Walk Around Philadelphia
Cross Pollination Residency: February 16-26, 2016
For their residency, JJ Tiziou, Adrienne Mackey, and Ann de Forest (along with CP documentarian Sam Wend) walked 102.7 miles around the border of Philadelphia to explore incorporating community into art-making, borders and the contrasts around them, and the sensation of walking great distances to become familiar with different places.
To celebrate, they shared stories and lessons learned at two sold out events in partnership with the Philadelphia History Museum.
Hatching a Plan:
Cross Pollination is an exercise in imagining an artistic utopia, a residency program aimed at finding new and inventive ways to expand the boundaries of art-making through collaborations between Adrienne Mackey and two artists of other forms. The residency itself is contained – generally only a single working week – so that there’s no pressure to complete something, but enough time to really dig into new explorations.
Adrienne is the founder of Swim Pony Performing Arts and a theater-maker dedicated to expanding the definitions of live performance. Her collaborators, Ann de Forest and JJ Tiziou, were selected and matched based on an intuitive sense of chemistry in their work samples and applications. Ann writes fiction and non-fiction with a strong emphasis on creating and fostering a sense of place, and JJ is a visual artist and community organizer who reminds people that everyone is photogenic. I’m Sam Wend, Swim Pony’s artistic associate, part of which includes being the logistics coordinator and documentarian for Cross Pollination.
In the months leading up to the residency period, we had a few meetings to discuss what the group wanted to do with their week of collaboration. As the trio brainstormed, they discovered a tendency towards ideas that were a little too grandiose to fit into a single week. JJ expressed an interest in walking – perhaps across the entire city from the southwest to northeast corner. Adrienne shared a related fascination with mapping and tours, particularly ones that use physical space as the backdrop to stories of everyday people’s lives. There was a lot of talk about community engagement and creating portraits of people we could meet. Buzzwords such as pilgrimage, procession, boundaries, and margins came up, as well as an interest in movement awareness and active engagement of the body. Adrienne talked a lot about her curiosity about embodied sensation, and the differences between conceptually understanding something versus literally experiencing it.
We talked about how well we do or don’t know our own neighborhoods, and the idea of exploring the city on both micro and macro levels. We looked at justicemap.org, which provides breakdowns of areas by diversity, income, etc. We thought about ways to get to know different communities and worried about the capability to do that in any realistically representative way in just one week, and we considered having people give us tours of their neighborhoods, going to different areas or inviting people to come to us.
The idea of margins and borders came up again and again, along with an interest in people who live on the opposite sides of the city and a curiosity about places of highest contrast. The idea of walking continued to resonate as well, so on a whim JJ looked up a rough cycling route of the perimeter of the city.
“Hey guys,” he said, “How about we walk around the city? Like, all the way AROUND the city?” Immediately, it clicked. It felt like the perfect alignment of the interests we’d been discussing, while also being something that could stay self-contained within a week.
Making it Happen:
We scheduled four days to walk what we expected to be around 70 miles, knowing the cyclist would’ve had to cut some corners for bicycle accessibility on his 64.4-mile ride. We planned our route ahead of time in broad strokes and then more specifically as we went, using a combination of a large paper street map and digital mapping via cell phones. I tracked the walk throughout with a GPS app so we could constantly see our progress.
Before we began walking, to give us a sense of the city as a whole, we ventured 57 stories up to the top of the One Liberty Observation Deck, which has a 360-degree view of the city. We slowly walked around while pouring over our map, trying to get a sense of the scope of what we were about to do and where we’d be over the next few days. Then, the sheer size of the city fresh in our minds, we headed out to 61st and Baltimore – chosen as a starting point because of its proximity to Ann and JJ’s homes – and began.
Early on in the walk, we realized that our pace was slower and the route longer than we’d planned. In the end, we walked 102.7 miles over five and a half non-consecutive days. Each day, we started around sunrise and ended around sunset at public transportation stations, usually regional rail trains.
We never selected a specific focus or goal for the journey, just a few intentions to keep in mind; mostly, the walk itself was the work. Therefore, there are a million different ways to share what we experienced, because we each processed the journey in so many different ways. We’ve talked about it a lot since – in a variety of interviews with the press (which you can read at the links below), at two events sold out to 70+ guests each at the Philadelphia History Museum, and through a corresponding museum exhibit of our maps, photos, and objects found along the way.
Here, however, I want to give you a taste of something a little more personal. A huge defining factor of Walk Around Philadelphia was who we were as a group, how we each responded to our experiences, and how we grew in companionship and knowledge of each other. So I’m going to bring you on the walk with us, through a series of vignettes that will hopefully unveil a little bit about what it was like for Ann, JJ, Adrienne, and me to walk around Philadelphia.
