Mirror, Mirror: Feet first

Photographer Elizabeth Manning shoots Melanie Rodriguez's black laced up heels in the Liacouras Center before graduation ceremonies Thursday, May 15, 2014. ( DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )
Photographer Elizabeth Manning shoots Melanie Rodriguez's black laced up heels in the Liacouras Center before graduation ceremonies Thursday, May 15, 2014. ( DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )

Before Temple grads took the stage to turn their tassels, their shoes were photographed for posterity - and for Twitter.

Posted: May 22, 2014

Just before Temple's Class of 2014 walked across the Liacouras Center stage Thursday morning, Betsy Manning shot stills of their shoes for Twitter, Flickr, and posterity.

No pump - or toe - was turned away, because Manning's work has little to do with surnames Blahnik or Louboutin and everything to do with documenting the seniors' final show of self-expression as college students.

"In the last five years, shoes worn at graduation have gotten so much more radical," said Manning, who has worked as the Temple University photographer for 10 years. "It's not just the shoes, it's everything from the pant legs to the toenail polish and the tattoos." Not to be outdone, the photographer wore her own red Chuck Taylors.

Inspired by the red-carpet award shows' shoe-cams and "mani-cams" (cameras that document celeb footwear and manicures), Manning launched the #TUgradshoes project last year with a pre-graduation shoot of her own under Temple's loading docks at Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. (You can find them online at www.flickr.com/photos/92439690@N04/sets/72157644275274000.)

This year, the pops of color south of the 9,000 graduating students' hemlines were chicly conspicuous. Women teetered on trendy shoes of the season: floral wedges; chunky, nude platforms; color-blocked flats; and teal pointed toes. Sparkling stilettos and caged clodhoppers were in the house. And yes, to the horror of foot conservatives, flip-flops were part of the celebratory mix, as well.

But it was Temple pride - the school's colors are cherry and white - that was really on display. Red reared its haute head as patent leather Mary Janes and glittery platforms - even a pair of custom Toms tricked out with the Temple Owl.

"Every Temple [basketball] game I wore these shoes to, they won," beamed 21-year-old Kaja Rasmussen, who was graduating with a degree in marketing. Rasmussen gleefully pointed to the signature on her shoe - of former Temple guard Khalif Wyatt. "I think they are magical."

It's an age-old tradition for graduates to personalize their mortarboards - and in today's world of DIY art, their caps - especially at the area's artsy schools like Philadelphia University and the Art Institute. They're souped-up to the max with bedazzles and Jibbitz charms.

But the shoes? They were typically as staid as the one-size-fits-all gowns. Basic spats and round-toed pumps complemented mature dresses and suits under formal graduation attire. Conformity was key.

Now graduation walks look like the catwalk not just at Temple, but among commencement crowds everywhere thanks to trendy mall staples like DSW and Steve Madden.

It's even possible to have a high posh factor and be pain-free, so you can wait for that diploma without welts.

"I just needed something comfortable," said Fonya Brown, a 41-year-old criminal justice major working her hippie vibe in a pair of faux turquoise-jeweled sandals she bought from Off Broadway Shoes in New York. "I wanted to flaunt my personality and be a little flirty."

Psychology major Dorothy Rondomanski, 22, went with red Mary Janes, not just because she's a Temple student, but, well, because her name is Dorothy.

And Erin Edwards, a 21-year-old natural sciences major, opted for risqué black, platform pumps. As a college graduate, she sees herself as finally a free woman.

"I've been caged for four years," she said. "I'm about to let it loose into the real world now."

At 8:45 a.m., Manning was quickly photographing each one in the 100-student-long line that formed a very large S around her and her crew. Within seconds the shots were transmitted to the iPad of Manning's assistant, Erin Mully, who did a little editing and then tweeted them out.

By 9:18 a.m., students grooving to Pharrell's jovial hit "Happy" were lining up to start the procession. As they turned tassels to the right, 23-year-old Jacob Bakovsky scurried over to Manning - barefoot.

"I mean, everyone else had on shoes," the mechanical engineering graduate said. At the last minute, he thought his naked feet were a better option than the beat-up old sneakers he originally planned to wear. "I'm not a hipster or anything. But I want to be different. Show my stuff.

"You only graduate once."


ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704

@ewellingtonphl

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