The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago’s collection of photography shows a particular influence of conceptual art, when the desire for spontaneity and instinct was replaced by an interest in mass media and industrial reproduction. After the 1960s, much of the photography being produced could be characterized as highly premeditated, systematic, and staged: in other words, embodying the idea of “think first, shoot later.” Think First, Shoot Later: Photography from the MCA Collection, on view May 18 to November 10, 2013, presents some of the most dominant issues defining the field of photography today. The exhibition is organized by Michael Darling, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator, with assistance from Kristin Korolowicz, Marjorie Susman Curatorial Fellow.

Composed mostly of works from the MCA Collection with some loans from the Chicago community, Think First, Shoot Later examines many of the defining artists and themes in conceptual photography over the past four decades. The exhibition is presented in four sections: The Dusseldorf School, Constructing Images of the Self, Photography Looks at Itself, and Staged. The Dusseldorf School of photography, led by Bernd and Hilla Becher, includes major works by Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, and Candida Hofer. Vancouver was another hotbed of conceptual approaches to photography, represented by artists who create dramatically staged and meticulous photographs including works by Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham, and Stan Douglas. Feminist artists of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s such as Cindy Sherman, Ana Mendieta, Lorna Simpson, and Sophie Calle are included in the Constructing Images of the Self section. Other featured artists who work in a very conceptual way and borrow freely across the range of photographic possibilities include James Welling, Wolfgang Tillmans, Torbjørn Rødland, and Elad Lassry.