Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Blog

Scene and herd: Tracking bison with photographer Edgardo Aragón

The latest video project by Edgardo Aragón – a finalist in the 2013 AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize – tracks bison across North American, in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories, in Yellowstone National Park and near Chihuahua in Mexico, his home country. We talked to him about the project, made possible by his AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize residency.

AGO: Of the three places you visited for your project, which was the most surprising, in terms of defying your expectations? Why?
Edgardo Aragón: I was very surprised and still I am about Fort Smith. Given the conditions under which people live in this place, it could seem impossible that there’s life there, but life exists, along with one of the strangest lights that I will ever see in my life.

Since going to these places, has your plan for the project changed?
Whenever I plan a new project, I always expect that the circumstances change the nature of the project itself. In this case the change happened, without a doubt. Natural conditions modify the project a great deal, complementing and giving body to it in a way that a sketch could not. I’m satisfied.

Many animal species migrate – why did you choose to focus on bison?
I chose the bison for two reasons. The first is that it had a natural frontier that would shift according to the climate conditions, modifying substantially the life of the First Nations people who depended on the bison to survive. They would conform to the bison’s behaviour. That’s why the project is not, in fact, trying to create a portrait of bison so much as one of the invisible men that has ceased to live in harmony with it.

The second reason is that this animal species does’t migrate. After nearly becoming extinct at the hands of the white man, it has endured some sort of domestication. Today it is a species in the process of recuperation in Mexico and Canada. It is curious to note that in the U.S., where there are more reserves, the bison is not a protected species and is limited to its territories. This domestication is an aspect of extermination as well, of the animal and its animal nature and, of course, of what little spirit of the First Nations people remains.

Why did you decide to use video for this project instead of still images?
Video is a more organic tool, more malleable. You can move it in many directions to generate a specific discourse or an open one. I think I choose video because I like having elements that are closer to a sense of physical presence, closer to the movement of the apparatus, to the presence of a witness and specifically to the manipulation of time. Duration plays a fundamental role in establishing the dimensions of the theme. The sounds of the places or the absence of such sounds plays a fundamental role in the atmospheres that I’m trying to convey and generate in the project.

When you gave an interview to the Northern Journal, you said, “In a way, the real subject of the video project does not exist…It’s an invisible phantom.” Can you elaborate on that? What is the real subject?
The subject I am portraying is the human who lived with the presence of the bison. That way of life is poorly understood by Eurocentric cultures. That was what I was interested in discovering or portraying. I followed the path of the bison because it represents the way First Nations people lived. All the vacant spaces left around the bison are the spaces left by earlier lives – lives lived within the cultural shock generated by contact with Europe – and the near-extermination of the bison. The creation of reserves for the native people of the Americas were really the extermination of a spirit that generated a sense of life.

With the westernisation of North America a philosophy of life was destroyed – a loss which we have not been able to fully understand yet. This is why I like to think about this video as a portrait of an invisible human being, a portrait of a philosophy of life inherent to the creative and cultural spirit of a human being that disappeared many years ago. The presence of reserves for human and animal species is only one of its forms of annihilation. This is the central objective of the project.

All photos courtesy of the artist. Keep up with this year’s Aimia | AGO Photography Prize on Twitter and Facebook.

The 2014 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize: Meet the jury

Voting won’t begin until late summer, but the 2014 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize is well underway. Over the past few months, individuals around the world have been researching and discussing exciting new ideas and directions in fine art photography and putting forward the names of artists whose recent work has shown extraordinary potential. The nominators — a group of 13 curators, critics and artists — submit two artists each for inclusion on the long list, and then a three-person jury selects a short list of four. Later this year, the shortlisted artists’ work will be exhibited at the AGO and online, and the public vote will decide who wins the $50,000 CAD prize.

We’re happy to introduce you to this year’s jury, led by the AGO’s associate curator of photography, Sophie Hackett, and we hope you’ll follow along as the Prize develops in 2014. Keep an eye out for long-list and short-list announcements in the coming months, and follow the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize on Facebook and Twitter for more news.

