Blog: MCA DNA Index

Reading Images: Setting Opinion Aside

By Sheila Majumdar

Featured images

Two narrow white glowing rectangles depicting a man illuminate a pitch-black room. The horizontal box on the right hangs high on the wall; the other leans against the wall to the left.
Alfredo Jaar, Cries and Whispers, 1988, Duratrans and light boxes, Two parts, each: 18 × 96 × 7 in. (45.7 × 243.8 × 17.8 cm), Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Howard and Donna Stone, 1996.7.a–b
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

blog intro

At a glance, images appear static, immutable. But when you describe them in words, personal associations, biases, and individual flourishes of style and tone begin to enter the picture. Though bringing prior experiences to bear while viewing art is unavoidable and valuable, when describing images for blind and low-vision people it is necessary to put aside opinion in favor of objectivity.

In the second installment of our Coyote description series we describe two works, one currently featured in our Above, Before & After exhibition, the other from the exhibition Refugee at the Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles. Both works document vulnerable subjects, humanizing populations that are under attack in this moment in history. Yet in describing these images, I have focused on the visual content so that the images can speak for themselves.

Cries and Whispers, 1988

Two narrow glowing rectangles depicting a man illuminate a pitch-black room. The horizontal box on the right hangs high on the wall; the other leans vertically against the wall to the left.

In a pitch-black room, two long, rectangular light boxes hung on opposite sides glow white, illuminating the room. The one on the right is hung high up, horizontal to the ceiling. The one on the left is oriented vertically and rests on the floor, leaning against the wall. It leaves a reflection on the floor. At the corner of each box is a photograph of the same man. He is old, with pale skin and an angular face, grey hair, and shadowed eyes. In the horizontal box, we see a cropped image of his solemn face at the far left. In the vertical box, he is positioned at the bottom. Wearing white, loose-fitting clothes, he appears to sit cross-legged on the ground.

Lesbos, Greece, October 2015

A tan-skinned man holds up a young, smiling child in front of a wide expanse of choppy water, distant low-lying hills, and a cloudy sky.

A man holds a small, young child in the air in the foreground of this black-and-white, horizontal photograph. The man, who has tan skin and cropped, wavy black hair, wears a white button-up shirt, dark pants, and a plaid scarf with fringe. Squinting, he lifts the child up and away from his torso so that they both face the camera. The child looks off to the right of the camera smiling and wears furry boots, black pants, and a light gray, zip-up hoody. The hood is up, framing round cheeks and a thick, shock of straight black bangs. To their right opens a vast landscape, the bottom third of which is filled by dark choppy water. The water meets the base of a hazy range of low-lying hills, and a large expanse of a cloudy sky looms above, darkening near the top of the image. Camouflaged along the bottom of the image is a man in pants and a T-shirt, sitting and looking down. To his right is a stack of black inner-tubes and a gravelly shore strewn with white life vests.

Artist Takeover: Basim Magdy