I neglected my website/blog for a while, so here’s the big recap I sent out to my mailing list. Make sure you’re signed up for it if you want to get invites in the future…

Greetings and happy new year!

I hope this finds you well.

The past year has been an interesting one, with many parts of my life feeling like they’ve fallen apart, and many new opportunities and challenges arising.

And somehow, along the way, I’ve gone from being someone who documents protests to someone who is organizing them on behalf of my neighbors who are experiencing a grave injustice.

I’ll tell you more about it down below if you’d like, along with some other news, or we could talk it over in person at an upcoming event:

Let’s start with the thing that is feeling both most urgent and important to me: the eviction of beautiful neighbors (on short notice, in the dead of winter) by an affordable housing nonprofit that is charged with providing them with sustainable homes.

The above lease termination was sent to an 81yr old elder who has called the Arvilla apartment building home for 50 years – he was callously told to get out within six weeks.

A similar ultimatum was given to a single mother with three kids who was only invited to move into the building six months earlier, when the sale was surely already planned.

There’s a hundred more scandals in this story, and a tremendous opportunity for community support.

Please visit www.ArvillaOrganizing.org to learn more and make a contribution to the Arvilla Resident Support Fund.

Every bit helps; please share this with your Philly networks or anyone else who’d be interested. Please do it now – the rest of the news below can wait.

Let’s rewind a bit:

Last year started off with a residency to do an intergenerational art project at Germantown Home via a CFEVA New Courtland Fellowship.

I’d set myself an intention to have more contact with both youth and elders in my life, so this was a great opportunity. 

It was also a challenge, as most of the tools that I generally bring to photography workshops involve technology & movement, both of which are challenging for seniors. 

We worked it out with solutions that were both low tech & high tech: polaroid cameras and a remote controlled DSLR studio setup allowed participants to make portraits of themselves and each other. It was great!

It was also a great year on the musical hospitality front, with a great houseconcert by Emily Hope Price (NYC), Mile Twelve Bluegrass Band(Boston) & The Whispering Tree (Upstate NY) starting off the year.

This Saturday’s houseconcert will be a benefit for the Arvilla Resident Support Fund, so even if you can’t make it, you can contribute to the campaign.

I was delighted to be able to share images from The Image of Yoga at my beloved Studio 34 in 2018 – it was a pretty DIY installation but came together quite nicely.

I’d really like to output this panorama as a series of more durable panels that could be re-installed in this space and also serve as a traveling exhibit, but doing that will depend a bit on what shape my life takes in the coming year or two.

There’s a lot to figure out there, as photography no longer really works in my life the way that it used to…

Photography is something that I learned from my dad, among other things. For him & his brother, it was a specialized skill that could bring in enough revenue to support a family, but the times have changed… 

It’s a bit scary for me, after having spent a good decade cultivating an identity as a ‘photographer‘, to no longer consider myself one. But the title no longer fits, and most of you probably are making more pictures than I am these days…

Part of it is a natural bit of growth: I’ve made over 1.5M photographs, and that feels like plenty… my interests have been evolving from documentary work towards public art and community organizing for some time now. 

And the world has changed: it used to be that if I didn’t make images of that protest or performance or person backstage, there was no record of them. Now, it feels like everyone else has got it covered.

But part of it is a simple economic reality that the business doesn’t work anymore. What was a scarce resource has become an abundant one; as new photography businesses spring up left and right, rates and lifetime earnings in the field are plummeting.

It’s particularly important for me to be transparent about it now that our government has rolled back protections around predatory for-profit educational institutions, and many businesses are preying on aspiring photographers…

The reality of it is that I’ve been given some time to figure it out because I had the strange fortune to inherit some wealth from my father when his life came to a close suddenly. This privilege is the only reason that I haven’t had to make drastic shifts in my life just yet or scramble to find 20 more weddings to photograph.

This blessing gives me a cushion for a career transition, but won’t last forever. And it comes with some interesting challenges attached, both in dealing with the aftermath of his life, and big questions about how to best steward those resources. 

