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Meet the 2016 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Scholarship Winners

July 13th, 2016

Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Scholarship Program! The scholarship program, which was inaugurated in 2013, recognizes 3 full-time students—Canadian or international—who are entering their final year of study toward a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in photography at one of 15 participating post-secondary institutions across Canada. From a field of more than 100 applicants this year, the jury has awarded Catherine Canac-Marquis of Concordia University, Jeff Chiu of Ryerson University and Alexia-Leana Kokozaki of the University of Ottawa. The winners each receive $7,000 CDN toward tuition for their final year of undergraduate study. The field of applicants was so competitive this year that for the first time ever, the jury has decided to award an honourable mention prize of $1,000 CAD to Andi Icaza Largaespada of Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts.

This year’s jury included:

  • Adelina Vlas, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, AGO
  • Dave Jordano, 2015 Winner of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize
  • cheyanne turions, independent curator and writer

Learn more about this year’s winners below:

Catherine Canac-Marquis, Concordia University, Quebec

Catherine-Canac-Marquis-Glory-Fades-2015-16

Catherine Canac-Marquis, Glory Fades , 2015-2016, 20” x 25”

Originally from Quebec City, Catherine Canac-Marquis studied graphic design before relocating to Reykjavik, Iceland. Now living in Montreal, she is finishing up her Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in photography at Concordia University. In 2015, she received two bursaries for academic excellence. She was selected to take part in the most recent edition of the Concordia Photography Collective and her work has been presented in several group exhibitions in Montreal and Toronto.

Jeff Chiu, Ryerson University, Ontario

Jeff-Chiu-Ghost-Money-2015

Jeff Chiu, Ghost Money , 2015, 24” x 35”, Archival Inkjet Print

Jeff Chiu was born in Toronto, Ontario to parents who were raised in rural China. In his images, he tries to convey the experience of diaspora and life as a second-generation immigrant. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts.

Alexia-Leana Kokozaki, University of Ottawa, Ontario

Alexia-Leana-Kokozaki-Tulle-Plastic-Pebbles-And-Light-2015

Alexia-Leana Kokozaki, Tulle, Plastic, Pebbles (And Light) , 2015, 11” x 8.5” or 22” x 17”, Digital photogram. Vellum print and matte print, Courtesy of the Artist

Alexia-Leana Kokozaki is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Ottawa. Her work in photography and installation involves re-contextualizing familiar objects and figures within unusual spaces and narratives in order to pique curiosity.

For the first time ever, the jury is pleased to award an honourable mention on the basis of demonstrated potential.

Andi Icaza Largaespada, Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts, British Columbia

Andrea-Icaza-Largaespada-Untitled-Canadiana-Series-Jane-2016

Andi Icaza Largaespada, Jane, 2016, 20” x 24”, C-Print

Andi Icaza Largaespada is a multidisciplinary visual artist based in unceded Coast Salish territories. Incorporating elements of social research, ethics and sustainability into her practice, her work explores ways of belonging and resistance. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts, and was the recipient for its Canon Canada Prize in 2015 and the Tanabe/Thorne Annual Award in 2016.

The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize is Canada’s most significant photography prize, and one of the most unique arts and culture prize programs in the world. Established in 2007, the Prize was the first major art prize to allow the public to choose its winner. Each year the Prize awards $50,000 to the winner, $5,000 to each of the other shortlisted artists and $7,000 to each of the scholarship winners.

Stay tuned for the 2016 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize shortlist announcement on July 27! Follow us on our Facebook page and @AimiaAGOPrize on Twitter.

Mining the AGO’s collections for an artist book

August 5th, 2015

By Meera Margaret Singh

Photos by Meera Margaret Singh (far right and far left) installed in the Richard Barry Fudger Memorial Gallery.

Photos by Meera Margaret Singh (far right and far left) installed in the Richard Barry Fudger Memorial Gallery.

The experience of working at the AGO as the artist-in–residence for summer 2015 has been an extremely productive and rewarding venture. After having organized several interventions in the form of free participatory Laughter Yoga workshops in both Walker Court and Galleria Italia (filling space typically reserved for quiet contemplation with the powerful sound of a collective laughing) and then installing two photographs from my series of female body builders into the European Collection (located in the Fudger Gallery, pictured above), I’ve decided to add a third element to the residency: creating a small-edition artist book.