When Adrienne climbed into my car to ride to our starting point on the first day, she compared her feelings to the morning of the Broad Street Run (Philadelphia’s signature 10-mile road race). The night before, she’d deliberated over and finally selected all the clothes she wanted to wear and laid them out, then packed her bag with everything she needed. She woke up early in the morning, wired up with nervous anticipation as she ate a carefully considered breakfast and then headed out for a big physical challenge. Just like the Broad Street Run, she was confident she could manage it, but had no idea what the journey to the finish line would be like. “I walk all the time,” she pointed out. “How different can this be?”
Foreboding clouds gave way and rain started to pour down on us as we emerged from the woodsy section of Cobbs Creek onto a golf course and crossed a small bridge. We all took a moment to adjust our outfits for rain: Adrienne and I zipped our coats and put on our hoods, Ann pulled gaiters on over her shoes, and JJ enclosed his bag in a rain cover. Then JJ said, “Alright guys, we’re on a bridge, and it’s raining… Time to take a selfie!” Adrienne doesn’t usually like to have her picture taken, but we were all ready and willing to compromise and be game for whatever the world threw at us, so she grinned with the rest of us as we started what would become a standing tradition of shooting selfies whenever we reached a bridge.
Rather than switching his phone to the traditional selfie mode, with the front-facing camera that lets you see your face while you’re shooting, JJ kept his phone the regular way, aimed, and took a slew of photos to ensure one would be a good shot. When I asked why, he explained that that’s a higher quality camera to shoot with. I found this a little funny: JJ had already explained to us that he’d set an intention with this walk to stay a part of the group and focus on walking instead of photographing, his primary art form. He purposefully didn’t bring along any fancy cameras or lenses, only allowing himself to take pictures on his phone. So if he’d already forgone having the highest quality images, and it wasn’t about the photos, I couldn’t help wondering why the quality difference between the two camera modes on a phone would be worth worrying about, especially for a bunch of selfies. But in retrospect, I get it, too: once you’ve set the container within which you’re working (in this case, shooting by cell phone), you still want to do the best work you can within that container.
At the McCall Golf Club driving range, we entered into a small welcome center where three employees let us take shelter for a few minutes and use their bathrooms. Ann went into interview mode, taking notes and asking the men where they were from, how they came to work there, and so on. When she told them about our project, one man asked if we were going to bring protection up to north Philly, glibly explaining that it could be dangerous up there. Ann took it in stride and explained that no, we didn’t expect to need protection.
She was excited about talking to people we met; the early ideas about interviewing people from different communities or creating portraits (written and visual) resonated with her, and I think she initially hoped to maintain this as a theme for the journey. Talking to these men was a window into a particular perspective, one small part of the collage she’d create over the course of the walk.
However, I could tell by looking at Adrienne that she was uncomfortable with the exchange. Not absorbed in engaging and taking objective notes on the conversation as Ann was, Adrienne picked up on the underlying racism in assuming that it could be “dangerous” for us to walk in north Philly, many parts of which are predominantly African American. It was nice to take a break from the rain, but she was ready to get back on the road.
Stopping at a gas station to use its restroom, JJ told us this reminded him of a previous trip he took with a different group that frequently stopped at gas stations, and how on that trip he usually bought everyone ice cream sandwiches at these waypoints. It was too cold in late February to recreate that particular tradition with us, so he started buying Cadbury crème eggs instead. Ann and Adrienne sometimes took them but often declined. I, on the other hand, have a big soft spot for Cadbury eggs. So before long, I started finding them everywhere: when I pulled my coat back on after lunch and put my hand in my pocket, in the front pouch of my backpack, in the hat I had tied to my bag’s strap. JJ snuck them on my person when he was sure I wasn’t looking, and I somehow always seemed to find one right when I needed a sugar rush the most.
On the last leg of the Schuykill before the border veers east away from the river, Ann took the lead down to River Road, a small community nestled right on the edge of the water, which she’d talked about enthusiastically since we first proposed the walk. She liked the idea of each of us taking ownership of parts of the route where we’d been before and sharing stories about them; this was one of those places for her. Ann explained that she likes to take local friends to this surprising neighborhood on the river, with houses smaller than many of the boats, to share the magic of its existence within the borders of Philadelphia. “I know this place,” she explained, a mantra that became a part of our vernacular whenever we reached territory someone found familiar, which always came as something of a comforting surprise after a long time charting the unknown.
Climbing out of Tacony Creek Park to the Fox Chase Line where the railroad briefly becomes the border, JJ tripped slightly. He straightened up and kept walking, but as I passed the spot where he faltered, I noticed something.
“Is that… a skull?!”
“A what?” Adrienne yelled back.