This year’s jury:


Sophie Hackett is the Associate Curator, Photography, at the Art Gallery of Ontario and adjunct faculty in Ryerson University’s master’s program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management. She has contributed to several Canadian art magazines, international journals and monographs, and she has curated or co-curated several exhibitions and public projects at the AGO, including Suzy Lake: Rhythm of a True Space (2008); Barbara Kruger: Untitled (It) (2010); “Where I was born…”: A Photograph, a Clue and the Discovery of Abel Boulineau (2011); Songs of the Future: Canadian Industrial Photographs, 1858 to Today (2011); Album: A Public Project (2012) and Light My Fire: Some Propositions about Portraits and Photography (2013-2014), a wide-ranging consideration of the photographic portrait, drawn from the AGO’s permanent collection. Upcoming projects include What It Means To be Seen: Photography and Queer Visibility and Fan the Flames: Queer Positions in Photography — both opening in June 2014. She is the lead juror for the 2014 AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize, a role she also held in 2010 and 2012.

Laurie Simmons

Laurie Simmons (b.1949, USA) stages photographs and films with paper dolls, finger puppets, ventriloquist dummies and costumed dancers as “living objects,” animating a dollhouse world suffused with nostalgia and colored by an adult’s memories, longings, and regrets. Simmons’ work blends psychological, political, and conceptual approaches to art-making, transforming photography’s propensity to objectify people, especially women, into a sustained critique of the medium. She has received many awards, including the Roy Lichtenstein Residency in the Visual Arts at the American Academy in Rome (2005), and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1997) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1984). She has had major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Baltimore Museum of Art; San Jose Museum of Art, California; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and she has participated in two Whitney Biennial exhibitions (1985, 1991) and was included in the 2013 Venice Biennial. Her work is represented in many noted collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others.


Okwui Enwezor is a Nigerian-born, German-based scholar, curator, and writer and has been director of Haus der Kunst since October 2011. He was adjunct curator at International Center of Photography, New York, and previously adjunct curator of Contemporary Art, at the Art Institute of Chicago. Enwezor has served as the artistic director of several leading biennials and international exhibitions and in December 2013 he was appointed as director of the Visual Arts Sector of the 56th Biennale di Venezia. Enwezor’s curatorial credits include exhibitions presented in museums and venues across the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, including Guggenheim Museum, Tate Modern, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona, Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, PS1 / MoMA, New York and the National Gallery of Canada. Enwezor has received numerous awards and honors for his work including an honourary fellowship from the Royal College of Art, London (2010) and an award for Curatorial Excellence from Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture, Bard College (2009). He lives in Munich and New York.

This year’s nominators were:

  • Grant Arnold, Audain Curator of British Columbia Art, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver
  • Veronica Cordeiro, curator, Centro de Fotografía de Montevideo, Uruguay
  • Moyra Davey, artist and nominee for the 2010 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize (then called the Grange Prize)
  • Jon Davies, associate curator, Oakville Galleries
  • Gary Dufour, adjunct associate professor, University of Western Australia and former chief curator/deputy director, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
  • Tamar Garb, Durning Lawrence Professor in the History of Art, University College, London, U.K.
  • Gauri Gill, artist and winner of the 2011 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize (then called the Grange Prize)
  • Marie-Josée Jean, head of the VOX Contemporary Image Centre, Montreal
  • Mami Kataoka, chief curator, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
  • Beatrix Ruf, director/curator, Kunsthalle Zürich, Zurich
  • Jonathan Shaughnessy, associate curator, Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
  • Brian Sholis, associate curator of Photography at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati
  • Kim Simon, curator, Gallery TPW, Toronto

Looking ahead: The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize in 2014

Vince Timpano (left), with 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize winner Erin Shirreff and AGO director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum

Vince Timpano (left), with 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize winner Erin Shirreff and AGO director and CEO Matthew Teitelbaum.

In November 2013, before an excited crowd at AGO First Thursdays, Canadian artist Erin Shirreff was named as winner of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize. Shirreff receives the $50,000 cash prize and will head to the Maritimes in spring 2014 for her residency. Meanwhile, visitors to the AGO can see her work and that of the other shortlisted photographers — Edgardo Aragón, LaToya Ruby Frazier and Chino Otsuka — until Jan. 5, 2014, inside the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize exhibition.

In the new year, another exciting part of the Prize program begins. The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Scholarship Program will award three $7,000 scholarships each year to students entering their final year of study toward Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees with a focus or major in photography. The scholarships are awarded to students at select Canadian academic institutions who have shown extraordinary potential throughout their undergraduate studies. This year’s partner schools are OCAD University, Ryerson University, Concordia University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University (NSCAD), Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), Université du Québec and the University of Manitoba. The program also awards $1000 CAD honorariums to the schools of the winning students.

Starting in March 2014, each academic partner institution will form a jury of three faculty members to review their students’ submissions and select one finalist, and the finalists will be evaluated by the Scholarship Program jury, consisting of two representatives from the Art Gallery of Ontario and a previous winner of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize.