Being in the AGO, surrounded by an incredible collection of art, along with the insertion of my work into the gallery space has allowed me to think about the various forms of dialogue that can take shape between historic and the contemporary artists/artworks. I began several weeks ago to mine various collections (European, Canadian, African, Modern and Contemporary, Photography and Prints and Drawing) focusing on three main themes that echo my own life/work at present:

Women and strength (relating to my work with female body builders)…

Unknown, Reclining woman with floral motif design, date unknown. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift of Carol and Morton Rapp, 1997.

Unknown, Reclining woman with floral motif design, date unknown. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift of Carol and Morton Rapp, 1997.


Meera Margaret Singh, Gillia, 2015, chromogenic print.

Meera Margaret Singh, Gillia, 2015, chromogenic print.

…people being overcome by emotion (relating to my work with laughter yoga/yogis)…

Paul Peel, The Model (after Chaplin),  1890, oil on canvas. Art Gallery of Ontario. Bequest of John Paris Bickell, Toronto, 1952.

Paul Peel, The Model (after Chaplin), 1890, oil on canvas. Art Gallery of Ontario. Bequest of John Paris Bickell, Toronto, 1952.


Meera Margaret Singh, Gaby Laughing, c-print, 2008.

Meera Margaret Singh, Gaby Laughing, c-print, 2008.

…and mothers and children (relating to an ongoing series of work I’ve done with my own mother as well as my new role as mother)

American artist (unknown), Decorative plate with portrait of mother and daughter, c. 1902, collodion print., 24 x 25 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous gift, 2004.

American artist (unknown), Decorative plate with portrait of mother and daughter, c. 1902, collodion print., 24 x 25 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous gift, 2004.


Meera Margaret Singh, Mitosis, 2004, c-print.

Meera Margaret Singh, Mitosis, 2004, c-print.

Thanks to the invaluable help of Barbora Racevicuite, interning at the AGO for the summer, we have mined the AGO’s collection finding works that speak to these themes and further speak to me. Having selected numerous images, my goal is to create a small accordion style publication with my photographic works on one side and works from the AGO collection on the other side. The intention is to allow my contemporary works to create new, altered meaning when situated with historic works and vice versa. The culmination of this will echo the intent of the artist-in-residence program itself: To engage with the gallery itself along with its unique collection while “leading the way for experimentation and growth in the field of contemporary art practice.”

I’m very grateful for all of the help that the AGO and the artist-in-residence program have offered me in creating work and re-contextualizing work throughout my residency. Thank you so much!


Learn more about Singh’s AGO residency

Conservation Notes: “I have seen my death!” and the very first X-ray

July 28th, 2015

By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photography

(photo at right) U.S. Military,  Operation Priscilla, taken at the moment of the shockwave, 1957.   / Camera Crew at Exact Moment of Shockwave Arrival, Nevada Test Site 1957. Gelatin silver print.

(photo at right) U.S. Military, Operation Priscilla, taken at the moment of the shockwave, 1957. / Camera Crew at Exact Moment of Shockwave Arrival, Nevada Test Site 1957. Gelatin silver print.

There’s something really amazing inside the AGO’s walls right now: a piece of medical history and the forerunner of technology used today. In our exhibition Camera Atomica, visitors can see a positive image of the first X-ray ever made. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, a physics professor in Worzburg, Bavaria, created the gelatine silver glass plate image, what would become known as the first “röntgenogram.” It captures the hand of Röntgen’s wife, Anna Bertha, and her wedding ring (the large dark circle). When she saw the image she is said to have exclaimed, “I have seen my death!” Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: A case for all types of photos

July 8th, 2015

By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photography

 American, mid- to late 19th century (artist), unknown sitter: portrait of woman standing, wearing dark jacket, 1865, ambrotype: sixth plate, case: brown leather with "souvenir" plate, gilt edges and clasp, interior with embossed red velvet pad, 21.12 x 38.55 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2000

American, mid- to late 19th century (artist), unknown sitter: portrait of woman standing, wearing dark jacket, 1865, ambrotype: sixth plate, case: brown leather with “souvenir” plate, gilt edges and clasp, interior with embossed red velvet pad, 21.12 x 38.55 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2000.

Adventures in Photograph Conservation: Cased photos

A photograph can be printed onto almost any surface. While paper is the most common substrate, others include metal, leather, plastic, cloth, canvas and glass, and many of these are represented in the AGO’s photograph collection. This is the first in a series of blog posts that will describe photographic processes and some of the hurdles a photograph conservator has to overcome while working with them. This instalment will cover the more common cased photographs: daguerreotypes, tintypes and ambrotypes. We’ll get to some of the more unique processes, such as the opaltype and pannotype, in another post.

