As with a wiki website, the principle for a show now at the Carnegie Museum of Art is user-generated content. In OH SNAP!, the public is invited to submit photographs for display in response to any of the 13 photographs installed in the museum's Forum Gallery. And a nicely varied selection it is, from prodigy Jacques Henri Lartigue's quirky image from early-20th-century France to Malian photographer Malick Sidibé's 1968 album-page of portraits; amateur Robert Off's Fox Chapel family snapshot; a technical/scientific record; and art approaches from street photography to staged scenes.
This exhibit, which grew out of a six-museum consortium, is designed to reach new audiences by positioning viewers in a more active relationship to art from museum collections. To participate — the official description of the exhibit as "collaborative" overstates it — you respond to one of the photographs on display (also available on the museum's website, as are the submissions). Aspects to consider include subject, composition, mood and "whatever else you want!" (Exclamation points abound.) Then you upload a photograph of yours that you believe has an affinity. The unidentified photos are hung near the photograph that inspired them, in a continually evolving display.
Submissions are streaming in and generally look pretty good, allowing for their small size and lack of frames.
Because participants aren't asked to specify the relationship between their photos and the inspirations, it's up to the audience to seek the connection. That turns out to be a satisfying topic to puzzle over. There's often an immediacy to the associations, as Charlee Brodsky's "Last Smokestack at the Homestead Works" (c. 1995) spawned mostly images of strong verticals and industrial structures. Others, such as Philip Perkis' "Brooklyn, New York" (1984), set off a range of responses including figures, blurred movement, scenes along the road and two ice-cream cones raised as if for a toast.
There's a danger that the democracy of the exhibit will undermine the idea of significance, especially for those millenials and Gen Xers inclined to think that quality is purely subjective. Still, OH SNAP! is a fresh attempt at a portal exhibit meant to lure in new viewers. And that's true even though bridging experiences might be needed to cultivate an interest among those audiences in the established museum functions of connoisseurship and cultural studies.