'#Pixburgh' is fascinating view through the lens
Pittsburgh's photographic history sometimes really can go to the dogs.
“#Pixburgh: A Photographic Experience,” a display that opens Dec. 17 at the Senator John Heinz History Center, has an entire gallery dedicated to shots of the family pet.
“It's because … because … that's what you do,” says Leslie Przybylek, senior curator of the exhibit at the Strip District site.
The exhibit is a look at more than 400 photos from the history center's collection of nearly a million images. In going through the photos, staffers discovered pictures of pets nearly rival those of the Point.
“It show the way we think about things,” Przybylek says about photography, adding that there are 2 billion images taken daily in the photo-happy digital age.
“#Pixburgh” will be on display through Aug. 20, 2017.
The exhibit's photos range from classic shots of the Point and Downtown Pittsburgh to what project director Lauren Uhl calls “the mystery photo.”
It is of 24 workers standing with tools in hand on a five-level scaffold, possibly advertising a Swissvale carnival in 1904. Or are they? And where are they?
Uhl and the center staff don't know and hope exhibit visitors might be able to share some information. If fact, they are hoping visitors might do that for many of the photos that are without identification.
Visitors and history-in-the-future buffs also are being asked to submit current images at heinzhistorycenter.org/exhibits/pixburgh that might give upcoming generations a look back at the way things were in 2016. Some of those will be offered on screens in one of the galleries.
The photos date from the 1850s and include shots that are iconic to Pittsburgh: Forbes Field, the J&L Steel behemoth, Skybus, the West View Park Danceland, Carnegie Museum dinosaurs, the Diamond Market and Downtown.
But it also is filled with shots of bits of the ordinary: dancing at a nightclub in Pleasant Hills, shoppers in the Downtown Horne's, friends at a shoe-shine parlor in the Hill District, and a “Cheers”-like crowd at an East liberty bar.
The photos are divided into five galleries. The 'Burgh: Faces of the City, Hard-Workin' Town, Leisure Time and, of course, Best Friend.
The exhibit also features a Through the Lens display at which visitors can look through a lens-like opening at presentations on the various work photography does, from recording history to being used in journalism.
Designer Michael Dubois says it also looks at “the agenda of the photographer,” which can be an important part of the photo story.
In addition to being a display of photographs, the display also is a quick look at photo history, beginning in the pre-lens days.
Early photography, Pryzbylek says, generally produced one image, much in the way an artist would do a painting. But, she says, the Kodak Brownie camera led to the creation of the snapshot, which could tell the photo story of everyday life.
She says a collection from the Betty Taylor family in Friendship amounted to thousands of photos like that starting in the 1930s.
As visitors enter, they will see a display that shows the historical span of photography. A gigantic Westinghouse camera sits next to a small Polaroid and a first-generation iPhone.
The display also includes a camera from 1880 and a tintype from 1870 on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, of which the Heinz center is an affiliate.
Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.