Judy Gelles

Contact Information




Please contact InLiquid for inquiries, etc.

1944 – 2020

Sculpture 3D



Link to TEDx Talk on the Fourth Grade Project
Link to my documentary “From Philadelphia to the Front”

Artist's Biography

In Memoriam

July 31, 1944 - March 14, 2020

The following is an article form The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Ms. Gelles began her artistic journey with a photo of her son David in his playpen. She became a visual diarist and created a unique project allowing children to say what they cared about.

Judy S. Gelles, 75, of Philadelphia, an accomplished artist, photographer, and filmmaker, died Saturday, March 14, of a ruptured brain aneurysm at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Ms. Gelles began her creative journey as a new mother in 1977 when she took a photography class at the Rhode Island School of Design.

“She told the teacher she wanted to take the perfect baby photo,” said son David. “One of her pieces actually shows that. It’s a picture of me in my playpen. She was a diarist, documenting her daily life as a young mother and an artist.”

Over the next 42 years, she let her curiosity and creativity roam in multimedia art projects that were unique in style and implementation.

Her best known is the “Fourth Grade Project,” which she conceived while volunteering at George Washington Elementary School. “She had kids take pictures of their lives and then write about their lives,” said her son. “They came alive with the work. No one had ever asked them to talk about their hopes and fears.”

One of her signature techniques was wrapping words around the figures pictured in photos.

That style provided the framework for a new venture in 2008, when Ms. Gelles began photographing and interviewing 300 fourth graders in the United States, China, England, India, Israel, Nicaragua, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries. She continued the work until last year.

The principal in the first school she approached barred her from photographing the children’s faces for privacy reasons, so she took pictures from the back. She asked each: Whom do you live with? What do you wish for? What do you worry about?

The answers were inscribed around the youngsters’ images, forming a visual narrative that showed the private world of children. The idea was for each child to view the work and develop empathy and understanding across cultures.

“Nine-year-old children are on the cusp of adolescence,” Ms. Gelles said in a 2015 TEDx speech at the University of Pennsylvania. “They are able to think critically, and consider relationships to be very important. They are socially conscious, interested in helping others, and openly curious about the world.

“The project allows students to learn about others’ lives in a uniquely personal way and to use the project as a catalyst for their own explorations.”

The project, which blossomed into a teaching tool with its own curriculum, will go on a national tour for the next five years. The tour is underwritten by the nonprofit CultureTrust Greater Philadelphia.

In another project, Ms. Gelles decided to take a family portrait each year in the same spot when her family visited relatives in Melbourne Beach, Fla.

“My grandparents owned a mobile home there and my mother wanted to document the changes in our family over the years,” her son said in a eulogy. “We all hated standing around as she took the picture.

“And we made it hard on her. But she persisted. She was driven, committed, loving, and always pushing all of us creatively with her, on her next move.”

Ms. Gelles’ art is in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In 1986, Ms. Gelles found the World War II letters of her deceased father-in-law, Sidney Gelles, hinting at anti-Semitism he had faced. Since he had never mentioned anti-Semitism, she grew curious and enlisted photographer Marianne Bernstein in a documentary to examine the experience of six Jews who served in the war.

The film, From Philadelphia to the Front, premiered in 2005 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia and garnered six awards in film festivals.

Born in Somersworth, N.H., she graduated from Somersworth High School at age 16, and Boston University in 1965. She married Dr. Richard J. Gelles in 1971.

Besides her husband and son, she is survived by son Jason and three grandchildren.

(Bonnie L. Cook, "Judy S. Gelles, accomplished artist, photographer, and filmmaker, dies at 75", The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 26, 2020)



Judy Gelles received her MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work is in collections throughout the US and around the world including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, PA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, CA; Newport Art Museum in Newport, RI; Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, OH; and the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Art in Brazil. She has had residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Visual Studies Workshop and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Awards include Critical Mass Top 50 Photographers, a William Penn Foundation Grant, a Fleisher Challenge Artist Award, a Mid-Atlantic Arts Artist Catalyst Grant, Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and Curators Choice Award CENTER Santa Fe.

Artist's Statement

Fourth Grade Project

Over the past ten years, Judy Gelles has interviewed and photographed more than 300 fourth grade students from a wide range of economic and cultural backgrounds in China, India, South Korea, England, St. Lucia, Italy, South Africa, Israel and multiple areas of the United States. She asked all of the students the same three questions: Who do you live with? What do you wish for? What do you worry about?

Words from Home

Words can inspire and challenge us. They help us understand our heritage. All of us carry the voices of our parents around in our heads: advice, criticisms, guidance and warnings. This series is drawn from the words of her mother and father. "Words From Home" are phrases that have been a part of her psyche for over fifty years. In the past, she used them as text to accompany her images. These words have now taken on a life of their own and have the physical presence her parents no longer do.

