"Sitter," the current exhibition in CCAD's Canzani Center Gallery, is an astounding display of portraiture. If you haven't seen "Sitter," I recommend it with the utmost urgency as it closes March 25.

“Sitter,” the current exhibition in CCAD’s Canzani Center Gallery, is an astounding display of portraiture. If you haven’t seen “Sitter,” I recommend it with the utmost urgency as it closes March 25.

One of the best elements of the exhibit is the discussions CCAD has held in conjunction with “Sitter,” bringing in luminaries like Dawoud Bey (who took President Barack Obama’s official portrait in 2008), along with groundbreaking contemporaries like Anna Shteynshleyger and Brian Ulrich.

The most recent event, “In Conversation with Kelli Connell and Doug Ischar,” took place on Monday, March 9, when the visiting artists were on-hand to discuss queer-identity politics in contemporary photography.

Connell and Ischar openly conversed about the gay or lesbian elements and influences in their photography — and video components, as the evening began with Ischar screening his three short films — and their personal lives. Both Connell and Ischar are widely respected photographers and teachers working in Chicago, but oddly enough had never met before that night.

While the pair discussed some technical aspects and conceptual ideas within their work, it was the personal stories they shared that I found most interesting, and gave just as much insight into their practice. Each artist discussed how some of their personal feelings (desire, aging, anxiety, angst) creeped into their work occasionally.

Perhaps the most candid moment came from Ischar when speaking about his wrestler film “Alone With You,” and why he chose to use archival footage rather than fresh shots. He said he’d immersed himself by “living with it for ages, and I’ve jerked off to it 100 times.”

Where the evening was most riveting was actually in the first question Shannon Benine, co-curator of “Sitter” and professor at CCAD, asked. How did they perceive “queer identity” in their work?

Connell and Ischar felt these concepts have a place in their work and it’s an important topic, but it could also “narrow” the dialog. Both used terms like “universal” and “exploring a whole range of identities” within their work. The two want their work to resonate with everyone regardless of sexuality. Job well done.

[Photo caption: View of Kelli Connell’s portraits in “Sitter”]