Wrapping up Oh Snap!


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Oh Snap! combined 13 new photographs from our collection with nearly 1,500 photo submissions from the public.

Wrap Party, Lytro Workshop, and more—Saturday, May 4
First things first—submissions for Oh Snap! Your Take on our Photographs are now closed, but we are excited to celebrate the thoughtful and creative collaboration of the hundreds of participants in the project. Don’t miss the three closing events for Oh Snap!, with a special focus on new photographic technology. A Lytro workshop gives you the chance to try out a whole new kind of camera in our galleries. A public talk with industry insiders from Lytro and GigaPan examines how these new technologies will change the way we take pictures in the future. And at the wrap party you can see all the photos in the exhibition, share your views on our feedback wall, and get your own copy of the  poster showing details from the works sent in by you (below). We hope to see you all there! The exhibition will still be on view in the Forum Gallery through May 12, but as the end of the project nears, it’s a good time to think back on how it all came together.

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The limited-edition Oh Snap! poster (36.75 x 24 inches). ORDER

Process
“If you’re not innovating you’re stagnating” asserted Jeff DeGraf, founder and guru at the Innovatrium, a consulting firm/think tank in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jeff was speaking to small teams of staff members from six American art museums, including Carnegie Museum of Art and the Warhol that had signed on for an 8-month project to explore what’s working and what’s not in art museums with the goal of injecting a spirit of innovation and experimentation into our organizations. Practically speaking, we all had our sights set on devising new ways of staying relevant to our communities, especially to our younger visitors. Oh Snap! is the most recent manifestation of the ongoing soul-searching and fresh thinking inspired by our Innovatrium experience. We’re feeling pretty good about how the project has turned out.

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The Oh Snap! cross-departmental team brainstorming names for the project—sometimes you just have to get up on a table to get it done.

While Oh Snap! presents 13 works of art—all recently added to the museum’s photography collection—framed and hung on the walls of the museum’s Forum Gallery, the relationship to a traditional exhibition pretty much ends there. We’re calling it a “collaborative photography project,” and collaborative it is. The 13 photographs from the museum’s collection were selected by a cross-departmental team with the explicit goal of motivating the public to send to us photographs that are somehow inspired by one of the museum’s works. As new photographs came in from the public, we printed and hung them in the gallery next to the related museum work. Visitors could view the museum’s Oh Snap! selections either in the gallery or on the project’s website.

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Working on the gallery model to figure out the best way to accommodate submissions from the public.

Opening a gallery that was purposefully “unfinished” was an entirely new experience for us and signaled a new relationship we’re interested in pursuing with our audience, one in which our expertise comes together with the public’s curiosity and imagination to leave all of us a bit richer for the experience. We’re also recognizing that visitors increasingly are not limited to only those who come through our physical doors. As our physical gallery walls have changed over the past two months, our digital “gallery” has grown and changed as well. Photographs were only accepted through the website, making the web a crucial element in the project. When a submission made its way onto the wall, the sender received an email with a free pass to come see it. Submissions have been sent from locations remarkably distant from Pittsburgh, including Peru, Taiwan, France, Germany, and Finland. The project is helping us explore how Carnegie Museum of Art might build relationships through our collection and the ideas it inspires to individuals who might never have the opportunity to be our physical visitors.

Read Jeffrey Inscho’s Oh Snap! overview on Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog.

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Education staff reviewed all submissions as they came in, printing and posting them directly in the gallery.

Response
Two months ago we had a nearly empty gallery and have watched Oh Snap! take shape a little bit each day—growing and transforming thanks to public participation. So the first question of the project—would anyone find it compelling enough to send us their photographs—has been answered with nearly 1,500 submissions. But beyond seeing a full gallery, we are even more rewarded by what’s happening in the gallery and what participants are saying (quotes from the gallery comment book):

  • “Being able to contribute to an exhibition was thrilling. I hope the Carnegie will do many more things like this! Overall, I think the project is Brilliant!”
  • “I think it’s a great way to get the community engaged in what it means to make a photograph art.”
  • “I love seeing the public’s perspective on these photographs.”
  • “Brings art into our lives and our lives into art.”
  • “I could spend all day here but I won’t ‘cause I’m going home to look for something I can submit.”

Ok, it’s pretty hard not to feel elated about comments like that! Many similar messages in the gallery comment book make it clear how appealing it is to be part of the experience. But more than just rallying the crowd, Oh Snap! has also motivated real looking, thinking, and responding to art. The project doesn’t ask for any photograph you want to send us, it invites the public to collaborate with us in interpreting—finding meaning—in specific works in our collection.

It seems that by literally “leaving room” on the gallery walls for the public’s photographs, visitors took up the challenge of seeing the museum’s works as catalysts provoking reflective thinking, inspiring comparison, and motivating action. In Oh Snap!, we actively welcomed those responses, sharing them with other visitors, and acknowledging that a museum experience is not one-directional. The project has produced a real and dynamic partnership between museum and public. That partnership inspires further impact as new visitors—whether contributors or not—linger in the gallery every day comparing museum photographs and public photographs, chatting actively with friends, speculating about connections, and marveling at the range of interpretations a single work of art might inspire.

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Charlee Brodsky, Last Smokestacks at the Homestead Works, c. 1995, gelatin silver print, Gift of the artist, 2009.29.4 © 1995 Charlee Brodsky. By permission

Charlee Brodsky’s image, Last Smokestacks at the Homestead Works is one of the photographs from the museum’s collection selected for Oh Snap!; it is now surrounded by over 170 public photographs (examples below). Several of them capitalize on the image’s powerful composition—a broad flat plane of dirt punctuated by a single vertical element directly in the center of the scene. Many of these submitted photographs achieve a similar sense of order, calm, and solitude through similar arrangements of horizontals, verticals, and measured proportion. But others take a different approach. One submitted photograph offers no visual similarities to the museum’s work but instead shows the facade of Pittsburgh’s United Steelworkers Building, perhaps calling to mind the thousands of workers who once brought life to the site, the former Homestead Steel Works plant. I hear lots of gallery visitors wondering aloud about a photograph of a limp and lifeless bird and another of a dead fish stuck in an expanse of wet sand both of which, when placed near Charlee’s quiet image, take on a sense of poignancy. Then there is the picture of the glowing ball poised in the center of a well-mowed back yard. What might that one be about? These leaps in thought and imagination show just how much room for interpretation the project allowed. Thankfully, art endures because it keeps speaking to people about its own context but also in new and personally meaningful ways.

Some Stats

Age breakdown of the nearly 600 contributors:

  • Not indicated: 7%
  • 18–24: 21%
  • 25–34: 20%
  • 35–54: 29%
  • 55–64: 14%
  • 65 and over: 8%

How contributors heard about the project:

  • From a friend: 38%
  • At the museum: 33%
  • Online: 27%
  • Print media: 2%