“It’s a skull! I mean, it’s a dog’s skull!”
Adrienne and JJ doubled back to rejoin me, and Ann and our documentarian photographer, Adachi, hurried to catch up. “Oh… Good,” Adrienne responded. “At first I thought you meant a human skull. For a minute I thought we were going to have a very different kind of day.”
As we all took photos with the skull, I teased JJ about walking right over it, appreciating the irony that the photographer of the group – the one in the medium most visually-oriented to the external world – was the one to miss what was right under his own feet.
Near Burholme Park and the Fox Chase Cancer Center, the border cuts across a field. From satellite imagery, it looked like we’d be able to do the same, so we doubled back down Red Lion Road to target the true border. But we found to our disappointment that we couldn’t: the area was fenced off, with No Trespassing signs and thorny bushes all along the inside of the fence. We sighed and backtracked to go around, but Ann in particular was frustrated. As we walked along the northern side of the enclosure, she couldn’t help going over to the fence and peering inside, trying to make out what was so thoroughly closed off. “I don’t like being kept out,” she explained to me.
Adrienne forgot her phone. None of us had been much in communication with the outside world while we walked, but I was using mine to track our route, navigate, and take notes; Ann got motivational texts from her family; JJ posted occasional social media updates in real time; and we all took a LOT of photos. But when Adrienne realized she’d forgotten hers, she just shrugged it off, and didn’t mention it again for the rest of the day. I was impressed; it seemed like the ultimate accomplishment and freedom to leave photographing, timekeeping, and navigating 100% in other hands and be able to just be totally present, with no visible unease about not having her digital crutch.
Pennypack Creek winds through much of Northeast Philadelphia, and we knew we’d have to cross it to continue on our way. Unfortunately, our Google maps reconnaissance made it apparent we’d have to take a sizeable detour away from the border to find a bridge, since there was none right near the point where the creek empties into the Delaware. Then, hope emerged: we met cigar-smoking Gus and Larry in Pleasant Hill Park and they mentioned that there was a bridge that straddled the creek exactly where we desired that “wasn’t open yet.” JJ and I exchanged looks, our eyes gleaming. We’d both heard the statement the same way: “not open” was very different from “not finished.” So we led the charge towards the creek, fairly confident we’d be able to cross Pennypack where we wanted to.
What Gus and Larry didn’t mention was that we’d have to go through the Police Bomb Disposal Unit to get to the mysterious bridge. When we realized that’s where we were, JJ and I kept going, full-steam ahead: we’d been following what we called a “Roomba” rule of walking until we got stopped by a barrier and had to find another route (after the robotic vacuum cleaners that move forward until their sensors force them to navigate around boundaries), so why quit now?
Ann and Adrienne, on the other hand, were a little more anxious about entering police territory, which was ungated but clearly not often visited by outsiders. Adrienne’s wariness was further heightened by an awareness that she was liable if we went somewhere we shouldn’t, along with a measure of hostess anxiety about Ann’s unease, topped off with excruciating physical pain from pulling a muscle in her foot.
Later, I felt guilty about not being more considerate about the feelings of that half of the group, but in the moment I just got a thrill from the fact that we could traipse through police territory, even getting waves from a few guys when we passed a building with a wall of windows. It was a huge moment of privilege, one of many we observed as we made our way around the city.
Fortunately, the anxiety-inducing situation was not for nothing: when we came out on the other side of the last part of the police complex, a firing range, we were rewarded for our efforts by a pristine, brand-new bridge and easy access to peaceful Pennypack.
South of Penn Treaty Park and nearing populous Old City on what had become a gorgeous day, sunny and seventy degrees in February, someone asked, “Who do we think will see someone they know first?”
Without any hesitation, Adrienne replied, “JJ.” It wasn’t hard to agree with this prediction.
Less than half an hour later, we passed Yard’s Brewery and sure enough, JJ waved to a couple friends having a drink outside.
We stopped for the day at Walmart in South Philly. It was so close to Adrienne’s house that she walked there instead of taking public transit to start the next day, getting us all coffee from her local Wawa on the way. So much of the border was so unfamiliar that it was strange to reach places so close to home. They felt simultaneously very familiar and very different in this new and unusual context.
We often observed that we’d gotten braver as the walk went on. Back when we’d reached the Fox Chase Line, Ann had “played the age card” (despite being every bit as fit and fierce as the rest of us) and refused to cross the tracks until we got to a station platform. But by the time we’d gone all the way around the Northeast and reached the southern edge of the city, she’d embraced the Roomba rule of exploration with the rest of us.
