Collaboration, Family and Photography: The Process of Creating an Installation for The Family Camera Exhibition

Posted: February 27, 2017 - 12:14 , by ROM
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Written By Maya Wilson-Sanchez

Since September 2016, OCAD University, The Royal Ontario Museum and The Family Camera Network have been collaborating to create an interactive project for The Family Camera exhibition opening May 6, 2017.

This opportunity is offered through OCAD U’s Digital Futures program and it includes both graduate and undergraduate students from Visual and Critical Studies (BA), Digital Futures and the Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design (MFA, MDes or MA). The course is led by instructors Dr. Martha Ladly and Professor Immony Men, and curators Dr. Jennifer Orpana and Dr. Julie Crooks.

Students in this yearlong course have become acquainted with ROM curators and staff and introduced to The Family Camera Network archive at the ROM and its collection methods. We have had the opportunity to do multiple site visits led by Project Manager Steven Laurie, attend a Vernacular Photography Workshop at the ROM, and learn about onsite and online audience engagement strategies with Festival Programs Coordinator Zoe McQuinn, Web Designer and Front End Developer Alyssa McLeod, and Digital Engagement Strategist Ryan Dodge. We have also had multiple exploratory discussions with our instructors, as well as with Managing Director Sadia Zaman, Senior Curator Deepali Dewan, Exhibition Designer Emilio Genovese and Video Producer/AV Specialist Scott Loane.

So far, this has been an invaluable experience that has brought together students from multiple disciplines (such as architecture, journalism, computer science, design, project management, curatorial practice, and fine art to name a few) to collaborate on an exhibition project that thinks through family photography. In a recent conversation with my classmate Katie Micak, she told me that one of the most important experiences of this project has been being involved in intense collaboration with people who have very diverse skills, and creating a beautiful new experience with them. We both agreed that one of the most interesting and satisfying aspects of this work has been witnessing the creative energy from people with different educational and professional backgrounds coming together.


To develop this project, we began by exploring The Family Camera Network website and sharing some of our own family photographs in order to experience what it is like to talk about our own photos. We researched and discussed the nature of historical and contemporary family photography within a Canadian context. Some important points of discussion included: how photographs can represent both personal and cultural memory; what it means to “perform” familial roles for the camera; the popular visual conventions of family photography that highlights moments like birthdays and weddings; how social media and the internet enhance the circulation and storage of family photographs; how migration has affected our relationship to our own family photographs; and lastly, the implications of exhibiting family photographs that are usually viewed and stored in domestic settings.

First Round of Proposals & Prototypes

Our class divided into three groups that developed proposals for an interactive project that could be produced for the exhibition. The proposed prototypes were presented to ROM staff, OCAD U faculty and other professionals on December 1st at the ROM. The proposals focused on themes such as: the performative nature of taking photographs and being photographed, lost photographs, and how photographs are viewed and experienced, and they suggested strategies for visitor interactivity and user-generated content. After the presentation, we received feedback from the guests, and the ROM curatorial team selected one of the proposed projects to be developed for exhibition. 

Students presenting their prototypes at the ROM.

prototype of a wall of wallets that reveal photographs

prototype image of engagement area in the ROM

Moving Forward

This semester, we are busy developing The Living Room prototype, which will be part of The Family Camera exhibition. Stay tuned to learn more about our process creating this project, which will be on view at The Family Camera exhibition opening May 6th 2017. 

3D model of "The Living Room" engagement project


Participating Students: Samaa Ahmed, Margarita Castro, Bijun Chen, Mudit Ganguly, Thom Jeffrey Garcia, Sara Gazzaz, Afaq Ahmed Karadia, Annette Mangaard, Ania Medrek, Katherine Micak, Natasha Mody, Manik Perera Gunatilleke, Maya Wilson-Sanchez and April Xie.


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Maya Wilson-Sanchez is an emerging writer, researcher, and curator. She has worked at Onsite Gallery, Xpace Cultural Centre, the Art Gallery of Peterborough and Gallery TPW. Maya is currently working and studying at OCAD University.


This blog is part of an ongoing series that reflects on the nature and meaning of family photos. It is related to The Family Camera Network project, a community archive project to collect and preserve family photographs with their stories.  #ROMfamcam