Selected Exhibitions

Fourth Grade Stories, Larson Gallery, Yakima Valley College, Yakima, WA

Fourth Grade Project, Granary Art Center, Ephraim, UT

Berlin Foto Biennale, Palazzo Italia, Berlin, Germany

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize Exhibition, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK

Fourth Grade Project, The Open Lens Gallery at the Gershman Y, Philadelphia, PA

Night and Day, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

Sights for When the Sun Arrives, Pentimenti Gallery, Philadelphia, PA

I Want to Grow Up Fast, Pentimenti Gallery, Philadelphia, PA

Fourth Grade Project, Bernstein Gallery, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

Fourth Grade Project, The Gallery at 543, Urban Outfitters Inc. at the Navy Yard, Philadelphia, PA

Fourth Grade Project, Burrison Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

Centennial Juried Exhibition, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE

Out of the Darkroom, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland

What I Did Last Summer, Stephen Cohen Gallery, Los Angeles, CA

Exposed: Critical Mass 2009, Photographic Center Northwest, Seattle, WA

A Complex Weave: Women and Identity in Contemporary Art, Rutgers University Camden, Camden, NJ
Traveled Exhibition: Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA; Towson University, Towson, MD; Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, PA; Carleton College, Northfield, MN; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

Etherton Invites, Etherton Gallery, Tucson, AZ

Word Portraits, Fleisher Challenge Exhibition, Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia, PA

Encapsulated Time, The Galleries at Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia, PA

Family Ties: Three Generations, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA

The Art of Photography Show, Lyceum Theatre Gallery, San Diego, CA

Maternal Metaphors II, Ohio University Art Gallery, Athens, OH

Heartfelt, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, Tallahassee, FL

Inaugural Exhibition, Cohen Amador Gallery, New York, NY

Beach Boxes, Lyons Wier Gallery, New York, NY

A Family Portrait, Philadelphia International Airport Terminal F, Philadelphia, PA

Trailer Park, Brevard Museum of Art and Science, Melbourne, FL

Maternal Metaphors, Rochester Contemporary Art Center, Rochester, NY

Really True! Photography and the Promise of Reality, Ruhr Museum, Essen, Germany

A Soldier’s Story: Intimate Artifacts of WWII, Gratz College, Melrose Park, PA

Trailer Park, PS122 Gallery, New York, NY

New Acquisitions, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

Are You Alone . . ., Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY

A Soldier’s Story: Intimate Artifacts of WWII, National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia, PA

Florida Fragments, Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona Beach, FL

Frontyard/Backyard, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

After Dark, Tatar Alexander Gallery, Toronto, Canada

Timekeepers, SF Camerawork, San Francisco, CA

University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA

Photographic Persona, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY

In and Around the Family, Page Coleman Gallery, Albuquerque, NM

Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY

Projected Narratives, New York International Fringe Festival, New York, NY

The Female Gaze: Women Look at Men, Pyramid Arts Center, Rochester, NY

Women of the Book: Jewish Artists, Jewish Themes, Finegood Art Gallery, West Hills, CA

Newport Art Museum, Newport, RI

Women and Photography, School of the Museum
of Fine Arts at Tufts, Boston, MA

Awards and Honors

Grants/ Awards/ Residencies
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, London, UK

Curators Choice Award, CENTER, Santa Fe, NM

Critical Mass 2013: Top 50 Photographers

Lomax Family Foundation Grant, Philadelphia, PA, “Fourth Grade Project

William Penn Foundation Grant, Philadelphia, PA

The Welcome House: A 24 Hour Artist Residency in Love Park, Philadelphia, PA

Critical Mass 2009: Top 50 Photographers

Fleisher Challenge Artist, Philadelphia, PA

Artist Residency, Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, FL

Pennsylvania Council on the Arts SOS Grant

WYBE Public Television Philadelphia Stories 4 New Program Grant

Visual Studies Workshop, Artist Residency, Rochester, NY

Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation Artist as Catalyst Grant, Baltimore, MD

Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts, Philadelphia, PA

Leeway Foundation Window of Opportunity Award, Philadelphia, PA

Artist Residency, The MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH

Artist Residency, Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY


Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH
Brooklyn Museum, Artist Book Collection, Brooklyn, NY
Comcast Center, Philadelphia, PA
Danforth Art Museum, Framingham, MA
Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH
Harvard University Fine Arts Library, Cambridge, MA
Haverford College, Haverford, PA
Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale, Riverdale, NY
Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Museum of Fine Arts, Artist Book Collection, Boston, MA
Museum of Modern Art, Artist Book Collection, New York, NY
Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Newport Art Museum, Newport, RI
Oberlin College Art Library, Oberlin, OH
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Free Library of Philadelphia, Print and Picture Collection, Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Photographic Resource Center, Cambridge, MA
Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, RI
Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA
Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona Beach, FL
Sprint Art Collections, Overland Park, KS
The MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH
National Liberty Museum, Philadelphia, PA
University of Miami, Miami, FL

Lectures and Talks

Fourth Grade Project, Snow College, Ephraim, UT

TedX Penn – Fourth Grade Project, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

Fourth Grade Project, The Gershman Y, Philadelphia, PA, Guest Lecturer

Fourth Grade Project, The Gallery at 543, Urban Outfitters Inc. at the Navy Yard, Philadelphia, PA

Guest Lecturer, Fourth Grade Project, Beverly Hills Forum, Beverly Hills, CA

Guest Lecturer, The Leeway Foundation, Philadelphia, PA

Guest Lecturer, Rutgers University, Camden, NJ

Guest Lecturer, CW Post University, Brookville, NY

Guest Lecturer, Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia, PA

Guest Lecturer, Perkins Center for the Arts, Moorestown, NJ

Guest Lecturer, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Panelist, Maternal Metaphors, Rochester Contemporary Art Center, Rochester, NY

Guest Lecturer, Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, Lancaster, PA

Guest Lecturer, Open Space Gallery, Writers Circle, Allentown, PA, Guest Lecturer


Gelles, Judy, Beach Boxes, One Picture Book Number 24, Nazraeli Press, 2004, Artist Book

Gelles, Judy, Florida Family Portrait, Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY, 2002, Artist Book

Gelles, Judy, When We Were Ten, Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY, 1997, Artist Book

Gelles, Richard, Contemporary Families, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, CA, 1995, Illust.


Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
MFA, Photography