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Spotlight: The Chicago Photography Center

The Chicago Photography Center has been offering classes in photography in the city’s Lakeview neighborhood for close to 10 years. It grew out of a program in 1969 at the Jane Addams Community Center.

Its classes in film and digital photography cover all levels, from amateur through professional.

But the center’s reach doesn’t stop there. It aims to nurture the photographic community in the city through exhibitions, volunteerism and outreach in under-served areas.

Its gallery hosts exhibits monthly. Its current exhibit Cambodia Women — On the Other Side of Hope features the work of award-winning Chicago photojournalist José Moré. The photos, on display through April, capture ordinary Cambodian women transforming their lives and the lives of others.

Debuting May 4 is the exhibit Chiaroscuro, which will feature the work of Alison Harris, a dual citizen of the United States and France who lives and works in Paris. Chiaroscuro captures the grandness of Il Teatro Sociale di Camogli, a late 19th century theater on the Italian Riviera, before it was renovated. The center is coordinating with the Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Chicago for the exhibit. Harris will give a talk at 6 p.m. on May 4 with two other photographers, and an opening reception will follow from 7 to 9 p.m.

The exhibit "Chiaroscuro" will open May 4 at the Chicago Photography Center. (Photo Credit: Alison Harris, Courtesy Chicago Photography Center)

The center is at 3301 N. Lincoln Ave. Its office and gallery are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the gallery is free.

I had a chance to ask Susan Aurinko, the center’s curator, a few questions about the selection process behind the center’s exhibits. Aurinko also serves the center as a member of its board of directors, and she is an accomplished photographer in her own right. Her 40-image exhibition about India will tour the South Asian nation this year.

Susan Aurinko serves as curator at the Chicago Photography Center. (Photo Credit: Chicago Photography Center)

Colleen Kujawa: How does the center approach curating an exhibit?

Susan Aurinko: One thing that’s very important to me as curator is choosing work that (runs) across the entire spectrum of photographic styles, subjects and genres. It makes more exciting shows when each exhibition is very different from the last one and the next one.

CK: What do you look for in a photographer’s work?

SA: I look for good photography first. The work has to be top quality, with all the right elements for me to want to show it — composition, form, great dynamics, interesting subject matter.

CK: Do you mainly exhibit work by members of the center or do you reach out to professionals outside of the center?

SA: I try to balance showing our terrific student work with work from around the globe, meaningful work. In the past year, we have shown local work as well as work from Iraq, Cambodia, Italy and France. It’s good to mix it up — Chicago is a global city, so our exhibitions should be global as well.

CK: How often do you have exhibits?

SA: We have 11 exhibitions a year, so one nearly every month. An exciting development is the Student Gallery that will be opening on May 4 as an auxiliary gallery — it will always have student shows, from our regular classes, from our certificate program, After School Matters program, and The Outreach Program. The shows will rotate just like in the main gallery and will have openings in conjunction with the main gallery. It’s a very important program because nothing sells our classes like the fantastic work the students turn out, and they all deserve more than one or two shows a year because they work so hard.

The Chicago Photography Center has been located in the Lakeview neighborhood for nearly 10 years. (Photo Credit: Chicago Photography Center)

CK: What are some objectives for the exhibits? (For the sake of the public or for the sake of your students?)

SA: Both. I love exposing the public to myriad kinds of photography. I have always curated for both the artist and the viewer because that’s what makes a really good exhibition. I am very serious about gaining exposure for artists but also equally serious about giving the viewing public something worthwhile to spend time with. There is nothing as sad as an exhibition that people breeze through, where nothing, not a single image, really engages them. As a curator, it has always been very critical for me to engage the public with whatever is being shown.

Current exhibit:
Cambodia Women — On the Other Side of Hope
by photojournalist José Moré
April 2012
Chicago Photography Center Gallery
3301 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
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