Aug 24, 2018

Finding Common Ground in Tacony

by: Laura Kochman

Multimedia photographic artist Jackie Neale is currently in residence at our Tacony LAB Community Arts Center, combining oral history and interactive visual art to explore the identity of this tight-knit neighborhood. After interviewing residents, Neale works with them to create full-body cyanotypes—a photographic process dating back to the mid-1800s, cyanotypes use sunlight, water, and light-sensitive chemicals to develop vibrant blue and white images. Made out of light, sound, and the ephemeral material of “neighborhood,” these portraits are a new way of looking at community engagement through public art, and we can’t wait to see how this project evolves.

How has your project come together? 

I started the project with the working title The Tacony Oral History Project, but it’s pretty clear that the common thread is common ground, so I’m calling it Common Ground Tacony. The people here really envision themselves being in Philadelphia forever.

It makes me think about myself. I’m originally from Philly and I come home all the time. My studio practice is in Brooklyn—I’ve been up there for 20 years, basically, creating artwork. The common theme in my artwork is that most people are on their way to somewhere else. So it’s really refreshing to meet people that talk about growing up here in Tacony, about how much they love it here. Whatever their dream is, they envision it being here. It’s refreshing to remember that every time I come home, I’m completely and utterly rooted here.

What made you interested in Northeast Philadelphia? 

Well, the Northeast found me more than I found it. My interest in Mural Arts began when I saw this one mural being painted at Spring Garden and Broad. I was going back and forth to work, and I just felt like this was a way for people to connect, through the process of seeing it and identifying it and locating it. Public art has a way of just drawing connections through people without even really specifying how that happens, you know?

South Philly is where I’m from, and I don’t know if I would have been able to generate a similar sense of pride for the entirety of the neighborhood. People in Tacony are so forthcoming with that information immediately. It’s not something that I have to tease out of anyone.

This residency has been an opportunity for me to reconnect to Philly. I think I’ve been a little bit of a jerk because I walk around New York City saying, “Yo, I’m from Philly…Pretzels!” I’m always talking as if I know it better than I did, and here I am in Tacony realizing I had no idea about this little gem.


  • The cyanotype process at the Tacony LAB. Photo by MAP staff.

  • The cyanotype process at the Tacony LAB. Photo by MAP staff.

  • The cyanotype process at the Tacony LAB. Photo by MAP staff.

What are a few of your favorite profiles? 

So this is Charles, and he’s a co-owner of SawTown Tavern, but he comes from a performance art production background. He can pretty much organize any kind of event that you can imagine. He moved to Tacony around eight years ago from West Philadelphia, where he helped cultivate a performing arts scene that was really popular. So he’s trying to bring that up here. He talks a lot about his productions and the LGBT community.

Georgeanne is a pillar of society in Tacony—helping raise fifth generation Tacony. She owns the salon on the corner. She described vivid memories of having the family over for Christmas dinner and for all the holidays and family gatherings. And what it means to be a legacy in Tacony.

And then we have Rich—he is a caretaker for an abandoned garden in the park on Keystone. On Saturday he brought us an arrangement of flowers, which I used to make a cyanotype. This is all growing wild in the garden, but he says that the seeds come down the river and then they just blow and populate, and they’re not necessarily native but they’re thriving.



Visit the Tacony LAB space starting October 6 to see the full exhibition of cyanotype portraits.

Last updated: Aug 24, 2018

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Jody Saitsky says

I want to volenteer for your advisary board meeting