,” she said. “My photographs of people evolve from my desire to understand and communicate cultural similarities and differences and my hope that these understandings will break down barriers to cooperation and peace.”

How did the pandemic affect Seif's life? “Positive and negative. On the negative side, the isolation from my family and friends was difficult. I must say Zoom definitely helped until my eyes were on the computer too many hours a day. And there were positive aspects of my life that I can be grateful for. For someone who always likes to be with people, I learned to value time on my own, a valuable and important new behavior as I am aging. No need to continually be engaged.”

More information at ellieseifphotography.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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