Henry K. Sheldon, Mr. John Shields, Kingston, 1856, daguerreotype, tinted, 50.8 x 44.96 cm. Purchase with assistance of the Photography Curatorial Committee, 2008.

Henry K. Sheldon, Mr. John Shields, Kingston, 1856, daguerreotype, tinted, 50.8 x 44.96 cm. Purchase with assistance of the Photography Curatorial Committee, 2008.

Examples of these processes are often encased in leather-coated wood or sometimes in what were called “Union Cases,” which were made from a thermoplastic material. While some of the cases were larger, most were small enough to be held in one hand: these were precious, portable objects, often lined with silk or velvet, and many times contained the only existing photograph of an individual.

With the introduction of the daguerreotype in 1839 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), the dawn of photography, as it related to the public, had arrived. A daguerreotype is a photograph that consists of a mercury amalgam on a silver electroplated copper plate (right). The distinguishing visual characteristics of a daguerreotype are that the image is on a mirror-like surface of metallic silver: it will appear either positive or negative depending on whether a light or dark surface is being reflected in the image. The image was often also coloured with pigments to give it a more life-like cast. As an example of employment following the development of new technology, many of the artists who did this work were former miniature painters. With the introduction of photography in 1839, the demand for hand-painted miniature portraits declined drastically, and so it become common for photographers to have re-touchers and colourers on staff to apply the pigments.

Unknown america or canadian, 19th century (artist), seated woman at table, wearing gloves, 1880s, tintype, tinted highlights, 22.36 x 15.96 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2006.

Unknown American or Canadian, 19th century (artist), seated woman at table, wearing gloves, 1880s, tintype, tinted highlights, 22.36 x 15.96 cm. Anonymous Gift, 2006.

After the daguerreotype’s public introduction and adoption, many scientists started working on other, more economical photographic processes. In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer (1813–1857) introduced the collodion process. Ambrotypes and the tintypes (examples at left) are both collodion-based processes, the former being on glass and the latter on a thin sheet of darkly painted metal, usually tin or a ferrous material. The collodion in these processes is derived from solution of pyroxylin, or gun cotton, dissolved in ether and alcohol. Once coated on a piece of glass or metal, the collodion is sensitized in a solution of silver nitrate and exposed in a camera, and the plate is developed, fixed and allowed to dry. The resulting photograph is then varnished to prevent deterioration of the image. These photographs were much more resilient than daguerreotypes and — though conservators today would warn against it — some people would send their tintypes through the mail without a case, unconcerned about damaging the photograph.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program


Conservation Notes: Displaying Henryk Ross’s powerful Łódź Ghetto photos

April 30th, 2015

By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photography

Henryk Ross, Negative #940 from Lodz Ghetto Collection Series, 1940-1944,  35 mm cellulose nitrate negative, 40.88 x 45.97 cm. Gift from archive of modern conflict, 2007.

Henryk Ross, Negative #940 from Lodz Ghetto Collection Series, 1940-1944, 35 mm cellulose nitrate negative, 40.88 x 45.97 cm. Gift from archive of modern conflict, 2007.

The exhibition Memory Unearthed: The Łódź Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross is rather unique for the AGO in that many different mounting methods are used to represent the powerful imagery of the photographs. It depicts the life in the Łódź Ghetto in German-occupied Poland: a work camp for Jewish and Romani people before they were sent to the Auschwitz and Chelmno concentration camps. We used a variety of display methods in the exhibition—pins, frames, magnets and custom-designed display cases—that work together to create a seamless display of period and modern prints.

New prints made from Ross's negatives, pinned to the wall of the gallery.

New prints made from Ross’s negatives, pinned to the wall of the gallery.

Unlike most exhibitions at the AGO Memory Unearthed includes many modern prints because most of the original images are only available in negative form. The negatives are nitrate-based and cannot be put on display for health and safety reasons. We put them into frozen storage, but before that we scanned them into a database and made new prints for the exhibition. To avoid detracting from the image, we opted to pin them to the walls of the gallery without frames (as above).

Prints sandwiched between Plexiglas.

Prints sandwiched between Plexiglas, with Japanese paper tabs.

