Multiple award winning National Geographic photographer, Brian Skerry, is one of the world’s most accomplished ocean photographers, having travelled and photographed just about every ocean environment on the planet. The exhibit “Portraits of Planet Ocean” featured some of his most memorable photographs and educated visitors on the featured creatures and environments, and their importance. Rather than produce a standard photography exhibit as project manager, the exhibit team and Skerry decided to produce a participatory exhibit that engaged visitors in making the selection process for the exhibit, and contributing their own images to the exhibit. Visitors were asked to cast their votes in-gallery and online for which photos should be in the exhibition. This allows visitors and families a unique means of discussing and contemplating the significance and merits of each photograph. Thousands of votes were cast over the relatively short period of around two to three weeks that the voting booth was placed on the floor, indicating how positively visitors reacted to being asked to help shape a Smithsonian exhibition. When ballots ran out on occasion, visitors felt strongly enough about voicing their opinion that they often cast their votes on slips of paper, napkins, ticket stubs and more.
In addition, the public was encouraged to submit their own ocean images for possible inclusion in the exhibit alongside Skerry’s work via a video slideshow displayed on a flatscreen television. We arranged for Brian Skerry himself to select his favorites from among the thousands of submissions for inclusion in the exhibition. The exhibit team coordinated with Skerry to produce a number of blogs for the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, allowing for multi-faceted public engagement and ocean conservation literacy.