Author Archives: Divya Rao Heffley, Program Manager, Hillman Photography Initiative

About Divya Rao Heffley, Program Manager, Hillman Photography Initiative

Divya Rao Heffley received her PhD from Brown University and her BA from Yale University, both in the History of Art and Architecture, and is a past recipient of the Carter Manny Award from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. She has worked at the David Winton Bell Gallery, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, and the Heinz Architectural Center at Carnegie Museum of Art and has lectured at Brown and Harvard Universities.

August Snapshots: This Picture Wants You!


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Hand pointing, light beams in background © SuperStock/Corbis.

August’s This Picture photograph has been, to my mind, one of the most enigmatic we’ve had so far. Depending on how you see it, the pointing finger can be accusatory, celebratory, or just plain puzzling. The responses we have received from all of you have risen gamely to the challenge of unpacking the meaning and associations of this picture. The four responses that stand out to me as the most intriguing are:

  • “What your retina records the millisecond prior to your eyeball being poked. ‘At least it’s not a sharp stick.’” —George Slade
  • Roy Lichenstein’s Finger Pointing (Corlett 126), 1973 as a rebuttal to. —April
  • “The first and most obvious reaction I have is to think of the famous 1917 WWI Army recruitment poster by Flagg. The image is both accusatory and motivational…it is identifying you (me) for action or lack of action.” —Mike
  • “Power. But does he have it, or does the viewer? Don’t let those light beams fool you…there’s something almost accusatory about that pointing finger. It’s almost as thought the finger is urging the light beam to move forward in an aggressive manner. Something disturbing and aggressive about this image.” —Becka Wright

Congratulations to George, April, Mike, and Becka! You are this month’s winners of the Program Manager’s Picks contest. Your prize (coming soon) is free admission to an upcoming World Premiere of The Invisible Photograph, which can be redeemed at one of our two remaining screenings, including our next one on September 19. Continue reading

July Snapshots: Highlights from the Hillman Photography Initiative


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Bev Cover’s submission to A People’s History of Pittsburgh, which depicts an unnamed man standing in Point State Park across from Three Rivers Stadium in 1980. Click image to view original post.

Since the launch of the Hillman Photography Initiative this past May, I’ve delighted in seeing, reading, and listening to the fascinating submissions we’ve received for our various projects. From the thought-provoking responses to our monthly This Picture project, to the heart-warming photographs and stories contributed to A People’s History of Pittsburgh—our collective online photo album—I can’t get enough of seeing how visitors, users, and fellow photography lovers have reacted to our open call for submissions and comments.

In this blog post, the first in a monthly series, I call attention to some of the most compelling submissions and comments we received in the past month, and give you a look at what’s ahead for the Hillman Photography Initiative. As you scroll down, you might even find out that your photograph is featured. Continue reading

What Does It Mean for a Museum To Be Truly Experimental?


Screenshot of the Hillman Photography Initiative website, launched April 2014.

Screenshot of the Hillman Photography Initiative website, launched April 2014

Ever since Carnegie Museum of Art launched the Hillman Photography Initiative earlier this year, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it means for a museum to be truly experimental. When I began my research three years ago, the major premise of the Initiative was to create something totally new in the field of photography. On the other side of a successful launch, I now realize just how ambitious our goal was. But at the time, it felt more like an amorphous challenge, albeit one that had all my problem-solving neurons firing. As with any experiment, we didn’t have a clear understanding of how the Initiative would manifest or what form it would take. Now that the project is up and running, I find myself looking back at how the Initiative was realized and some of the things we’ve learned so far. Continue reading

Lytro & GigaPan Event Wrap-Up


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Have you heard of the Lytro camera? If not, you should check it out. It allows you to take pictures that can be endlessly refocused after you take them. In a nutshell, it’s one of the coolest new consumer camera technologies on the market today. Last month, the HPI cosponsored a Lytro workshop, which was held as part of the closing event for Oh Snap!: Your Take on Our Photographs. Sam Tellman, Lytro Image Quality Analyst, and Mugur Marculescu, Member of Lytro’s Technical Team, brought 20 Lytro cameras to Pittsburgh all the way from Lytro headquarters in California to show workshop attendees the ins and outs of shooting, manipulating, and editing Lytro photographs. You can even modify some  photographs from the workshop yourself!