I might be able to:

  • spend a few more years as an artist
  • do more community organizing work
  • give more direct support to my less fortunate neighbors
  • buy the house that I’ve rented for a decade and make it the community center of my dreams
  • make some more charitable contributions to causes that I support
  • self-produce a few more ambitious public art projects
  • take a big sabbatical / recharge year
  • create employment for some neighbors in need of jobs
  • take time to travel to visit beloved friends
  • fund some further studies to support a career shift

But the reality is that, as much as I want to do ALL of those things, I can probably only do one or two of them. 

Right now, I’ve got enough on my plate to keep me busy through the summer, but I’m going to have to make some tough choices.

Clearly, from this position of privilege, none of those choices are as hard as those being faced by my less fortunate neighbors who are being kicked out of their homes.

(Have you made that contribution to the Arvilla Resident Support Fund yet?)

Another highlight of last year was doing my third Walk Around Philadelphia.

It’s become my strange mid-February pilgrimage tradition, and for the third go-around I explored a few variations:

Some days were done solo, some days had a single friend joining for a longer segment, and on the last leg I opened it up to group of neighbors. 

One of my favorite parts was day 5, when my original perimeter-walking crew were able to join me and we found ourselves discovering some crazy new wetland wild ways near the airport (pictured.)

If you’d like to join for my fourth turn around the city, I’ll be walking around Feb 11 – 17, and will likely open one or two chunks to the public (probably the 15th or 17th.)

To hear about it afterwards, I’ll be sharing images & stories from this coming walk (alongside lentil soup etc) in a little shindig at The Cedar Works on Friday Feb 22. RSVP here.

I don’t want to spend too much of your time recounting every house concert from last year, but holy wow what a gift to have Meklit Hadero play in our living room.

This came together thanks to some other fancier venue cancelling, and we got to have this super intimate show with her in between her gigs at the Apollo Cafe in Harlem & Blues Alley in DC. 

Check out her new video for Supernova, and if so moved, buy & share her music.

(Remember, those streaming services don’t pay artists much, so buying albums on Bandcamp & supporting artists is the way to help manifest the culture you want to see in the world) 

And please help me spread the word about this Saturday’s house concerteven if you can’t make it, as I’m a bit last minute in sending out invites!

I don’t print or show my images that often, but it was nice this year to make this image of Erin for the Bold Beauty Project. 

I first met Erin when she performed in A Fierce Kind of Love, and she later participated in How Philly Moves.

[AFKOL is being re-mounted at FringeArts March 1 – 3.

Putting nice prints on the wall like this is always rewarding, but the fine art / gallery world isn’t exactly a space that my work fits in…

… although I do have this print up in The Woodmere Art Museum’s current exhibition:

The Pennsylvania landscape in impressionism and contemporary art

The show also features the rapid-fire animated recap from the first Walk Around Philadelphia, and is up through January 27th if you want to go catch it!

Speaking of my perimeter-walking friends: another highlight of the summer was when we were brought in to lead a tour for the On-Water intensive, an  interdisciplinary effort organized by Penn’s Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH) & Drexel University and its Academy of Natural Sciences.

This was a our first time trying to share our exploratory methodology and it was kind of fantastic.

Rather than leading a tour, we prepped maps and prompts, presented guidelines, and sent them out in small groups of four to have their own adventures, and managed to reconvene at the end to compare notes.

I’d tell you all about it, but Ann has already written it all up in this fantastic post.

We’d love to find other ways to share our experiences and techniques with new audiences, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you see a potential collaboration with the Walk Around Philadelphia crew. 

The other “highlight” of my summer was the spontaneous formation of a second strange scab on my ankle…

One evening I was about to get into bed and looked down and found that I was standing in a big old puddle of blood.

(I’ll spare the murder-scene images from your inbox, but if you’re not squeamish, there’s three neat pics here.)

This is just a weird thing that goes with having interesting vasculature on my right leg (a mild case of Klippel Trenaunay syndrome) and I’m totally fine, but the scab took forever to heal, and in between there I had another big blood-splatter event a month later. 

On one hand, this is concerning, and plays into all of my fears: my artistic practice & community life all require a certain amount of mobility… what will happen if this vascular stuff gets worse?

