MoCP captures 40 years of photography


Dolly Nguyen

The 2015–2016 season begins with “Grace of Intention: Photography, Architecture and the Monument” in October.

By Frank Enyart, Arts & Culture Reporter

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, located on the first floor of the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building, will showcase a series of exhibitions during its 2015–2016 season, highlighting photography’s ability to document cultural change.

“It’s really the best for chronicling transformations in our built environments and political landscapes,” said Karen Irvine, MoCP curator and associate director.

The ability of still images to document shifts in a constantly changing environment is a quality Irvine said is inherent in photography. This property is also embodied in the museum’s commemorative exhibit, “MoCP at 40,” celebrating the museum’s history and  extensive archives.

Photographs in the installation capture monumental shifts in culture, through portions dedicated to the civil rights movement and iconic images such as Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” and jarring photos of segregated water fountains.

Assistant Curator Allison Grant said she hopes these iconic photos will offer visitors context for smaller moments within a larger picture.

“There won’t be wall labels,” Grant said. “We wanted it to be a powerful visual experience that wasn’t interrupted by too much immediate contextualization or language.”

The decision to let the visuals speak for themselves—allowing the clothes and other elements to provide contextualization—is a choice Grant said she hopes will encourage an organic immersion with the  work.

Photos such as a rare image of a mourning Jackie Kennedy at President John F. Kennedy’s funeral or Civil Rights images will serve as points of entry into a much broader conversation, Grant said. The ability for these images to serve as a gateway to the medium, as well as its history, is significant as another installation in the “MoCP at 40” exhibit features a mezzanine installation chronicling the history and nuances of photography.

“The Petcoke Project,” an effort  in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southeast Environmental Task Force, is aimed at rallying Chicago residents to combat petroleum coke—or petcoke—a by-product of oil production that is currently being dumped on the Southeast Side of Chicago.

Terry Evans, a well-known environmental photographer and Hyde Park resident, along with members of the NRDC, approached Irvine and the MoCP staff about doing an exhibit that would highlight the petcoke problem.

Evans said she “wanted to show how local people are affected by large corporate use of their land.”

Following the current exhibition, “North Korean Perspectives,” the season begins with “Grace of Intention,” an exhibit focusing on how the symbolism of monuments changes throughout time, which will run from Oct. 15 to Dec. 23.

“MoCP at 40” runs Jan. 14 to March 24, 2016. “Burnt Generation,” an expose of Iranian life, runs April 7 to July 10, 2016, and the “Petcoke Project” closes the season, running July 21 to Oct. 9, 2016.