One of our workshop attendees was Leo Hsu, a photographer and teacher at Carnegie Mellon University and writer for Fraction Magazine. His thoughts on the Lytro camera are fascinating and definitely worth a read. Leo addresses some of the issues that we’ve been grappling with as part of the larger process of the Hillman Photography Initiative.

photopanel-300x183Later that same evening, the museum hosted a panel discussion that combined our esteemed guests from Lytro with Mike Franz, Director of Products at GigaPan, for an in-depth look at how new camera technologies are changing art practices, the way we think about photography, and even how we see the world around us. GigaPan—which our Pittsburgh readers should be quite familiar with as it was born right here at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab (and, in fact, codeveloped by one of our Agents, Illah Nourbakhsh)—is another one of the coolest camera technologies available today. It consists of a robotic device that houses any old point-and-shoot digital camera and allows you to take gigabyte-sized panoramas that capture and reveal astounding amounts of detail.

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I had an opportunity to take a series of GigaPans of the Oh Snap! gallery, which captured all of the nearly 1,500 photographs submitted to the project, many of which have since been tagged by their authors. GigaPan could potentially revolutionize the way museums record exhibitions for posterity. The act of exploring the GigaPan of a gallery almost recreates the experience of being in the space, long after all the work has been taken down.

The Lytro and GigaPan panel discussion, moderated by museum director Lynn Zelevansky, was rounded out by two Pittsburgh-based photographers, both professors in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University: Charlee Brodsky and Dylan Vitone. I wish I had an audio recording of the discussion that ensued onstage, not only because it was the perfect mélange of art and technology, but also because it reinforced one of my core beliefs: artistic inquiry and experimentation can yield results that are just as valid (and often much more unexpected) as those achieved through the scientific method. Sam, Mugur, and Mike captivated all of us with the capabilities of their camera technologies, but Charlee and Dylan made us question the technologies’ as-yet-unexplored potential.

As Leo discusses in his piece for Fraction, there seems to be a pervasive sense that the visual and aesthetic (dare I say artistic?) possibilities of such technologies are in a nascent stage. These two technologies have so fundamentally changed the photography game that I find myself questioning the parameters of the field itself. What will happen when more and more artists get their hands on the game pieces and challenge the rules? I can’t wait to find out!

Team Chemistry


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One of the scariest things about convening an intimate group of people who have never before worked together is not knowing what will happen the first time they’re in the same room.  Will the personalities mesh?  Will everyone get their fair share of discussion time?  Will criticism be constructive?   If you can get a “yes” to even one of those questions, you’re on the right track.  If you get two out of three, you’re doing really well.  And in the event that you end up batting a thousand, you ask how the stars aligned and whether you just used up all the good karma/mojo/luck you’ve been stockpiling over the course of your professional career.

1-300x200As this lead-up not so subtly hints, we were three-for-three when the Agents of the Hillman Photography Initiative met for the first time last week. After a weekend of orienting the out-of-town agents to the city and setting the stage with an opening dinner at the 2013 Carnegie International apartment in Lawrenceville, we gathered at Deeplocal for an idea generation session facilitated by Nathan Martin.  He kicked off the session with a stimulating card game, designed to break the ice and instigate conversation about key issues in photography. It opened with a statement: “When I talk to ______, the most provocative question about photography that emerges is _____.”  Each card Nathan flipped over filled in the first blank, and then the Agents had 60 seconds to fill in the corresponding second blank on their own—as many times as they could, one response per post-it. From “kids” and “general public” to “nineteenth-century photography scholars,” “computational photography researchers” or even “Instagram experts,” the cards asked the Agents to consider the different meanings and roles of photography for various audiences.

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By the end of the exercise, we had a wall full of post-its and questions. We then broke up into pairs and had the chance to discuss the questions we found to be the most interesting. The entire team then reconvened and shared the results of our discussion, “pitching” the 2 or 3 questions we found to be the most relevant. Three hours later, we had generated a sizeable list of interesting ideas and abstract concepts. These ideas ranged from “ownership” and “value” to “change,” “performativity,” and “materiality.” (It should be noted that the Agents were expressly forbidden to consider practicalities or implementation during this early stage of idea generation in order to encourage generation of Big Ideas.)5-200x300

Given the impressive backgrounds and skill sets of our Agents, the quality and quantity of ideas was no surprise. What I had no way of predicting was the incredible amount of camaraderie that seemed to infuse the group, evident from the animated conversations that kept springing up throughout the day.

As exciting and fruitful as the first meeting was, it was only the beginning. We have ahead of us three more months of planning and collective group-think, every moment of which will be necessary to transform our abstract concepts into actionable ideas. What the outcome will be, I am still not sure.  But if this meeting was anything to go by, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the fun has only just begun. Hold on to your hats!