On the other hand, what a gift to get reminders of how fragile this complex thing called life is, and how many millions of miracles come together every day for us to get out of bed. 🙂

The other thing that’s taken up a lot of time and energy this year has been sorting out the crazy collection of archives & memorabilia from my father’s aerospace history collection.

After a first phase of clearing out a lot of hoarder junk (he, like me, was a hoarder), I managed to extricate things enough so that the Air & Space Museum & NASA folks were able to come through and go through it all.

This project has already dragged on longer than I wanted it to, and I’d been wondering if I should have just burned it all or called a junk clear-out service, but the Air & Space folks took ~140 boxes of stuff for their collection, and NASA archives took another 40 or so. 

Now I’m left with the final phase of finding homes for the rest of the documents, collectibles etc – if you know any space geeks, please direct them to TiziouSpaceHistory.com or @tiziouspacehist – I’ll be launching the final cataloging and distribution push next month. 

Meanwhile, back in West Philly…

While walking all over Philadelphia is amazing, and outer space is too, one doesn’t have to leave one’s block to experience some magic, and the favorite piece of visual art that I’ve made this year is the welcome sign (at top of email) that I set up and painted with the help of my neighbors.

Among other wonderful neighborly connections made at one of the block parties that I instigated this summer was that I finally had a chance to really connect w/ one of our neighbors who doesn’t get out much because he’s 81… so my intentions for more intergenerational contact were fulfilled here too.

It turns out that he’s one of the sweetest, kindest, wisest folks I’ve ever crossed paths with, and to boot, he’s the best emoji-user that I’ve ever texted with. 

And so it was heartbreaking to get his text the next month informing me that he (and all of the other residents the Arvilla) were getting kicked out on short notice. 

This decision to sell the building and evict our neighbors will drastically shift the demographic of our block… it is, unsurprisingly, the lower-income people of color who are being forced out. 

It is particularly disturbing that it is a public nonprofit that seems to have lost sight of its mission and is instead acting the way we’d expect from a private for-profit slumlord. 

(If you’ve read this extensive update, I’m grateful for your time… and would be even more grateful if you could share the link to the Arvilla Resident Support Fund with a few friends…)

And so I’ve been busy organizing protests

Well, first I cranked out a lot of flyers, organized a community meeting, reached out to Community Legal Services, and then to a press contact which got us a great article in the paper, and a bunch more support from neighbors.

The pressure from the first article got the residents an extension till the end of January, as well as offers of relocation help & getting moving costs covered. 

(Aside: that an affordable housing nonprofit that claims to care for the most vulnerable would only do this after public outcry rather than as part of preemptive supportive care is just one of the many problems with this situation…)

And so here we have our neighbors being displaced on short notice in the middle of the winter / holidays / school year.

As a person who has had to ask housemates to move out (and hasn’t done it super gracefully), I have a personal understanding of how disruptive this is, and how carefully one should wield one’s power when one controls another’s housing. 

And as a person whose privilege allows them to remain on and invest in the block, I’m mindful that some of my organizing work might be motivated by guilt, and/or a desire to control / fix things, which isn’t super helpful…

But I also know that bad things happen to our most vulnerable neighbors when no one’s paying attention, and this situation is worth paying attention to. And the more we’ve paid attention, the more evidence of neglect we’ve uncovered.

To get involved:

Thanks for all that you and the neighbors have done for Talanna and I the support was unbelievable. Later we will be on our journey the support may it a lot more comfort. We will never forget the nice and decent neighborhood that we shared here for a decade or more. We wanted to know what we can do to let EVERYONE that supported us to know how thankful we are. Peace be with you

—Mary & Talanna

If you’ve read this far but haven’t yet given a few $$$ to the Arvilla Resident Support Fund, now’s your chance!

Make a contribution

This has been a lot update…

Thanks for being along for the ride with me. 

As a final reminder, here’s some events where we can cross paths in person rather than on screens:

Best wishes to you in all you do.

Now get off the internet – I’ll meet you in the streets. 😉