Why the title?

Photography is _______________.

You fill in the blank.

From press pictures to artist’s books, tiny daguerreotypes to monumental inkjets, anonymous snapshots to celebrity portraits, Chicago architecture to work made in Mali or Japan, the photographic takes many forms, occupies many levels and uses, and has spread around the world. It can be nearly anything, anywhere. And photographs can hold an incompatible variety of meanings, depending on the knowledge we bring to them.

Check out live events and online offerings to get the scope of the season. Come see what’s on view and visit our new and past web projects. Make your own connections online as you browse through and give us feedback. Photography is . . . everything!

What are we celebrating?

Forty years ago in November 1974 the Department of Photography was established at the Art Institute of Chicago. The museum had shown photographs regularly since 1900 and had been collecting them actively since 1949. One year later, a dedicated photography gallery was created, and in 1958 Hugh Edwards became the museum’s first curator for photography. Creating the department was nevertheless a decisive shift toward full acceptance for an exhibitions and acquisitions program for photography, one that culminated in the creation in 1982 of a new set of galleries in the lower level of the Allerton Building, along with full storage and conservation facilities and a spacious study room. In 2012 space was made available in an adjacent gallery for six-month rotations chosen from the 23,000 prints in the permanent collection, spanning the breadth of photography’s history from the 1830s through to the present.

Another great shift came just five years ago, with the completion of the Modern Wing and the addition of the Carolyn S. and Matthew Bucksbaum Gallery for Photography on the ground floor of that new building. The Bucksbaum and the Allerton Building galleries have developed as complementary spaces, offering new possibilities for presenting both exhibitions and the permanent collection. Some 35% of Art Institute visitors now enjoy presentations of photography each year at the museum.

Photography Is celebrates both of these five- and forty-year anniversaries. The exhibitions this season are drawn exclusively from the most significant acquisitions made since the opening of the Modern Wing five years ago. Some of those acquisitions further core strengths established over the past forty years at the Art Institute, as in the areas of 19th-century French photography or experimental photography from the early 20th-century. Others indicate new lines of inquiry developed in the past half-decade, including art of the 1960s and 1980s and postwar Japanese photography. Nearly 350 photographs will go on view, many for the first time.

Along with the exhibitions, a season of programs and outreach awaits—spotlight talks, brand new online content, major artists speaking in Fullerton Hall, and the inauguration of the Hugh Edwards Lecture in Photography, the first named annual lecture in the field at any American museum.