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Introducing the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize

May 27th, 2013

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!

Podcasts: The Grange Prize 2012 Dialogues

September 13th, 2012

The Grange Prize 2012

From left to right:
Emmanuelle Léonard (Canada), Citizens, Protest, March 15, 2009, #5137 (detail), 2009. Inkjet print, 102 x 90 cm.
Annie MacDonell, The present is the future of the past and the past of the future (The Fortune Teller) (detail), 2012, 16″ x 12″, chromogenic print.
Jason Evans, Untitled (detail), from The Daily Nice, 2004–ongoing. Online project, dimensions variable.
Jo Longhurst (UK), I Know What You’re Thinking (detail), 2003. Chromogenic print, 101.6 x 76 cm.

This year’s nominated artists share a fascination with the world of images that surround, and often bombard, us every day. Taking on everything from fashion editorial and sports photography to found objects and crime-scene documentation, by appropriating existing images, placing familiar genres in new contexts, and pushing the photographic print into the three-dimensional realm, these nominees reinvigorate our relationship with photography. In this discussion, The Grange Prize 2012 shortlisted artists chatted with members of jury about the provocative issues and topics their works traverse.

Friday, September 7, 3 – 6 pm
in the Dr. Anne Tanenbaum Gallery School
in the Weston Family Learning Centre at the AGO

Session 1: Photography’s Dimensions
3 – 4:15 pm

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Duration: 01:11:05

Moderated by: Dr. Gaëlle Morel, Curator, Ryerson Image Centre
Panelists: Sara Knelman, Annie MacDonell, Jo Longhurst

Since the 1970s, in the wake of post-modernism’s questioning of the photographic image, many contemporary photography artists have worked with spaces of display – studio, gallery, cinema – and their conventions – both past and present – as they push two-dimensional images into the three-dimensional realm. How can we make sense of these expanded dimensions of the image?

Session 2: Photography’s Contexts
4:45 – 6 pm

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Duration: 01:18:37

Moderated by: Sophie Hackett, Lead Juror and Assistant Curator, Photography, AGO
Panelists: Charlotte Cotton, Emmanuelle Léonard, Jason Evans

The photographic images we encounter on a daily basis circulate in the press, on billboards, posters, postcards and online. They teach us, for instance, about fashion, crime, what’s beautiful and what isn’t. How do contemporary photographers today make use of different contexts and modes of circulation to reinvent how we understand photographs?

Catching up with Gauri Gill, winner of The Grange Prize 2011

August 15th, 2012

Last November, Delhi-based photographer Gauri Gill won The Grange Prize 2011, after her work earned more votes than three other shortlisted photographers from Canada and India, Elaine Stocki, Althea Thauberger and Nandini Valli. She received $50,000 and, along with the other shortlisted artists, a three-to-four-week international residency (Gill spent time in Toronto). Recently, we decided to check in with her to find out what she has been working on since then and to ask about her Grange Prize experience. Below is our Q&A, conducted via email in July/August 2012.

A peek inside Gauri Gill’s upcoming book, Ballika Mela.

Meg Campbell, AGO: Was there one thing about people in Toronto that caught your eye and inspired you to pull out your camera?

Gauri Gill: No, I weirdly never photographed people that much…I got interested in shops, malls, big-box stores, the sad decaying ones from the ’70s, the newer idiosyncratic ones, Chinese malls, suburban malls — various sites of consumption and the way objects are ordered or “curated” to be made somehow desirable to people. In the west, larger cities often seem to have shops everywhere, unlike in India – or at least the India that I grew up in. It’s all changing now. It’s a work in progress, and I’m still trying to process all of it at some level and how it fits into the larger narrative of my work around cities — it always takes me a while.

MC Besides the financial reward, what other benefits were there to winning The Grange Prize? What has it allowed you to do?

GG It gave me the benefit of a pause. And, yes, I could stop worrying about money for a little bit. I’ve always had full-time jobs to pay for the photography I wanted to do personally, and it’s really only since 2009 that I’ve been living off the sales of the work. That’s always precarious, and so at least for a week or two after winning the Grange I could fantasize about all the things I could do with it. Then life went back to normal, as it does — and I was also back in the world of debts and obligations!

As to how I spent the year, I spent the first four months of this year in Delhi and Rajasthan finishing my book Balika Mela, which is coming out in September. Then the summer in Bombay making new work.

MC What are your current and upcoming projects?

GG Well, really at the moment the book is at the top of my mind. I am making prints as well because there will be a show to accompany it in September in Delhi. After that I hope to return to working on newer projects, including my series Rememory…I keep returning to it. I’m also working on another book from the Rajasthan series. That archive of photographs is quite large — more than 40,000 negatives — with very distinct narratives running through it. I showed an excerpt from it in 2010 as Notes from the Desert, but ultimately I hope to do a series of books, each one a “note” from the desert. Balika Mela is the first one.