This exhibition also includes period gelatin silver photographs, such as a folio of contact prints, identification cards, candid shots and wedding photographs. One of the more complicated mounting challenges we faced was how to minimally present Ross’s folio of contact negative prints safely and gracefully. The goal was to give the impression that the pages were almost floating in the case. To accomplish this, we:

  • affixed the folio pages to clear Plexiglas frames, which were then sandwiched in long sheets of additional Plexiglas;
  • attached Japanese paper tabs along the top edge, connecting the pages to Plexiglas frames;
  • used dry wheat-starch paste, a fully reversible adhesive, to attach the tabs to the folio pages;
  • and used archival double-stick tape to attach the tabs to the Plexiglas frames.

This method was successful, but to give visitors another way to view these important images, they are also projected on the wall near the presentation case in a film format (as in the photo below).

Gelber Gallery, where we are presentign the Ross folio.

Gelber Gallery, where we are presentign the Ross folio.

Learn more about the exhibition Memory Unearthed: The Łódź Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross here.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program


Conservation Notes: Print on this

February 18th, 2015

carbon transfer 2001.169

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By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photographs

Suzy Lake, The Natural Way to Draw, 1975. Colour emulsion transfer on uncoated canvas, 102.5 x 134 cm. Gift of nancy Hushion, 2009. 2009/107. © 2015 Suzy Lake.

Suzy Lake, The Natural Way to Draw, 1975. Colour emulsion transfer on uncoated canvas, 102.5 x 134 cm. Gift of nancy Hushion, 2009. 2009/107. © 2015 Suzy Lake.

Suzy Lake’s The Natural Way to Draw and other interesting photograph supports

Until the relatively recent advent of digital photography, in which many photographs exist solely as pixels on a screen, every photograph was printed. By far, the most common support on which to print has been paper. However, even since the early days of photography, they have also been printed on paper, fabric, metal, glass, ceramic and a host of other surfaces.

And now, with the advent of digital printing technologies, we can print photographs on almost any substrate. They can be ink-jet printed on to canvas, plastic, vinyl or paper: the possibilities are endless. As photograph conservator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, I’m fascinated by the wide array of other materials on which photographers and artists have printed their images. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: Piecing together the past

November 25th, 2014

Figure 1: Examples of modern (left) and historic glass.

Figure 1: Examples of modern (left) and historic glass.

By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photographs

Picture this: you’re in your grandfather’s ancestral home. Under a stack of dusty photo albums you discover a small book-like box with a tiny metal clasp. You open it and find a photograph of a man with familiar features sitting stiffly before a painted landscape. It dawns upon you that it must be some distant relative, perhaps your great, great grandfather. Upon closer inspection, you realize that the image is in fact printed on a sheet of glass and that glass is cracked in two. What do you do?

As the AGO’s conservator of photographs, I’ve spent the past 10 years facing very similar situations. I have conducted research and taught workshops on a much neglected part of photography: the conservation of photographs on glass. This includes ambrotypes, opaltypes, wet plate Collodion, gelatine silver on glass and a host of other processes, many of which are represented in the AGO’s photography collection.
One of the pressing concerns in photograph conservation is how to deal with broken photographs on glass. Should they be repaired? Can they be repaired? In trying to answer these questions, a conservator must consider a host of factors, including: when the photograph was produced, the nature of the glass used, what photographic process was used and the value (monetary, sentimental or cultural) of the piece.

Imagine you needed to repair a sheet of glass that had broken in two. The logical way to do it would be to lay the two fragments on a flat surface, butt them against each other and glue their edges. However, it’s often not that simple.

Figure 2: A side view of historic non-planar glass.

Figure 2: A side view of historic non-planar glass.

Due to the glass-making processes prior to 1950, the sheets of glass used in photographic processes were not truly flat. This “non-planar” glass poses problems for conservators. Figure 1 is a comparison of modern glass, on the left, and pre-1950 historic glass, on the right. A bank of ceiling-mounted fluorescent lights is reflected in their surfaces. The reflection on the modern glass is undistorted because the glass is flat and the reflection on the historic glass is distorted because the glass is slightly wavy. You may have seen windows of old houses that look wavy and noticed how distorted any reflections look; that effect occurs because the glass is non-planar (Figure 2). This poses problems when repairing broken photographs on glass because when laid flat, the shards cannot be aligned properly. With this in mind, an innovative solution had to be found to accomplish the reassembly of broken historic photographs. The whole point of most photographs is to be decipherable, and if a photograph on glass is not in one piece, it loses its meaning and its full impact on the viewer.

Figure 3: A vertical assembly setup.

Figure 3: A vertical assembly setup.

