There are no photographs on view in Real Pictures: An Installation by Alfredo Jaar at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Instead we see closed black boxes, stacked vertically in pillars or arranged in grids on the floor. The galleries are dark, funereal, with pale spots of light illuminating each group. The top of each box bears a description of the photo inside, a photo we cannot see. Jaar took all the photographs last year in Rwanda.

Jaar says his previous photo installations “contextualize the images in a different way than the media does.” But the war in Rwanda was so devastating that “I felt I had to change strategies. A genocide occurred there and the world turned a blind eye.” The thousands of horrific images served up by the media “didn’t make any difference–no one reacted.” Jaar says that’s because of the way media images are typically consumed: “You turn the page and there’s an advertisement or you watch an advertisement on TV after the news and then you go to bed and life goes on.”

Real Pictures was prompted by the inability of photographs to describe genocide. “Let’s go back to basics,” Jaar says. “Let’s talk about what happened. It’s almost an homage to literature, to the book, to the word–which is a strong tradition in Africa, oral tradition.” He thought of the images of Rwanda that were ignored at first. “If you didn’t see them, then maybe I’ll show the images in such a way that you might see them now.” He hoped that the little stories on each box in “this memorial to the people of Rwanda would make an effect on you that all the images of the world didn’t make.”

To the side of Jaar’s installation is a room full of news magazines with photo stories about the genocide. It’s all on view through March 25 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan. The New York-based Jaar will give a lecture at 6:30 this Thursday, March 9, in the adjacent Ferguson Theater of Columbia College; tickets cost $5. The museum is open 10 to 5 Monday through Friday (until 8 on Thursday) and noon to 5 on Saturday; admission is free. Call 663-5554 for more.