Jump to content



A person stands silhouetted in front of a square wall of fluorescent light in a dark space.

Alfredo Jaar, The Sound of Silence, 2006. Wood, metal, fluorescent tubes, LED lights, video projection, flash lights, and tripods; dimensions variable. Installation view, Hangar Bicocca, Milan, Italy, 2008. Software designed by Ravi Rajan. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, purchased jointly by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, with funds provided by the Pritzker Traubert Visionary Art Acquisition Fund and the Susan Devine Camilli Foundation, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, through the Committee on Modern and Contemporary Art, and with funds contributed by an anonymous donor, 2014.33

Photo: Agostino Osio

Kerry James Marshall, Mementos, 1998. Chromogenic development print; framed: 31 x 27 in. (78.7 x 68.9 cm); sheet: 20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 60.9 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of the Susan and Lewis Manilow Collection of Chicago Artists, 2003.32

© 1998 Kerry James Marshall. Photo: Michal Raz-Russo, © MCA Chicago

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #14, 1978. Gelatin silver print; sheet: 10 × 8 in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm); frame: 16 3/8 × 14 1/2 × 1 1/2 in. (41.6 × 36.8 × 3.8 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Lannan Foundation, 1997.56

Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
An open field of green grass sits beneath a blue sky with wispy clouds. In the foreground, flat sheets of beige wood imperfectly cover a brown hole in the grass. Leafy green trees line the horizon in the distance.

Jason Lazarus, Standing at the Grave of Emmett Till, day of exhumation, June 1st, 2005 (Alsip, IL), 2005. Archival ink-jet print; 43 x 56 in. (109.2 × 142.2 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, restricted gift of Emerge, Aviva Samet and James Matanky, and anonymous donors, in memory of Andree Stone, 2012.18. © 2005 Jason Lazarus

Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

About the Exhibition

The photographer as witness is a familiar conceit, one that evokes the artist's responsibility to observe the lives of others. It's a role that has been reinforced by traditions of photojournalism, documentary photography, and anthropology, while taking on new forms and renewed urgency in recent years. The photographs in Witness, drawn largely from the MCA's collection, put pressure on familiar understandings of the photographer's role as self-appointed observer. These works record, reflect on, or stage different kinds of encounters between photographer and subject. In doing so, the artists lead us to think about the various people who play a part in a given photograph—including the viewer—and how they contribute to, or sometimes confound, what it seems to convey.

Witness begins with a prelude: photographs from the 1940s by Walker Evans that covertly capture subway riders looking around at their fellow commuters. It culminates with a major installation by Alfredo Jaar from 2006, The Sound of Silence, which surveys the life of photojournalist Kevin Carter and the repercussions of a single prize-winning photograph he took in Sudan. In between, the exhibition presents photographic works from the 1960s through the 2000s by artists such as Dawoud Bey, Christian Boltanksi, Sophie Calle, Larry Clark, Sharon Lockhart, Kerry James Marshall, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman, and Carrie Mae Weems.

This exhibition is organized by Karsten Lund, former Curatorial Assistant.

It is presented in the Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel Galleries on the museum’s second floor.


Support for Witness is generously provided by The Pritzker Traubert Collection Exhibition Fund, the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation, De and Paul Gray, Vicki and Bill Hood, Deone Jackman, and Lisa Yun Lee.