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“Limits of Photography” at Museum of Contemporary Photography

If you’re a photography addict like I am, then the Museum of Contemporary Photography should be one of your must-see cultural destinations in Chicago. Located at Columbia College, the museum has the distinction of being the only institution dedicated solely to photography in the Midwest, and it has the added bonus of being free and open to the public. Their latest exhibition, “The Limits of Photography,” is in its final week, and I highly recommend seeing it before it’s gone.

Randy Hayes, Pass Christian Mississippi, 2011. Images courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

“The Limits of Photography” is built on a dual premise. First, the artists push the medium to the point that it is barely recognizable as photography. Second, there are limits to our perception – we all too often confuse photography with reality. So often it’s the “truth” of the document, and the romantic notion of seeing through the eyes of the photographer that draws us to photographs. This exhibit challenges that. The work of these artists fills you with discomfort or melancholy, a sense of something being “off,” yet it draws your eye regardless.

Doug Stapleton, Push, 2011. Images courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

These artists utilize manipulation to make the familiar unfamiliar. Sally Ketcham’s eerie images of Southern Californian housing developments are washed out, layered with rippling textures and splashes of blood red and acid yellow, like the photographic remnants of some apocalypse. Doug Stapleton creates unusual collages with images culled from the pages of art history. John Brill uses chemical processes and darkroom ingenuity to strip photographs, leaving them hazy whispers of their true selves. When left with the barest of details, our imaginations are free to fill in the rest, with both terrifying and fascinating results.

So often photography seeks to challenge us by the “truth” of what we’re seeing. This exhibit is unique in that is challenges us to see, and it’s a definitely a worthy challenge.

“The Limits of Photography” will be up through March 25. For museum hours and location, click here. Additionally, W.J.T. Mitchell, a scholar and theorist of media, visual art, and literature based at the University of Chicago, will be giving a lecture on “The Limits of Digital Photography” on March 20 at 6:30 p.m.