The solution I determined, in association with the George Eastman House and the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, is an adaptation of a method created by Stephen Koob of the Corning Museum. It is the “vertical assembly” method, wherein the broken photograph on glass is assembled vertically, rather than horizontally. In this method, it is essential that the main shard is positioned perfectly aligned with gravity (Figure 3). Because glass is so brittle, it breaks very sharply. This results in a clean break, a shattering effect or a combination of the two. Vertical alignment ensures that the constant of gravity will pull the shards into position. This method of shard assembly is a completely new concept in photograph conservation.

There are many nuances to the repair of broken historic photographs on glass, and it takes a lot of experience and practice to master. If you have a broken photograph on glass it is best to contact the AGO conservation department for a referral to a conservator.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program


Conservation Notes: Preserving history on nitrate film

August 18th, 2014

By Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photography

The Henryk Ross collection of negatives depict the Łódź Ghetto in Poland from 1939 to 1944, composing a valuable record of the conditions Jewish people faced during the Second World War. As with all film negatives from that period, they are on cellulose nitrate stock, a potentially dangerous medium due to the material’s tendency to release harmful gases when it degrades. Steps had to be taken to stop the deterioration of the negatives, and so they were recently digitally copied and put into frozen storage at the AGO.

Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the artists of the 2014 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize shortlist

August 15th, 2014

Together with our partners at Aimia, we were excited to announce the 2014 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize shortlist on Aug. 13. Below, learn about the four artists from around the world who were our jurors’ top picks, then head to the Prize website to see more of their work and choose your favourite.


David Hartt

Image courtesy of the artist.

Image courtesy of the artist.

“Our understanding of ourselves is deeply rooted in the spaces we occupy.”

David Hartt was born in Montreal and currently lives and works in Chicago. In his installations, which include photographs, videos, and sculptures, he explores how physical spaces reflect the ideas and beliefs of a particular time and place. By investigating the materials, symbols and histories that shape our surroundings, Hartt calls attention to the ways our built environments exist and evolve. After extensive research and site visits, he distils this material into complex and elegant installations.

Artist’s web page

On David’s work:
David Hartt by Aimee Walleston for Art in America
David Hartt: Stray Light at the Studio Museum in Harlem by Andrew Russeth for Gallerist


Elad Lassry

Image courtesy of the artist.

Image courtesy of the artist.

“The questions for me are about this very mysterious unit that is the picture. It brings on a set of assumptions and built-in ways of looking with which I am in constant battle.”

At the centre of Israel-born, Los Angeles-based artist Elad Lassry’s work is the question: “What is a picture?” His practice suggests that the photograph is an elusive “unit.” Lassry uses multiple aesthetic modes and technologies to create analog images, digital interventions, moving pictures, design applications and applied arts that seem utilitarian but produce complex visual sensations. His ongoing investigation leads him to refer back to and experiment with a variety of visual sources – textbooks, manuals, film stills, marketing materials and science texts – which at turns contradict and play off one another in his work. Lassry uses this dynamic to pinpoint what he calls a “contemporary condition” in which the photograph is a flexible entity, seductively powerful and yet untrustworthy. “Once the photograph is not what it appears to be,” Lassry asks, “what else is at stake?”

Artist’s web page

On Elad’s work:
Elad Lassry by Gillian Young for Art in America
Elad Lassry at David Kordansky via Contemporary Art Daily


Nandipha Mntambo

Image courtesy of the artist.

Image courtesy of the artist.

“I’m interested in uncovering that binary – that in-between space that you can’t always pinpoint or articulate.”

Nandipha Mntambo was born in Swaziland and lives in Johannesburg. She originally trained as a sculptor and then expanded her practice to include photography, performance, and video. Her work investigates such dualities as male and female, attraction and repulsion, animal and human, European and African. Mntambo makes sculptures from cowhide, using her own body to mould the forms. In many of her videos and photographs, she appears wearing her sculptures, suggesting our capacity as individuals to shape the world around us, while also highlighting the forces that form us, including notions of race, gender and history.

Artist’s web page

On Nandipha’s work:
Nandipha Mntambo: Hide & Seek by Kudi Maradzika for AkAthemag
Visiting Artist Profiles – Nandipha Mntambo by Matthew Harrison Tedford for ArtPractical


Lisa Oppenheim

Image courtesy of the artist.

Image courtesy of the artist.

“I want the viewer to ask, ‘What am I looking at? How is it made?’ Somehow, that provides a way of critically reading how images come to all of us through our daily lives.”

