ED PANAR AND
A People’s History
When photographers Ed Panar and Melissa Catanese moved to Pittsburgh in 2011
with a plan to open Spaces Corners, a
photo bookshop, they also had in mind a
“laundry list” of projects they wanted to
work on, Panar says. One of the projects
about which they were most enthusiastic
involved inviting people throughout the
community to share personal images, to
create a visual archive of the city. They
felt the project was “bigger than we
were able to take care of on our own,”
however, so it was tabled. Then in 2014,
the Hillman Photography Initiative, an
“incubator for innovative thinking on
the photographic image” initiated by the
Carnegie Museum of Art, began seeking
project proposals. Panar and Catanese
pitched A People’s History of Pittsburgh,
as they’ve dubbed the project, and
secured the museum’s support.
Since then, they’ve invited photo
submissions through a dedicated
website for the project; have held
scanning days at the museum so
members of the community can
digitize prints of family images; and
have actively sought both private and
seemed doomed. But after a few weeks, a photographer wrote back saying she liked the idea.
“Sometimes, all it takes is one catalyst,” Pilkington says. Still, once the 26 were assembled,
he didn’t know if they’d follow through. “I kept sending emails: I must have driven everyone
mad. Luckily it was a great group of people: Everyone did it. Otherwise, it could have been
the death of me.”
Orchestrating The Alphabet Project, and bringing it to completion as a Web-based album
( www.alphabetproject.co.uk) showed Pilkington he had a gift for producing large projects.
Since then, he has put together eight more group projects, from 2009’s The Fifty States
Project (a photographer in every state, each responding to assignments such as “Industry”
and “Entertainment”) to The Swap and ongoing initiative where two photographers meet
and take portraits of each other. In addition to The Swap, he is currently overseeing The
Three Disciplines, a project where photographers tackle three new genres: for example,
an architecture photographer takes on self-portrait, still life and street photography.
As with his other projects, The Three Disciplines has its own, ongoing website (www.
Since The Fifty States Project, his third endeavor, Pilkington’s reputation has grown.
Thanks to a stellar list of contributors, The Fifty States Project garnered hundreds of
thousands of hits and was featured in Esquire magazine. Now, with The Swap, he envisages a
book project: “Not to make money, because you can’t do that with a book, but just because a
book is a lovely, tactile thing.”
For his photographer collaborators, being part of Pilkington’s projects can build
community and confidence. “It’s broadened my visibility and connections,” says Sandra L.
Dyas, who represented Iowa in The Fifty States Project and has contributed to The Swap.
These days, Pilkington has a spreadsheet of several thousand photographers he’s worked
with, all of whom are invited to take part in upcoming projects. He also scours the Web for
new talent, looking at sites like Conscientious, FlakPhoto and PDN’s 30. He has approached
famous photographers, some of whom might contribute in the future.
But perhaps best of all, he has started shooting a project for himself. “Strangers in Paradise”
documents people he meets on walks around cities in Britain’s northwest, and has itself become
part of an online multi-photographer project, Documenting Britain. “Doing these group
projects puts me in touch with so many photographers, it’s like my own university,” he says—a
feeling that is echoed by many photographers he’s drawn into his projects. “Stuart’s projects
inspire and motivate me: it’s fun to share my work online and be part of something,” says Dyas.
“Participating in them makes my world much bigger than it was.” —SARAH COLEMAN
Set of images from “The Swap,” a project where two photographers take photographs of each other,
spearheaded by Stuart Pilkington. LEFT: Portrait of photographer Lenka Rayn H. by Minna Kantonen.
RIGH T: Portrait of photographer Minna Kantonen by Lenka Rayn H.