In November 2014, the three winners of the scholarship and a faculty member of their respective institution will be invited to Toronto to celebrate their success, where they will meet the artists short-listed for the Prize and attend the winner announcement celebration.

Next year, the Prize cycle will begin again, with nominators and jurors named in early spring, long-list and short-list announcements over the summer, before a new round of voting next fall. We hope you’ll follow along with us and discover some of the world’s best photo-based art in 2014.

Stay connected with the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize on Facebook and Twitter.

Announcing the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize 2013 short list…


Today, four extraordinary international photographers were selected as finalists for the 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize, Canada’s leading award for contemporary photography and the first major art prize in the world whose winner is chosen entirely by public vote. Voting opens today at and, for the first time, on Facebook.

The finalists, selected by jury from a long list of 14 artists, are: Edgardo Aragón (Mexico), LaToya Ruby Frazier (U.S.), Chino Otsuka (Japan/U.K.) and Erin Shirreff (Canada). As a group, these four artists represent a snapshot of current directions in photography and video in which images are used to build powerful, complex and often personal narratives.

  • Edgardo Aragón was born in Mexico, and his work invites reflection on the history of violence in his homeland. Deeply engaged with political and social histories of Oaxaca, the province where he was born and still lives, his video and photography often document performance and sculptural interventions against landscapes that appear at once serene and foreboding.
  • LaToya Ruby Frazier was born and raised in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Her work is informed by late 19th- and early 20th-century modes of representation in documentary practice. She uses the conventions of social documentary and portraiture to expose untold stories of post-industrial decline in the United States, filtered through the experiences of her own family and community in Braddock.
  • Chino Otsuka was born in Tokyo and moved to the U.K. at age 10 to attend school. Often mining her own autobiography, Otsuka uses photography and video to explore the fluid relationship between memory, time and photography.
  • Erin Shirreff was born in 1975 in Kelowna, B.C., and now lives and works in New York. Her work interweaves photography, video and sculpture to extend and explore the act of looking, asking questions about the often paradoxical relationship between time and space and the image, and the impact of perception on the location of meaning.

A jury of three — comprising lead juror Elizabeth Smith, former AGO executive director of curatorial affairs and current executive director of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation in New York; Urs Stahel, director, curator, and editor of Fotomuseum Winterthur; and artist Kader Attia — selected the four finalists from the long list.

“The jurors were delighted with the strength and diversity of the long-listed artists,” said Smith. “In choosing the four finalists, we responded most to qualities that made the work fresh, powerful and original in some way. We looked for strength, coherence and consistency in the interplay of imagery and content and selected the artists whose work made the most pronounced impact on all of us.”

An exhibition of works by the four short-listed artists, curated by Smith, opens at the AGO on Sept. 11, 2013. We’re also hosting a free public launch party that night, with presentations by nominators and members of the jury about each of the four artists.

The following evening, Sept. 12, 2013, at 7 p.m., the four artists will speak at a special panel event at the AGO alongside Smith; AGO associate curator of photography Sophie Hackett; and nominators Jennifer Blessing, senior curator of photography at The Guggenheim; and Helga Pakasaar, curator at Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver. Tickets to the event are available now.

Updates on the Prize, further details on the shortlisted artists and additional information are available via, the Prize’s Facebook page and @AimiaAGOPrize on Twitter.

Announcing the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize long list!


Today, the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize announced its first-ever long list of 14 finalists from around the world, including photographers from North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. The $50,000 prize honours living artists whose work in photography and video over the past five years has displayed extraordinary potential.

The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize 2013 long list includes:

  • Edgardo Aragón (Mexico)
  • Jessica Eaton (Canada)
  • Em’Kal Eyongakpa (Cameroon)
  • LaToya Ruby Frazier (U.S.)
  • Regina José Galindo (Guatemala)
  • Ron Jude (U.S.)
  • Tomoko Kikuchi (Japan)
  • Emanuel Licha (Canada)
  • Abraham Oghobase (Nigeria)
  • Chino Otsuka (Japan)
  • Erin Shirreff (Canada)
  • Dan Siney (Canada)
  • Efrat Shvily (Israel)
  • Lucie Stahl (Germany)

The nominators are leading Canadian and international experts in photography (curators, academics, and artists) who have each nominated two artists for the Prize — one from their home countries or regions of expertise and one internationally.

