Mt. Airy seniors capture the Avenue in photo exhibit

by Len Lear
Posted 2/11/22

From rowing along the remote, tree-covered Mekong Delta to walking the streets of downtown Saigon, Seif captured the spirit of Vietnam.

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Mt. Airy seniors capture the Avenue in photo exhibit


Ellie Seif will literally go to the ends of the earth for compelling photographic images. 

She and her husband, Elliott Seif, took a three-week tour of Vietnam and Cambodia in 2005, shortly after she retired from teaching. They had never been to Asia, and the pictures she came back with can help anyone visit without going - bustling marketplaces, boathouses with TV antennas, children tending water-buffalo, streets filled with moped traffic and rice fields that stretched across vast valleys. From rowing along the remote, tree-covered Mekong Delta to walking the streets of downtown Saigon, Seif captured the spirit of Vietnam.

“I wanted to capture specific moments in time, revealing the people, nature and diverse environment,” said Seif in an earlier interview. “Through a variety of pictures, you can tell the story of a country.”

Now Seif and her good friend and fellow Mt. Airy senior citizen and photographer, Carolyn Johnson, have created an exhibit of their recent photos, “A Walk Along Germantown Avenue.” The collection, currently on display at Cathedral Village, a retirement complex in the upper Roxborough section of Andorra, includes scenes from where it starts in North Philadelphia just south of Temple University all the way up to the top of the Avenue in Chestnut Hill. 

“For more than forty years, we have both lived in close proximity to Germantown Avenue, which stretches for eight-and-a-half miles through diverse neighborhoods across Philadelphia,” Seif said last week, “but neither of us had traveled the length of it. This road, just blocks from our homes, was both extraordinarily familiar yet starkly unfamiliar. Out of these two realizations, our project was born.”

Seif and Johnson were more interested in the people than they were in the architecture or landmarks, and they started conversations with strangers from one end of Germantown Avenue to the other. 

“We introduced ourselves to people over the course of several months and shared our project with them,” said Seif. “Our cameras allowed us to engage them. The response from almost everyone was very positive, and we were overwhelmed by their sincerity and interest in what we were doing. Talking with so many people allowed us to learn about their lives. In doing that, we also learned more about ourselves. We have been privileged to hear people's stories, capture their images and reveal their humanity and individuality.”

Johnson, who founded the National Adoption Center in 1972, joined the Cheltenham Camera Club after she retired, in 2004. There, she “found that street photography was my calling,” she said, “although I also love portrait, close-up, travel and abstract photography.”

Seif had her first exposure to film and imaging as the daughter of a motion picture projectionist in a 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 the hours in my dad's projection booth impacted my interest in photography, I do not know," Ellie told us earlier, "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 homes, 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, and the students exhibited their work in a local mall.

Johnson has studied iPhone photography and editing under Eric Mencher, a former Philadelphia Inquirer photographer. Seif and Johnson have done photography shows together at InFusion in Mt. Airy and the Cheltenham Art Center. Johnson has also been part of the Bold Beauty Project, which showcases women with disabilities, and she has won numerous awards for her work.

For more information or for a YouTube link of a Zoom presentation by Carolyn and Ellie, call Eileen Nathanson at 215-984-8828 or visit