There were many places where the philosophy of walking until a barrier stopped us did turn us around: where a barbed wire fence obstructed our path, where a security guard sent us away, where signs denoted private property. But there were even more places where it just felt like we weren’t supposed to walk because people often don’t, like through the police zone, across train tracks, or through the woods without a trail. These were the gray areas, where in our everyday lives we may not have ventured, but where in the course of walking the border, we chose to notice the perception barriers differently than the literal ones and to explore the power of the pedestrian if you just keep walking.
We took a train down to Airport Terminal A to finish the last leg of the walk on the last day. As usual, Adrienne got on at Jefferson Station, I got on at Suburban, and Ann got on at 30th Street, the train scooping us up from our different parts of the city. But everything was not usual.
“Where’s JJ?” Adrienne and I asked Ann as she got on board.
“I don’t know,” she said, looking a little worried. “I thought maybe I missed him on the platform.” We looked at each other concernedly: did he miss the train?
“He probably just got on at University City,” Ann offered. “It might be closer to where he lives.”
I texted and called, with no response. Weird – JJ always has his phone handy. No response meant either he was at the next stop and was pranking us, or had overslept completely. We waited the few short minutes between 30th St and University City that suddenly felt much longer, all mentally calculating how likely it was that JJ would mess with us by not answering his phone. How well had we gotten to know each other?
The train stopped, the doors slid open, and a giant sigh of relief was released as JJ stepped on board, phone in hand and a very mischievous smile on his face.
He continued avoiding his phone for the rest of the day, too. Feeling like he’d become too distracted by taking photos, even with only a cell phone as his camera, he handed off his phone to me for the day and decided to just experience the walk through his own two eyes.
After finishing our walk, hugging and posing in front of the final Welcome to Philadelphia sign, then trolleying across town, eating ramen for lunch, and giddily going back to the top of One Liberty Place to overlook what now felt like our
city in a very new way, we snapped one last selfie and realized we’d reached a parting of the ways.
For the first time in a long time, we were all headed in different directions. So we took a moment in bustling center city and stood, each facing our own point of the compass. Then, with a final countdown, we were off: I, south; Adrienne, east; JJ, north; and Ann, west, to continue walking Philadelphia.
Check out this link for an exact tracking of our entire route, with photos and waypoints tagged and captioned exactly where they were taken along the way! Look for 61st and Baltimore and follow the trail clockwise if you want to see everything in order.
Finally, below is a rapid-fire animation of the 6,600 photos the four of us took along the way:
Documentation by Sam Wend
Photos by Adachi Pimentel, JJ Tiziou, Sam Wend, Ann de Forest, and Adrienne Mackey
The Philadelphia Inquirer (full article HERE)
University City Review
Philth: Philly’s Underground Art Network
The Temple News
Additional Documentation from the Cross Pollinators:
Photo Blog on Days 0 and 1 by JJ
Hidden City article by Ann
Slideshow Photos by Adachi Pimentel
Jacques-Jean “JJ” Tiziou is a photographer specializing in portraiture and movement documentation; he has never encountered an un-photogenic person in his life.
He has been recognized as one of Philadelphia’s “Creative Connectors” by Leadership Philadelphia, and is the recipient of the Spiral-Q Artist Activist Award. His images are used both in corporate and editorial contexts as well as arts and activism, and he also photographs weddings and hosts house concerts. His 85,000sqft How Philly Moves mural at PHL International Airport was recognized as one of the nation’s best public art projects by Americans for the Arts in their 2012 Public Art Network Year in Review.
Based at The Cedar Works in West Philadelphia, JJ uses his work to celebrate the beautiful people around him who are working to make the world a better place. You can find more of his work online at www.jjtiziou.net, www.HowPhillyMoves.org and there’s a message that he’d like to share with you at www.EveryoneIsPhotogenic.com.
Ann de Forest’s fiction has appeared in The Journal, Hotel Amerika, Timber Creek Review, PIF—and Philadelphia’s ownCleaver. Fascinated by lists and other found text, she has published a story inspired by the pictures in the margins in the dictionary, a family memoir suggested by the names of roses, and an erasure poem drawn from Margaret Thatcher’s obituary. Ann studied art history at Bowdoin College and the University of North Carolina, and began her writing career as an architecture and design critic, contributing to ID Magazine, City Sites, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the New York Times. Her column “Hi/Lo Tech” was a regular feature in USAirways’ Attaché Magazine, and she still writes frequently about the built environment and occasionally about her fascination with waning technology. A California native, Ann has called Philadelphia home for more than 30 years, with occasional interludes in Rome, including a stint as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome in Fall of 2013. She runs an after-school creative writing class at the University City Arts League for 3rd-6th graders and teaches poetry to the elderly at L.I.F.E. Her book, Healing on the Home Front, a documentary collaboration with photographer Jan Almquist, came out in 2015.