Jennifer Orpana

MA, Art History, The University of Western Ontario (UWO), London, Ontario
HBA Fine Art History and Drama, University of Toronto (U of T), Toronto, Ontario


Prior to her graduate career at UWO, Jennifer worked in Toronto’s arts and culture sector as an administrator, educator, and community collaborator for such arts institutions as the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Ballet of Canada, and Soulpepper Theatre Company. In her last position as Education Manager, Jennifer worked creatively with Soulpepper’s artists, facilitators, and youth, and she was responsible for developing process-driven arts programming for people of diverse backgrounds, rooted in the concepts of mentorship and accessibility. These experiences inspired Jennifer to pursue graduate education to further develop her teaching philosophy and to advocate for best practices in arts education and participatory arts through teaching and research.


Jennifer’s research interests include topics in the histories of photography, museum studies, participatory arts projects, contemporary art, arts education and outreach, theories of representation, and cultural memory. More specifically, Jennifer’s research focuses on issues of representation in Photovoice projects. Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris defined “Photovoice” as a participatory research practice that uses photography as a tool for social action or needs assessment within communities (1997). Many global initiatives have utilized Photovoice methodologies with youth considered “at risk,” including Kids with Cameras, captured in the 2005 documentary, Born into Brothels, and Photo Voice, a British organization with projects in several Third World communities (1990 to present). Jennifer’s investigation of participatory photography projects began with her Master’s thesis, “The ‘Visual Griots’ of Mali: Nation Building and Cultural Negotiation with Youth Outreach Photography” (2008-2010). Her thesis examined the “Visual Griots” project (Mali, 2005), which was a cross-cultural outreach initiative that culminated in a photography exhibition that circulated in Mali and the United States. In completing this project, she discovered that despite the growing interest in exhibiting Photovoice images, much of the research surrounding this genre of photography is generated from scholars in the fields of sociology, education, and anthropology, and focuses on the methodologies, outcomes, and ethical implications of Photovoice as an academic research practice, rather than as a collaborative artistic practice.

In her dissertation, Jennifer continues to investigate how Photovoice projects touch on key themes in the field of art and visual culture. For this project, she draws on theories and methods used in visual culture studies, specifically those that examine how visual representations produce discourse, power, and knowledge (Hall 1997). Her point of departure for this research involves investigating participatory photography projects in Canada since the 1990s and situating these projects in the global trend of representing communities through Photovoice practices. Jennifer considers the photographic archives created through selected case studies against the methodological framework of the projects, as well as the history of representing marginalized groups in Canada. She is interested in addressing how Canadian Photovoice images function as sites where power and political rights are negotiated, which have a considerable and potentially longstanding impact on creating and disseminating knowledge about group identities.
This research is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.


“Somewhere In Between: Trans – (across, over, beyond) by Soheila Esfahani.” In Intersections. Edited by Jamie Quail, 7-10. London: University of Western Ontario, MFA Catalogue, 2010.

“Signs of Life: Relational Aesthetics and the [murmur] project.” Shift: Queen’s Graduate Journal of Visual and Material Culture, Iss. 2 (October 2009),

“Transformation AGO: It’s What’s Inside that Counts.” Fuse Magazine Vol. 32, Iss. 2 (Spring 2009), pp. 6-11.


Paper: “’Through the Eyes of Children’: Examining the Qualities of ‘Authenticity’ in Youth Photovoice Projects,” Histories of Photography, University Art Association of Canada (UAAC), University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, October 14-16, 2010.

Paper: “Reconsidering the Big Picture: The Reproduction and Circulation of Seydou Keïta’s Portrait Photographs,” Travelling Photographies, Concordia University, Art History Graduate Students Association, Montreal, QC, March 12-13, 2010.

Paper: “’Visual Griots’: Young Photographers as Agents of Political Discourse,” History of Photography–Where is the Future?–Cinema, Journalism, Fine Art, The City College of New York (CCNY/CUNY), Graduate Art History Club, New York, NY, May 29, 2009.

Paper: “Waking up to Balloon Dogs and Counting the Blue Chips,” I Don’t Care to Discuss It: Art, Media and the State in the Globalized Economy, Economizing Culture Graduate Seminar, Department of Visual Arts, UWO, London, ON, March 27, 2009.


Instructor of Record:
VAH2282E – History of Photography, 2010-2011 (UWO)

Teaching Assistant:
VAH3385E – Museum Studies, 2009-2010 (UWO)
VAH3385E – Museum Studies, 2008-2009 (UWO)

Certification: Western Certificate of Teaching and Learning, 2008-2010 (UWO)