Lisa Oppenheim, who lives and works in New York, creates photographs and videos that connect historical imagery and techniques with the present moment. Her process often begins with online research, to source images that she reinterprets using old and new technologies. Oppenheim also employs unusual materials as negatives – fabric, lace, slices of wood – directly recording the objects’ specific textures to create near-abstract compositions. Through her experiments with analog darkroom and digital methods, Oppenheim gives photographic images new forms and new contexts, inviting us to question and to wonder.

Artist’s website

On Lisa’s work:
Lisa Oppenheim by Shama Khanna for Frieze
Lisa Oppenheim: Elemental Process by Brian Sholis for Aperture

Catching up with Chino Otsuka, 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize finalist

July 29th, 2014

Chino Otsuka, <em>Imagine Finding Me</em>, 1975 and 2005, Spain, Japan, 2005, Chromogenic print, 305 mm x 406 mm.</

Chino Otsuka, Imagine Finding Me, 1975 and 2005, Spain, Japan, 2005, Chromogenic print, 305 mm x 406 mm.

Born in Tokyo and educated in the U.K., 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize finalist Chino Otsuka uses photography and video to explore the fluid relationship between memory, photography, and time. She recently completed her residency at the Nikkei National Museum in Burnaby, B.C., which focused on researching Japanese picture brides and their forgotten stories. We caught up with Otsuka to discuss her residency research, work and experience.

AGO: While you were in Vancouver, you worked inside the archives and collection of the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre. What did your research focus on, and what affect has working in Vancouver had on your work?

Chino Otsuka: The research I conduct is integral to the development of my work. For a while now I have been researching the history of Japanese emigrants. When I found out about the residency component of the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize and was able to choose anywhere in Canada, I knew I wanted to go to the Nikkei National Museum. Since I had previously done similar research on a group of Japanese who went to the Netherlands in the mid-19th century, I wanted to see the museum’s collections and learn more about the history of Japanese-Canadian immigrants.

During the residency I had the opportunity to access and explore museum collections that are not normally seen or easily accessible. I knew very little about the history of Japanese immigrants in Canada, or the hardships and injustice that they suffered. I read and came across so many moving stories. All of this is a very important part of Japanese history, and I’m so surprised that many of these stories are untold outside of Canada.

As my research progressed I became more and more interested in the stories of young women who came over from Japan as a “picture brides,” young Japanese women usually between 17 and 19 years old who came to Canada as in the early 20th century. Their marriages were arranged by showing the prospective bride and groom photographs of each other. Most of these women travelled from Japan and saw their husband-to-be for the first time when they arrived in Canada. I was drawn to their innocence, ambition and courage — their journey. They all longed for a new life in their new country. Yet when they arrived in Canada the life they had imagined was completely different. Hardship and many tragedies would follow them. They struggled and endured so much.

I’ve looked through many photographs and artefacts in the collection and chose to focus especially on their journey to Canada. There is a sense of anticipation around the little moment in their life when they were dreaming about the future. I’ve been working with the old photographs as well as photographing their belongings that they brought with them from Japan.

With your residency now complete, can you speak to the effect that the overall experience has had on your work? Did your work move in a new direction during the residency? If so, how?

The residency has given me a new perspective on my practice, as well as time to explore and experiment with new ideas. The work I started during my residency is not quite finished yet. I’m done with the research and photographing and am now working with these materials through editing and finding ways to present them.

What has the residency allowed you to do in terms of your work and research?

In my work I mainly explore the notion of autobiographical memory, so the residency at the Nikkei National Museum has given me the opportunity to explore and research the history, the collective memory – how the individual memories weave together to tell a story.

In her essay “Chino Otsuka’s Time Machine” Michiko Kasahara writes that your “journeys into the past are not sentimental and do not display a nostalgic atmosphere,” yet much of your work explores issues of duality, history, memory and self. Can you elaborate on/explain your method? Do you agree with the writer’s statement?

I work with the past and many of my works show my past. How I take my works, restage and rework them is really about today, not yesterday.
My works are personal but by carefully selecting the images, and recreating them in the certain ways, I’m trying to engage the viewers’ internal dialogue of their experiences. I hope to make the images/stories resonate and trigger the viewers’ own memories.

Your work, specifically in the series “Imagine Finding Me,” is extremely personal with the subject being your own self and memory. The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize is awarded by public vote. As the subject of the work, what were your thoughts on it being considered in this way?

I visited the AGO during the exhibition while the voting was going on, and when I wandered around the museum strangers came up to tell me that they voted for me. I guess they recognized me from my work, and that was a really strange experience.


*This interview was conducted via email in July 2014 and has been edited for style and brevity.