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Off Campus: Techie To Artist — Award-winning Photographer Finds Inspiration in ‘Grit of City’
mccannn [at] chop.edu (By Nancy McCann)
As a web content publisher with the Research Information Services team, Kim Slouf, provides technical support for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute's website. She uploads and updates content — like this blog — which contains not only text but also images and videos. This detail-oriented, problem-solving job gives the left side of her brain a daily workout. But once she locks her office door, Slouf can be found wandering the streets of Philadelphia with her never-leave-home-without-it camera in search of the elusive unique shot. A right-brain "off campus" adventure, for sure.
"There's always the challenge to create something new," Slouf said. "All of us in the photography world are essentially taking pictures of the same thing. So I think, ‘How can I shoot this differently? How do I shoot something that everybody's seen a thousand times over, like a skyline, and make it unique, and creative, and mine?' It definitely works a different part of my brain than my day-to-day job."
Slouf loves to take walks and ventures to many parts of the city to capture her art. From Rittenhouse Square, to City Hall — one of her favorites— to Old City, South Philadelphia, and South Street.
"I like showing others what Philadelphia is like," Slouf said. "It's a beautiful city. There's so much culture, and there's so much going on all the time. I like to shoot anything from gorgeous sunrises or sunsets to intimate moments between a parent and a child, or a couple, or friends. And that's what I go for — capturing that emotional moment and encapsulating it in time."
Four-Legged Assistant Scouts Out 'Photo of the Year' Location
Slouf's photo of a cityscape sunrise received the coveted title "Photo of the Year" from Philly Current magazine. Chosen from among the many #PCPOTD (Philly Current Photo of the Day), of which Slouf is a regular contributor, she took the winning shot from the span of the South Street Bridge with her trusty, four-legged photography assistant, Winnie, by her side.
Slouf adopted her canine companion as a puppy from an animal rescue organization in Chester County. Winnie, a pit bull mix with a brindle coat (tiger-striped), is now 3-years-old, 35 pounds, and enjoys roaming the city with her camera-toting owner.
"Winnie's the sweetest thing, and she comes with me everywhere, including any time I'm out shooting," Slouf said. "She scouts out all the best scenes."
For the Photo of the Year, Slouf and Winnie were on the South Street Bridge getting ready to go down to the Schuylkill River Trail when the sky exploded into beautiful colors. They ran across the bridge to get the best vantage point.
"And as quickly as it was there, it was gone again," Slouf said. "That's how sunrises go. They're only there for a few minutes, and you're just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time."
Looking for Beauty in Grit of the City
Slouf's entrance into photography coincided with her move to Philadelphia 10 years ago. In an attempt to learn the city, Slouf would travel different routes to and from CHOP, taking photos along the way.
"On my commute, I'd hop on the subway and get off a couple of stops early and meander through the different neighborhoods — just getting to know the city," Slouf said. "I started taking pictures of what I thought looked cool with my phone."
She began posting the images on Instagram, which was a new platform for photo and video sharing at the time. Before long, people started taking notice of her photographs, and today, she has more than 2,000 followers. Certainly sunrises, sunsets, and cityscapes are photo-worthy, but Slouf also finds a certain beauty in the grit of the city, like the back alleyways crowded with large trash receptacles.
"There's a juxtaposition of the beauty of the buildings and the architecture," Slouf said, "with the little side street that's gritty and dirty. There's just this neat play between the two that's fun to capture."
During the depths of the pandemic, her masked walks with Winnie were not only de-stressing but also captivating to see the city through a different lens.
"I would never wish these circumstances again," Slouf said, "but to see the city so quiet, when you could walk around and virtually not see anybody, certainly changed how I think a lot of us were taking pictures. Normally, we try to capture that liveliness of the city, and the liveliness comes from the people, and the people weren't there. And the cars weren't there. All of the festivals weren't happening."
So Slouf looked for different subject matter or changed the time of day she was out taking pictures. With empty streets and sidewalks, Slouf began to notice the little things, such as plaques, tiny murals, and flower gardens on small side streets.
Philly Current isn't the only notable media outlet taking notice of Slouf's artistic photography, as she's been featured on the Instagram accounts of NBC Philadelphia, 6ABC, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, which featured her in the #OurPhilly section of the 2020 Best Photos of Philadelphia. Another Philadelphia-specific hub, PHL Shooters, showcased 28 female photographers, including Slouf, in honor of International Women's Day.
Through the years, Slouf produced her award-winning art with her cell phone, until a few weeks ago when she bought herself a "real camera."
"It's a game changer," Slouf enthused. "It's very different, and more technical, but it's a cool new challenge. This whole experience has been quite a ride."