Group supported by Hillman Foundation zooms in on today's photography

Divya Rao Heffley, program manager of the Hillman Photography Initiative
Divya Rao Heffley, program manager of the Hillman Photography Initiative
Photo by Carnegie Museum
| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

The Carnegie Museum of Art is putting a sharper focus on the ever-changing world of photography with a new initiative analyzing what the art form means in today's world.

“The initiative positions the museum to be a leader in a subject area with broad appeal and profound relevance to contemporary society,” says Lynn Zelevansky, museum director.

Supported by funding from the William T. Hillman Foundation, the Hillman Photography Initiative will examine the state of photography today, when technological innovations make it easier to take photographs and share them instantaneously.

“What is photography today? How are people using it? There isn't one answer,” program manager Divya Rao Heffley says. “The excitement is in the conversation.”

The project is the result of two years of research, discussion and development. Heffley was hired to explore the wide world of photography in all its manifestations — everything from installations to the kind of photos people take with their cell phones, what satellites are capturing, even the Google Street View cars. It became clear there were people from many different fields asking questions about what this all means.

“Photography means something different to everyone who uses it,” Heffley says.

Five agents will drive the project:

• Carnegie Museum of Art curator Tina Kukielski

• Marvin Heiferman, independent curator and writer

•Alex Klein, program curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia

• Illah Nourbakhsh, professor of robotics and director of the CREATE Lab, Carnegie Mellon University

• Arthur Ou, assistant professor of photography and director, BFA photography, Parsons The New School for Design

After each 12-month cycle, two of the positions will be filled with new contributors to allow for new perspectives.

“Every year, we hope to be answering these questions,” Heffley says. “I don't think there's one answer. They will be answered over and over again in new ways.”

The group will meet for the first time April 21 and 22 to begin the development cycle. They'll spend three months working with Heffley to identify a key theme that will inspire a wide range of activities such as exhibitions, programs, collaborations, publications, commissioned works of art, artist residencies and online experiences.

“The agents will decide how they want it to manifest,” Heffley says. “It might be a mobile app or an online initiative or something that's never been inside the four walls of the museum. It might not even be within the four walls.”

Nathan Martin of the innovation/design studio Deeplocal will facilitate the process. The public can track progress at

“This really is for everybody,” Heffley says.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or

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