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Philly Special: Great Photography Classes by TILT Institute, a.k.a. Philadelphia Photo Arts Center

philadelphia photo arts center

Philadelphia is most famous for the Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Rocky Balboa, cheesesteaks, and the Philly Special – the trick play the local Eagles team ran in the victorious Superbowl LII. However, a truly special thing about the second largest city in the Northeast megalopolis is its rich cultural life. If you’re at least somehow involved in public art, you will appreciate the fact that Philadelphia has more of it than any other city in the US. TILT Institute for the Contemporary Image, formerly known as Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, is an essential piece in the vivid mosaic that forms Philly’s art image.


The Philadelphia Photo Arts Center was established in 2009 as a nonprofit institution to study, teach, practice, research, promote and facilitate photography art in Philadelphia. An MFA in Photography, a practicing photographer, and the PPAC’s founder and executive director, Sarah Stolfa envisioned the center’s concept while studying at the Yale University School of Art. The idea was to create a gravity point for the vibrant photography community in Philadelphia, modeling it after successful instances in New York, Seattle, Houston, Syracuse, etc.

Along with photographic exhibitions, events, lectures by practicing artists, and public programs for a different audience, the PPAC also hosted top-tier educational programs and a rental digital lab to sustain artists residing in the Philly area. The lab provided affordable access to high-end equipment for photography enthusiasts and professionals, motivating them to create compelling contemporary visual creatives.

Since 2009, over 125,000 people have visited free PPAC exhibitions and participated in the center’s educational programs. Over the years, the organization has become an attraction point for both practicing artists and enthusiastic individuals curious about various aspects of contemporary photography. What’s more, hundreds of community members tried their hand at photography thanks to being able to inexpensively rent high-end digital photo equipment.

PPAC to TILT Rebranding

In September 2021, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center was rebranded into TILT Institute for the Contemporary Image. According to Stolfa, the change has been long overdue for several reasons. For starters, the organization’s nonprofit concept needed a modification; secondly, the previous name was not representative of the center’s contemporary interests; and finally, the new name needed to appeal to people beyond the Philadelphia area. The thing with the latter was that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PPAC had to move its exhibitions and programs to a virtual space. As a result, the organization has reached a much broader and more diverse audience than ever before, thanks to erasing geographical boundaries.

The change in the concept, apparently, affected TILT’s programming, making it hybrid, more flexible, and accessible to a much wider audience. That said, the organization’s primary mission – to help the Philadelphia photo community develop and evolve – remains on the table, naturally.

TILT / PPAC Educational and Other Projects

Despite near-revolutionary modifications in the organization’s concept, it preserved the continuance of educational and other projects offered to the public. Today, TILT/PPAC continues the following long-running programs:

  • Certificate Program
  • A twelve-course comprehensive program offers an integrated approach to the understanding of photographic art. Areas of study include lighting, printing, post-production, presentation, criticism, and history. Students can focus on particular fields, namely portraiture, documentary, fashion, and others. The program should be completed within four years. Another twelve months are given to present their capstone project, which will be exhibited in the TILT gallery. The cost of the certificate program is $4.995, and the payment can be performed in full or in installments.

  • Teen Photo Program
  • A free after-school visual literacy program. Young people learn the basics of studio and street photography, Photoshop, planning and building a creative body of an image, creating a photo book, participating in a group exhibition, etc. Access to the TILT’s state-of-the-art photo lab comes as a matter of course. Listing the Teen Photo program on your resume or transcript does make them look great.

  • Other Educational Programs
    • “Oh Snap!” – a monthly artist lecture and workshop series for both professional photographers and participants with no experience. Meetings are held to speak and learn about photography and artistic practice but aren’t really limited to these areas.
    • Classes and workshops by visiting artists from the Philadelphia area, as well as from across the country. They teach, lecture, and can even curate exhibitions in order to contribute to the TILT’s cause.
    • Individual tutorials – one-on-one sessions with a highly trained tutor tailored to your specific goals on subjects you determine. The aim is to boost your skills and take your photography to a completely new level.
    • Portfolio critiques – analysis and criticism by competent reviewers meant to perfect your professional portfolio.
    • Monthly group critiques – peer reviews of participants’ each other visual works that help find new angles to your own work.
    • YouTube channel that hosts photo talks, artist lectures, workshop recordings, and PPAC archives.
    • A free photography book library.
  • Artist Residency Program (AIR)
  • A much-talked-about rental digital lab that provides high-end software and equipment to local photo artists at remarkably affordable rates. Talented and committed photographers can also get competent assistance, educational training, printing and scanning services, as well as financial support sometimes.

  • Exhibitions
  • The exhibition space at PPAC is one of the only gallery spaces in the Philadelphia area that is dedicated to showing contemporary photographic artworks. The space currently hosts four exhibitions a year by established and emerging artists.

  • The Philly Block Program
  • An annual conceptual project meant to contribute to a visual narrative of Philadelphia blocks’ past, present, and community heritage.

  • Contemporary Photography Competition
  • An annual project to find and present to the world new artists by using TILT as a platform for creative visioners. The two winners get financial honorarium and solo exhibitions to promote their works.

With such variety and affordability, no wonder TILT / PPAC is #1 in Yelp’s recommended photography classes in Philadelphia. So, if you happen to be passionate about contemporary photography and live or study in the area, it’d be a crime to miss out on opportunities TILT / PPAC offers. On the other hand, should you not possess sufficient expertise in photography but still need to come up with a paper on the subject, you can always ask our experts, “Write my essays” and get an original piece crafted quickly and professionally.

Elissa Smart Elissa Smart
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