Museum of Contemporary Photography RE: COLLECTION Exhibit Review – A Mind Meld of Social Issues


As a way to celebrate the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s large archive of photographs, students at Columbia College Chicago present re:collection, a large stream of photographs shown throughout the museum.

The exhibit is split into five separate rooms (West Gallery, East Gallery, North Gallery, Mezzanine, and Print Study Room) with each room having it’s own theme. This exhibit features so much photograph, we are surprised to see that even the stairwells are filled with photos! The photos in each room fit under one theme but the way that they interact with neighboring photographs is up to the visitor to decide. Some neighboring photos go together while others contrast each other. As a result, this exhibit aims to explore how people perceive and ultimately pushes it’s viewers to make connections between what they see.

MoCP Curator Tour

We are on hand at the exhibit tour, held an hour prior to the exhibit’s opening reception on a Thursday night. The museum is full of students and staff who are chatting and running around the exhibit, putting the finishing touches before the official opening reception. On the tour we see a diverse group of people at the exhibit, students, photographers, art enthusiasts and even a little boy in soccer uniform. The tour is lead by graduate student organizers, Kalin Haydon, Carissa Meier and Shawn Rowe in addition to Sophie Haslinge, the curatorial research fellow and Vienna, the Assistant Curator at Kunst Haus Wien. Starting this tour, we are introduced to this exhibit as a “mind meld” of different ideas led by various organizers who takes us room by room.

Carissa starts the tour of the rooms, introducing some of the photographs in the West Gallery. Walking into the exhibit the first thing a visitor sees is the 180-foot long photogram by Kei Ito. This photograms hangs from the ceiling and makes its way down to the floor, and even though it’s not spread out in it 180-foot long glory, it’s quite a feat. What looks like yellow-orange embers surround the black circles made by Ito in this record of sunlight and time.

Later, Kalin walks us through the small North Gallery. The main focus of this room is how people can connect to environments on spiritual and religious levels. One large photo by Evan Baden touches on the theme of religion with his piece titled, The Baptist, a modern day interpretation of Jesus’s baptism. With vibrant colors this photograph places the male and female subjects in a pool with the woman in the water, held by the male subject. Unlike typical baptisms, this one takes place in a pool with both subjects in their everyday clothes. Religion and pop culture are intersecting more and more, with this photo seeming to show the contrast between the twenty first century and traditional religion.

The Baptist, from the A Conversão de São Paulo series by Evan Baden Nathalie Nivasnanda
(Top L-R) In Goa, India Sept 11th & Grasshopper on rose, Kennesaw, Georgia & Wearing army uniform for me, Kennesaw, Georgia & Ghetto sled (Bottom L-R) Caroline, Kennesaw, Georgia & September 12, 2001 Herald newspaper, Montreal & Caroline's World by Joanna R. Rockport, Maine. ALL by Guillaume Simoneau Nathalie Nivasnanda

Social Issues

Not one to shy away from modern issues today, the museum shows such issues as gun control and immigration— issues are at the forefront of our society, often debated amongst our politicians and even everyday citizens.

Vienna takes us to the East Gallery showing us the effects of violence. Inspired by real life people and events such as 9/11, we are able to see how violence and war affect individuals. Artist, Guillaume Simoneau documents his relationship with a woman named Caroline who after 9/11 enlisted in the US army. Made up of seven photos, we see their relationship in more peaceful times depicted by pink flowers. We then see the seriousness in Caroline stiff as a board, standing in her uniform, not looking at the camera.

Leading us up the stairs, Sean takes us to the Mezzanine with photos depicting ideas on border, immigration and political and institutional power. This section of the museum is especially daunting for visitors to see, given our political climate. We get glimpses into immigration from both sides, immigrants and those whose job is to keep them out. This section takes a focus on Mexican immigrants who cross the border. Marcela Taboada’s Emigrantes, Oaxaca Mexico, depicts a child sleeping on a person’s shoulder. This black and white photo, focuses on the sleeping child in the sun, while in the background, we see a man and his scrunched up face staring back at the camera. This man seems to be stressed, yet strong and aware of his surroundings, unlike the sleeping child.

This is in contrast to the photos by David Taylor, showing the perspective of the people patrolling the border. We see photos inside the facility-keeping immigrants out of the country, and the work it takes to keep immigrants out. There is barely any person in these photos, which instead focus on the technologies and inventions that America uses to keep immigrants from crossing the border.

(Top L-R) Carnival & Head to Head (Bottom L-R) Reflection & Inquire Within. ALL by Kelli Connell Nathalie Nivasnanda

Ending this exhibit, we walk up another set of stairs landing at the Print Study Room. Kelli Connell in her series, American, explores gender. In this set, a single model plays two roles in each photograph. One photo, for example, features the pregnant model laying sideways in bed, cradling its baby bump while on the other side, we can see the second model in bed sleeping in the soldier position. The purpose of this is to explore gender roles and sexuality, challenging the viewer on their own notions of identity and social constructs. These photos challenge us, in this time when gender identities are becoming front of mind in popular culture, to acknowledge our own notions.


One cool feature with this exhibit is the use of the app, SMARTIFY, a free phone application that gives a viewer more information about a certain photography by just scanning a photograph. Before we end the tour, we are encouraged to download the application on our own devices for more information as a way to make our own connections with these exhibits while we explore the exhibit on our own.

To use the application, the viewer must open SMARTIFY, hold the camera up to the photograph. Then the applications will scan the photograph and before you know it a black screen pops up with more information on the artist.

This only works on some photographs in the exhibit but is a very helpful guide to getting the backstory of many photographs in the exhibit. The museum labels don’t have much of this backstory. Smartify isn’t a necessary tool to enjoy the exhibit but it is an added bonus feature to the exhibit.

Tulips: RG #16 by Mary Koga, from the "Floral & Leaves" series, 1971, portfolio 1982-1996

Re:collection by the MoCP is a thought-provoking exhibit taking each room and viewer on a ride whether it’s exploring our environment, religion or government policies. Although some parts may seem random, it provides a mind meld of various issues drawing a spotlight on diverse groups of people— whether it’s woman in the Israeli army to those whose gender identity isn’t the norm. The exhibit touches on issues that are more than ever pressing topics today and the trip out to see this exhibit is definitely worth it.


Now until October 1, 2017


Museum of Contemporary Photography

600 South Michigan Avenue

Chicago, IL 60605



First Slider Photos

Photo #1 - (Top Left) Evidence No. 2 by Angela Strassheim, 2009

(Lower Left) 29 Palms: Mechanized Assault by An-My Lê 2003-2004

(Top Right) Wearing Veteran's Day present, Kennesaw, Georgia by Guillaume Simoneau from the "Love and War" series, 2009

(Lower Right) Moments Later the Rage Began to Settle by Alison Ruttan from "The Four Year War at Gombe" series, 2009

Photo #2 - (Top Right) Shotgun Blast by Christian Patterson, 2011

(Bottom Right) Dana, a sniper instructor, outside her roomKibbutz Kfar Hanassi, Israel (#25) by Rachel Papo, from the Serial No. 3817131 portfolio, 2004

(Top Left) Grasshopper on roseKennesaw, Georgia by Guillaume Simoneau from the “Love and War” series, 2006 

Second Slider Photos 

Sungazing Scroll by Kei Ito, 2015

Third Slider Photos

Emigrantes, Oaxaca, Mexico, by Marcela Taboada from the "Women of Clay" series, 2001

Camera Room, New Mexico by David Taylor from the "Working the Line" series, 2009

Photos Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Photography

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