The prestigious group of nominators for the 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize include:

  • Yael Bartana, artist
  • Jennifer Blessing, senior curator, Photography, Guggenheim Museum, New York
  • Karen Irvine, curator and associate director, Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago
  • Michiko Kasahara, chief curator, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
  • Mark Lanctôt, curator, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
  • Helga Pakasaar, curator, Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
  • José Roca, adjunct curator, Latin American Art, Tate
  • Bisi Silva, director, Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Nigeria

From the list of 14 artists, a jury of three experts headed by lead juror Elizabeth Smith, AGO executive director of Curatorial Affairs, will select a short list of four, including at least one Canadian artist. These four artists will receive a fully funded six-week residency in Canada and their work will be exhibited at the AGO beginning Sept. 11, 2013.

The winner will be selected by a public vote inside the AGO exhibition and online at The shortlist will be announced on Aug. 27, 2013, and the winner will be announced at AGO First Thursdays on Nov. 7.

And to stay connected with the latest updates about artist alumni and next year’s artists, events and programs, follow us on Facebook, Vimeo, and on Twitter @AimiaAGOPrize.

Introducing the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize

Today is a brand-new day for Canada’s largest photography prize, and we wanted you to be among the first to hear it.

This morning we announced the expansion of one of Canada’s largest and most innovative art prize programs. The Grange Prize will now be known as the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize, with a greater international focus and a new national scholarship program fostering the next generation of Canadian photographic artists across the country.

What’s changing? First, we’re going international. The new Prize will invite a group of eight leading Canadian and international experts in photography (critics, curators or artists) to each nominate two artists for the Prize — one international and one from their home country/region of expertise, forming an international long list for the Prize. From there, a jury of three experts led by the Lead Juror (an AGO curator) will select a shortlist of four, including at least one Canadian artist.

Second, we’re introducing a major new initiative: the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Scholarship Program. The scholarship program, valued at more than C$20,000, is intended for full-time students — Canadian or international — who are entering their final year of study toward a bachelor’s degree with a focus in studio photography. Eight respected and established visual arts institutions from across the country will participate in the first year of the Prize with the hope of expanding the roster of participating schools in the coming years.

And of course, there is our new name. Aimia, a global leader in loyalty, is the new presenting partner of the Prize. Aimia is also the parent company of Aeroplan, the Prize’s founding partner.

You can read more about these exciting shifts at our new website: And to stay connected with the latest updates about artist alumni and next year’s artists, events and programs, follow us on Facebook, Vimeo, and on Twitter @AimiaAGOPrize.

Here’s to an exciting new beginning for the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize and thank you for your support over the first five years!

Q&A: Jason Evans, Grange Prize Photographer-in-Residence

Jason Evans, A long, long time AGO / Media Productions / Lee, Gary, Pat, Danny, Zoé, Greg, Barb, 2013
Jason Evans, A long, long time AGO / Media Productions / Lee, Gary, Pat, Danny, Zoé, Greg, Barb, 2012

Welsh photographer Jason Evans is the current photographer-in-residence at the AGO. As part the of Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, his photo series featuring 12 groups of AGO staff members, A long, long time AGO, will be on view on the AGO’s Dundas Street façade and inside the Elizabeth & Tony Comper Gallery on Level 1 throughout May 2013. Evans, a 2012 Grange Prize nominee, will also facilitate public photography workshops focused on portraiture and at AGO 1st Thursdays on May 2, he will move through the Galleries with a roving DJ station, playing records from his personal collection for artworks in the AGO collection in a performance titled Music for Looking. Read the rest of this entry »

Catching up with Jo Longhurst, winner of The Grange Prize 2012

Jo Longhurst (foreground) preparing to shoot at Gemini Gymnastics, Oshawa, Ont.

Only a few days after learning she had won The Grange Prize 2012, Jo Longhurst began her six-week residency at the Art Gallery of Ontario, occupying the Anne Lind Artist-in-Residence Studio in the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre. Over the three weeks since the winner announcement, Jo has been working to develop new ideas and create new works.

During her residency, Jo will build upon her series Other Spaces, which is an examination of the notion of perfection framed through the physical and emotional experiences of elite gymnasts. She has been working closely with Gemini Gymnastics in Oshawa, owned by Elena Davydova, the 1980 Olympic all-around gold medallist, representing the former Soviet Union, and one of the coaches of the Canadian Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Team at the 2012 London Olympics. Jo’s new work will explore examples of the gender divide inherent in the world of gymnastics, such as particular moves that female gymnasts can’t use in competitions like Iron Cross on the rings. (Jo has photographed a female gymnast holding this pose.) She is developing two specific works with Davydova and the club’s elite squad.

