DARKROOM Leap Night Celebrates Excellence in Photography on the Rare Extra Day of the Year

Silver Camera Awardee Dawoud Bey was honored at DARKROOM for lasting legacy on Columbia College Chicago’s Photography Department and the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) .

The Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) hosted a celestial celebration on Leap Night honoring two iconic heavy hitters in photography and graphic design—Dawoud Bey, a renowned photography faculty member at Columbia College Chicago for twenty-five years, and Jason Pickleman from JNL Graphic Design, who were designers for MoCP for over two decades, created recognizable branding for many Chicago-based and nationally known companies.  

This year's DARKROOM had record-breaking attandence with 400 guests at the Student Center on the Columbia campus and raised $325,000, more than any other previous DARKROOM. The energized crowd sipped on cocktails and bid on original photographs by contemporary artists from around the world. All proceeds from DARKROOM supports essential MoCP exhibitions, education, and community engagement programs.

The on-stage conversation between MoCP Executive Director Natasha Egan and Dawoud Bey was the highlight of the evening. Having recently retired from Columbia after 25 years as a faculty member, Bey has made a name for himself photographing African American portraiture. In 2017, he received a MacArthur Genius Award for his accomplishments in photography.  His subjects come from all walks of ordinary life, and Bey amplifies their presence in the world through his work. A Girl with School Medals, 1988, which was up for auction at DARKROOM, is one of many portraits he’s photographed over the years.  

 “That photograph is really me bearing witness to this young black girl who was clearly performing, in a way, her accomplishments at the end of the school year,” says Bey. “And I wanted to inscribe that in a photograph.” 

 As this year’s Silver Camera Awardee, Bey’s legacy and impact on Columbia’s Photography Department has been nothing short of remarkable. Bey’s connection with Columbia started in 1993 when he completed a residency at MoCP that culminated in his inaugural Chicago exhibition. Then in 1998, he became a faculty member in the Photography Department where he worked for the next 25 years. Many students sought out the Photography program at Columbia specifically for the opportunity to study under Bey. Although he is now retired from teaching, Bey will continue to have an impact on Columbia students through his continued participation with MoCP.

Ross Sawyers, department chair of Photography, presented Bey with the Silver Camera Award and closed with these remarks.  

 “Dawoud is a dogged advocate for his students, the photography community, and the issues he holds dear. He is without a doubt one of the most significant and important artists of the 21st century, and it heartens me to know that our students, and art and photography students across the world, will be studying Dawoud’s work and learning how to be better artists and citizens for generations to come.” 

 As an international hub, MoCP generates ideas and provokes dialogue among students, artists and diverse communities through groundbreaking exhibitions and programming, including drawing from a collection of over 17,000 works by 1,950 artists. MoCP currently holds 60 of Bey’s photographs in its permanent collection online.


Dawoud Bey from Columbia College Chicago on Vimeo.