Ellie Seif is seen with a gentleman named Greg and his baby, Christopher, on the 3500 block of Germantown Avenue. This was part of a photo exhibit last winter at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts called “Philadelphia Portraits” by Seif and fellow shutterbug, Carolyn Johnson. (Photo by Carolyn Johnson)

Ellie Seif is seen with a gentleman named Greg and his baby, Christopher, on the 3500 block of Germantown Avenue. This was part of a photo exhibit last winter at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts called “Philadelphia Portraits” by Seif and fellow shutterbug, Carolyn Johnson. (Photo by Carolyn Johnson)

by Len Lear and Jerome O’Neill

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” — Henri Cartier Bresson

Ellie Seif, 73, an acclaimed photographer from Mt. Airy, will have a collection of her stunning works, “A Moment in Time,” on exhibit at the High Point Café, 602 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy, from Oct. 3 to Nov. 30, with an opening reception on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2 to 5 p.m.

Ellie’s powerful images are a virtual encyclopedia of urban life; the pulse and heartbeat of city streets, alive with energy, mystery, poignancy, compassion and pathos, are reflected in her work.

“As I have walked the streets in Philadelphia and other cities,” explained Ellie, 73, “I am drawn into many scenes that trigger an emotional response from me. There may be a split second to recognize, react and… click the shutter…

“The resulting images that I have taken and included in this exhibit capture a specific ‘moment in time,’ recording a slice of life that often eludes us as we go about our everyday lives. Some moment in time photographs illustrate when an image is there for an instant and then is gone, a fleeting moment that may have gone unnoticed if not for the camera.”

A resident of Mt. Airy for 44 years, Seif grew up in New York City and attended Brooklyn College. She met her husband, Elliot, while at school, and the newlyweds moved to Philadelphia in 1970, where Seif earned a master’s degree from Temple U. in Educational Media. Ellie taught in elementary school in Philly and Montgomery County in gifted programs in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. From 1984 to 2003 she was an elementary school principal, first in the Palisades School District in Bucks County for four years, and then in the Hatboro-Horsham School District from 1988 to 2003, when she retired.

Seif will literally go to the ends of the earth for compelling photographic images. For example, in 2005 Seif and her husband Elliot took a three-week tour of Vietnam and Cambodia. Shortly after retiring from teaching, Seif discussed taking a trip with her husband. They had never been to Asia, and together decided Vietnam would be their destination. “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.”

The pictures are fascinating and thought-provoking. Seif brought back images of 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.

“Side by side, you see the past and present,” said Seif. “Everywhere you see hard working people, and there’s a feeling of a movement towards prosperity.” “Vietnam has gone from a rice importer to a rice exporter,” added Elliot Seif. “There is a lot more private business and enterprise. They have three million tourists a year, and I believe 20 percent are Americans, but that number is rising.”

The Seifs were part of a small tour group of 13 guided by a young Vietnamese man named Anh Vu who lives in Saigon. On occasion, Vu would ask the group to pick any house along a street. Vu would then knock on the door, speak to the owner, and instantly the group was welcomed inside as friends and given treats. One evening, Anh Vu took the group to his own home where his wife, mother and sister prepared dinner for everyone.

“Not one person had any antipathy toward us,” said Seif. “In one place, we came across an outdoor celebration of the 40th anniversary of the death of the matriarch of the family. The party instantly invited us to join them in their celebration.”

These events are retold in the rich images Seif brought back. Thirty-three of her photographs were displayed in October of 2005 in a solo exhibit at the International House of the University of Pennsylvania. The display was well received. “One person in particular thanked me for placing the images of today in her mind against the images of the past we ‘60s’ folks can’t forget.” There have been other exhibits of Seif’s photos at InFusion Coffee and Tea Gallery in Mt. Airy, Cheltenham Center for the Arts and Kathy Davis Studio in Horsham, among others.

Ellie’s first exposure to film and imaging was as the daughter of a movie projectionist in a neighborhood movie theater in Brooklyn. She spent many days in her early childhood in the projection booth with her father, and her interest in still photography began with Brownie cameras, which led to more sophisticated cameras and eventually to digital photography. In 1972 she began her professional work as a children’s photographer.

Ellie’s photos have attracted a stable of admirers over the years. For example, Richard Mandel, of Mt. Airy, said, “My daily Highpoint routine is aesthetically enhanced beyond my wildest fantasies. (Ellie’s photos are) a veritable visual high, obviating my need for caffeine. I drink in the images and feast on the vision and then depart.”

Similarly, Cathy Zeiss, of Bucks County, commented, “I  love her photos! I finally had some spare moments to enjoy her website and was truly stunned by the beauty of her photography! She seems to have some spiritual link with all her subjects…some would call it an ‘eye,’ but I think her photos depict a deeper connection.”

For more information, call 215-849-5153 or visit www.ellieseifphotography.com.

  • Sean M

    Ellie is a gifted photographer and a true gift as a human being. Her photographs come alive. Her ability to tell a story (or many stories) in one snapshot never ceases to amaze. I love the fact that when I look at her work I’m constantly asking questions, wondering what that person was doing or thinking, what was really going on with each shot. Her photos allow me to fill in the blanks, to use my imagination.
    I’ve been blessed to have her in my life for many years.

    Thank you Ellie.