Jo accepts The Grange Prize on Nov. 1, 2012.

Jo has been contemplating what direction her work might take beyond her residency: “I continue to revisit my archive of images from the World Championships and have begun to look at them from a more abstract perspective,” Jo says about her future work. “The new work will be visually different but follows the same line of inquiry into the ideas of perfection, photograph, and the ways in which we makes sense of our place in the universe.”

Jo says that her win was a complete surprise — but a gratifying one. “The win was touching because it was a public vote,” Jo says. “I want my work to be critical, yet accessible to everyone.” When it comes to photography, Jo admits that although her work is primarily lens-based, she feels that medium-specific categories can sometimes be frustrating, and she hopes that “the categorization doesn’t limit people’s exposure to art.”

In addition to the artist residency, Jo received a $50,000 cash prize. The three other finalists each received cash honorariums of $5,000 and international artist residencies. British artist Jason Evans will travel to Toronto next spring to begin his residency at the AGO, and Canadian artists Emmanuelle Léonard and Annie MacDonell will travel to the U.K. next year.

The winner of The Grange Prize 2011, Indian photographer Gauri Gill, spent 3 weeks at the AGO in September of last year, researching and creating new work.

Read more about Jo’s work and see images of works from her Other Spaces series here. Her residency continues until December 14, 2012.

Jo will be in conversation with Sophie Hackett, assistant curator of photography at the AGO and lead juror of The Grange Prize 2012, at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2012, at the AGO, as part of the next installment of the AGO’s 1st Thursdays.

U.K. artist Jo Longhurst wins The Grange Prize 2012!

After 10 weeks of voting, we are excited to announce that the winner of The Grange Prize 2012 is British photographer Jo Longhurst! Born in Essex, U.K., Jo has gained international recognition for her work and exhibited in London, Paris and Berlin and at this year’s Documenta (13). A PhD graduate from the Royal College of Art, Jo’s work investigates ideas of physical perfection and self-creation, capturing the striking portraits of elite gymnasts and whippet show dogs in her two primary bodies of work, Other Spaces and The Refusal.

The Grange Prize is Canada’s largest photography prize and the only major Canadian art prize determined by public vote. A unique partnership between the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and Aeroplan, the prize aims to engage the public in a vital discourse about the power and prevalence of photography in our world today through public exhibitions, voting and online dialogue.

Longhurst receives the $50,000 cash prize, while the other three finalists each receive a cash honorarium of $5,000 dedicated to the creation of new work. All four finalists will receive artist residencies: Longhurst begins her residency at the AGO on Nov. 4, 2012, and will occupy the Weston Family Learning Centre’s Artist-in-Residence Studio until Dec. 15, 2012; Jason Evans will be in residence at the AGO in spring 2013; and Emmanuelle Léonard and Annie MacDonell will travel to the U.K. for their residencies early next year.

Exhibitions of the finalists’ work are on display until Jan. 6, 2013, at the AGO and at Canada House in London, U.K. Previous winners of The Grange Prize include Gauri Gill of India (2011), Canadian photographer Kristan Horton (2010), Marco Antonio Cruz of Mexico (2009) and Canadian photographer Sarah Anne Johnson (2008).

A selection of work by Jo Longhurst:

The Grange Prize 2012: London Edition

An exterior view of Canada House, located on Trafalgar Square in London, U.K. It is hosting an exhibition of the four shortlisted Grange Prize 2012 photographers until January 2013. Photo by Sean O’Neill/Art Gallery of Ontario.

On Sept. 27, 2012, The Grange Prize 2012 Exhibition opened at Canada House, in the heart of London’s Trafalgar Square. Aeroplan and the AGO announced the United Kingdom as the partner country for The Grange Prize 2012 in March of this year. Since then, the AGO and Aimia, Aeroplan’s parent company, have been collaborating with Canada House — part of the High Commission of Canada in London — to make this year’s prize a truly international cultural exchange.

The Canada House Grange Prize exhibition — curated by Sophie Hackett, Lead Juror and Assistant Curator of Photography at the AGO — presents works by the four shortlisted artists and gives visitors a chance to vote for their favourite photographer. It runs until Jan. 6, 2013.

The winner of the $50,000 grand prize will be announced on Nov. 1, 2012, at the second of the AGO’s 1st Thursdays, a monthly public event. That means you have just a couple weeks to make your vote count! In-gallery voting stations are available at the Canada House and AGO exhibitions, as well as online at