Drivers northbound on I-95 will soon get a half-mile-long peek at Philadelphia dancing.
How Philly Moves — a 50,000-square foot, five-story-tall mural to be displayed on the side of the Philadelphia International Airport parking garage — is part of a movement by the Mural Arts Program to beautify the city’s gateways.
The mural, by Penn alumnus and former Daily Pennsylvanian photographer Jacques-Jean Tiziou, will feature various styles of dance to highlight Philadelphia’s diversity.
The project, valued at $225,000 and funded by the airport, the Parking Authority, US Airways and Bank of America, is slated for completion in June 2011.
“It’s about energy and movement, which is exciting,” Tiziou said, noting the contrast to today’s world in which people sit in front of computers too long and feel their bodies start to “shrivel up and die.”
Visitors entering the city currently get a glimpse of the skyline, but after its completion, the mural will be the first structure with which they come into contact, Tiziou said.
The project is now in its design phase. Tiziou is in the process of photographing dancers from all sorts of backgrounds and dance styles, after which muralists will construct the project.
Once the design is complete, the Mural Arts Program will organize community paintings to assemble the mural, according to Mural Arts Program spokeswoman and Penn alumna Cari Feiler Bender.
Volunteers will paint massive pixels on six-by-six-foot panels of parachute cloth, which will be assembled against the side of parking decks facing I-95.
In addition to the mural, Tiziou’s work will also become part of a permanent exhibit inside the airport.
Dancers who wish to be featured on the mural can sign up online for one additional photo shoot in March, which will have 60 time slots. Sessions are open to anyone who self-identifies as a dancer of any age or level of experience, he said.
One of the difficulties is honoring the diversity of the community, which precludes the possibilities of first-come first-serve or random lottery systems for photo shoots, Tiziou said.
Of the sessions held so far, Tiziou has photographed dancers from most city districts, and he plans to reach out to those not yet represented.
He said he was surprised by the variety of styles in Philadelphia, including Ukranian and traditional Aztec dance groups.
After a cursory glance at Google Maps Street View, he drove by several times to see how driving shaped the viewing experience.
The design includes photographs from Tiziou’s previous work photographing local dancers, including those taken at the 2008 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, when Penn Dance members Cat Gillespie and Alix Winter were photographed.
“I’ve never seen anyone photograph like that,” said Gillespie, currently a third-year graduate student in the School of Arts and Sciences. “It’s like dance with camera.”
“He doesn’t interact with us, but tries to get as close as he can without interrupting. I wasn’t expecting that,” Winter, a College senior, said.
As a photographer, shooting action in soft lighting against a black background creates unique challenges, Tiziou said. He constantly has to decide whether to follow movement to enhance focus or harness it to create blur.
Tiziou said he does not instruct dancers what to bring, wear or do, so that they feel comfortable.
Gillespie and Winter brought their own music — something classical for the former and the lead sequence to Capote for the latter. They improvised for most of their 20-minute session.
The environment can be intimidating, said Gillespie, who was both intrigued and mystified by the notion of the photo shoot as a performance. But the result was very “organic,” she said.