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Photography Is ________.

Welcome to Photography Is ____________.
A nine-month season of programs and exhibitions to mark a dual anniversary for photography at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Department of Photography is 40 years old, established in November 1974, and five years young, with new galleries for photography marking their fifth year in the Modern Wing! Join us in celebrating these anniversaries and exploring what photography is by visiting us often online and in person between September 2014 and May 2015.


Pop-Up Talks

Select Fridays at 1:00
Through April 10, 2015
Meet in Gallery 100

Artist Talk: James Welling

Thursday, March 19, 2015
6:00 p.m.
Fullerton Hall

The Hugh Edwards Lecture

With Wolfgang Tillmans
Thursday, June 4, 2015
6:00 p.m.
Rubloff Auditorium

In 1929, Hugh Edwards came to the Art Institute of Chicago from Paducah, Kentucky, with a high-school education and several years’ work experience at the local library. After starting at our own Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Edwards joined the Department of Prints and Drawings while independently pursuing a love of photography. In 1958—nearly 30 years after joining the museum—Edwards was named Associate Curator of Photographs, and thereby became able to merge his avocation and his vocation into a single career.

Hugh Edwards ran an exhibitions and acquisitions program in photography for 12 years, until his retirement in 1970. In honor of his tremendous dedication and achievements, an annual lecture has been established with the aim to bring the most significant, internationally renowned practitioners of our time to as broad an audience as possible.

The inaugural Hugh Edwards Lecture in Photography will be given by Wolfgang Tillmans and is made possible through an endowment from the Crossed Purposes Foundation.


Symposium: Giulio Paolini

Friday, February 6, 2015
11:00 a.m.
Morton Auditorium

Artist Talk: John Gossage

Thursday, January 22, 2015
6:00 p.m.
Fullerton Hall

Gallery Talk: Exhibition Overview of The City Lost and Found

Tuesday, December 2, 2014
12:00 p.m.
Meet in Griffin Court

Keynote Lecture: All Out in the Streets

Thursday, November 20, 2014
6:30 p.m.
Fullerton Hall

Conversation and Tasting: Marcus Samuelsson and Dawoud Bey

Sunday, November 9, 2014
1:00 p.m.
Rubloff Auditorium and Millennium Park Room

Artist Talk: Duane Michals—My Visit with Magritte

Thursday, September 25, 2014
6:00 p.m.
Fullerton Hall

Panel Discussion: Sarah Charlesworth

With Laurie Simmons, Sara VanDerBeek, Liz Deschenes, and Kate Linker
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
6:00 p.m.
Fullerton Hall

In the Galleries

Sarah Charlesworth: Stills

Gallery 188, Modern Wing
September 18, 2014–January 4, 2015

August Sander

Gallery 189, Modern Wing
September 18, 2014–January 4, 2015

Photography Is ______________.

Gallery 10, lower level
October 11, 2014–April 12, 2015
From press pictures to artist’s books, tiny stereo cards to monumental installations, anonymous snapshots to fine-art prints, local life architecture to scenes set in London or Okinawa, the photographic takes many forms, has many uses, and is at home around the world. It can be nearly anything, anywhere.

Photography Is is made possible by the generous support of the Black Dog Fund and Stuart Family Fund. In-kind support is provided by Tru-Vue, Inc.

Giulio Paolini and the Unfixed Photograph

Gallery 1, lower level
October 11, 2014–April 12, 2015

The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, 1960–1980

Galleries 283–285, Modern Wing
October 26, 2014–January 11, 2015

James Welling: Diary/Landscape

Galleries 2–3, lower level
November 1, 2014–April 12, 2015

Moyra Davey

Gallery 4, lower level 
November 1, 2014–April 12, 2015

John Gossage: Three Routines

Galleries 188–189, Modern Wing
January 22–May 3, 2015

Shatter, Rupture, Break

Galleries 182–184, Modern Wing
February 15–May 3, 2015


Riot of Modernism: A self-guided virtual tour

At the heart of the Gallery 10 display for Photography Is hangs a wall packed with more than 60 gems from the museum’s collection. These works span a century, from around 1890 through 1990, of modernist experiment: Atget to Mike Kelley, Surrealism to Vietnam, political activism to hilarious amateur snapshots. A lively, purposeful jumble, this wall of photographs, stretching nearly 60 feet, is just one way to organize the history of modernism.

Edward Steichen’s World War I album (coming soon)

Virtually leaf through the 84-plate album compiled by Steichen in 1919, just after he had completed his first tour of duty as chief of photography for the United States Armed Forces.


Irving Penn Archives

Launched in 2012, and updated twice since then, this award-winning site offers an extensive history of Penn’s life and career, drawn from his archival papers and 1,300 photographs in the Art Institute’s holdings.


Scroll through the complete history of an exhibition. Every memo, e-mail, and planning document connected to Parcours, a show conceived by artists Liz Deschenes (American, born 1966) and Florian Pumhösl (Austrian, born 1971) with Art Institute curator Matthew S. Witkovsky (American, born 1967). Parcours was on view in the Modern Wing’s Bucksbaum Gallery April 21–September 9, 2012.

Jindřich Heisler: From the Strongholds of Sleep

This online resource offers the first translation into English of a brilliant and radical photobook experiment that survives only in fewer than a dozen copies (one of which is held in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute). Heisler, a surrealist poet with a keen artistic sensibility, created this highly original book by writing poems, then setting up the letters on a tabletop and surrounding them with playful toys and objects. He had the arrangements photographed to make a book of true picture-poems. This resource was first developed for the exhibition Jindřich Heisler: Surrealism under Pressure, on view March 31–July 1, 2012.

The Three Graces

Named after the iconic Western art motif, The Three Graces was an exhibition held October 29, 2011–February 5, 2012, of over 500 anonymous found snapshots featuring trios of women. These photos, dating from the turn of the 20th century to the 1970s and largely American in origin, span decades during which photography skyrocketed in popularity among amateurs and handheld film cameras multiplied exponentially in number and variety. Search through these snapshots by date or theme to see the evolution of amateur photography and maybe even discover a familiar face.

Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage

Playing with Pictures, which opened at the Art Institute in 2009, was the first exhibition to examine how Victorian women cut out newly available photographs and pasted them into watercolor designs to create whimsical and often surreal compositions. This web module explores the exhibition’s themes and selected works and offers a complete look at a rare object in the museum’s collection: the 114-page “Madame B” album.

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.