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Nourbakhsh Joins Hillman Photography Initiative
April 22, 2013

Illah Nourbakhsh, professor of robotics, is one of five agents in the Carnegie Museum of Art's new Hillman Photography Initiative. The initiative aims to be a living laboratory for exploring the rapidly changing field of photography and its impact on the world.

“The Initiative positions the museum to be a leader in a subject area with broad appeal and profound relevance to contemporary society," said Lynn Zelevansky, museum director. "We are deeply grateful for the William T. Hillman Foundation’s support and partnership in this effort.”

Martin McGuinn, chairman of Carnegie Museum of Art’s board, added: “The Initiative’s focus on art and technological innovation makes it a great fit not only for Carnegie Museums but for the entire region. We expect it to become a national model.”

For much of its history, photography has pervaded our world, but never more so than today, when non-stop technological innovations make it ever easier to take photographs and share them instantaneously.

Supported by funding from the William T. Hillman Foundation, the Hillman Photography Initiative is a special project within the photography department of Carnegie Museum of Art that will offer an adaptable framework for engaging with provocative issues related to these technological changes.

Favoring an approach that is experimental and open to new perspectives, the Initiative will be driven by the collaboration of five “agents,” consisting of four external experts and Carnegie Museum of Art curator Tina Kukielski. The Initiative will follow a 12-month cycle, beginning with an intense three-month planning period. The agents will work together with program manager Divya Rao 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. Nathan Martin of the innovation/design studio Deeplocal will facilitate the process.

Following the planning phase, Kukielski and Heffley will work with other museum staff to manage the implementation of the activities over the nine months that follow. Rollout of activities is expected in early 2014, although some may begin more quickly. Additionally, the Initiative will co-sponsor and/or collaborate on related projects at the museum and with other institutions.

The public will be able to track progress at>.

In addition to Nourbakhsh, the first group of agents includes Marvin Heiferman, independent curator and writer; Alex Klein, program curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; and Arthur Ou, assistant professor of photography and director, BFA photography, Parsons The New School for Design.

At the close of each 12-month cycle, two external agents will remain, while the other two positions will be filled with new contributors, allowing for both continuity and the infusion of new perspectives.

Illah R. Nourbakhsh is director of the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) lab, and head of the MS Robotics Technology Program. His current research projects explore community-based robotics, including educational and social robotics and ways to use robotic technology to empower individuals and communities. He is co-principal investigator of the Global Connection Project, a joint initiative of Carnegie Mellon, NASA, the National Geographic Society, and Google Inc. that developed the gigapixel imaging technology known as GigaPan. He is leading projects to apply GigaPan technology to scientific and educational efforts and to use GigaPan to help students communicate with peers internationally. He is the author of Robot Futures (2013) and co-author of Introduction to Autonomous Mobile Robots (2011). Nourbakhsh earned his BS, MS, and PhD in computer science at Stanford University and has been a faculty member of Carnegie Mellon since 1997.