It’s always such a fine and messy balance between making new things and processing the older ones and finding the practical means to make and share. Not to mention trying to have a little bit of a life.

MC What are the challenges and rewards of turning your work into books?

GG I think the best thing about a book is that you can put the whole series in it so that it can be seen in its entirety. I work on projects that go on for years, and there’s always too much to be contained in one odd exhibition. Images work in different ways — they can work well in isolation but be read quite differently when they are embedded within the context of the rest of the set. And then of course there is dissemination. A photo book can be accessed by a curious teenager, someone in a small town who may not be able to visit big-city exhibitions, a person who doesn’t speak English at all; it can arrive at a footpath or a coffee shop or in the dusty stacks of a dusty library waiting for someone to stumble upon it. My publisher just kindly offered to give one copy to each of the girls featured in it, so there will be all these books in homes in rural Rajasthan.

I can’t think of too many challenges apart from a lack of small, serious and experimental publishers with time to spare, because these things take a great deal of time, especially if you’re obsessive. I was lucky to find one such publisher. For the rest, it all seems contingent on pre-calculating a market and then catering to it, along pre-determined deadlines. There doesn’t seem to be much testing of the waters. Also, photography books are relatively expensive to produce. I suppose the catch for me is the wish to make something very well and sell it very cheap. But I guess expensive books are easier to steal than expensive art work — I had two friends in California who were very good at it.

MC Does photography get as much recognition as an art form in India as it does in Canada?

GG No, it’s only in the past few years that it’s starting to be recognized as an art form. You still cannot get a BFA in photography at any government-certified institution, and an MFA at only one design school. There is no real state support or grants apart from one. However, a few forward-thinking art galleries have started to program photography in — the market has stepped in, in a sense. And the one silver lining is that even with the current recession, photography is still much cheaper to collect than other art forms, so it might survive it. But what we need simultaneously is a critical culture and more conversations around photography. Camerawork Delhi was started as a way to address that, and there are now a few other publications too such as Pix and Punctum, which is great. And late last year Delhi hosted a big photo festival. Luckily, there are various independent and small initiatives that might appear like bubbles and then die out, but something else arrives to take their place. In the end, the scene needs to grow massively, which can only happen through affordable, accessible education; and to break down existing hierarchies and class barriers — that would then hopefully happen automatically.

MC As an artist, how does it feel to have your work judged by the public?

GG Initially I had some reservations, which I also voiced to the AGO. First, the competition aspect itself, which I found disturbing. Two of us thought we could do away with it if all four of us nominees agreed to share the award four ways if we won. But then two of the nominees didn’t agree. So we dropped that. Then, I was worried that people might not bother to look at the work closely and in depth, that they would vote based only on the edited version they saw in the gallery or on the website, and that the work might get dumbed down – or reduced to the greatest hits or the most striking images or something. Or even be focused more on our personalities than the actual work. But in the end the curator Michelle Jacques really tried to put a substantial amount of work out, and then the museum brought so many people in, to have that kind of footfall around photographs was unusual for me, and the kind of debate that was created around the work — perhaps even because of the voting or competition aspect — was fairly extensive. People started to write on blogs about why they liked this or that photographer’s work, argue for it, post links and so on. All kinds of people pitched in — for instance, a really articulate person working at the Toronto prison constructed a fine argument around my work. He really got it. It was good to hear those diverse voices. I realized I had to just throw the work out there and let it go.

Ballika Mela, published by Edition Patrick Frey will be released in Delhi in September 2012. With 72 black-and-white plates and 32 colour reproductions, essays by Gill herself and Manju Saran (in English and Hindi), the book is a document of Gill’s photo studio set up to take portraits of the predominantly female children and adolescents that attended the fair in remote and rural western Rajasthan. In 2003 and again in 2010, Gill collaborated with her subjects to produce these self-conscious portraits, on occasion also conducting workshops on photography and displaying some of the images taken in Lunkaransar previously.

Find out more about Gauri Gill and her work at her website.

Spotlight on: Althea Thauberger

October 25th, 2011

In this series of blog posts we’ll be looking at each of the artists shortlisted for The Grange Prize 2011: Gauri Gill, Nandini Valli, Althea Thauberger and Elaine Stocki. The Prize is Canada’s only major art prize where the winner is chosen by the public. Vote now. Each year four fine art photographers, two from Canada and two from a partner country, are nominated by an international jury of experts. This year, the partner country is India. The Grange Prize is a partnership between the AGO and Aeroplan.

“It never appealed to me to be an artist who was separated from the world. I think the most exciting work I do is when I’m working in the world, socially-orientated photography is very much about that.”  Althea Thauberger, artist statement , The Grange Prize 2011

Althea Thauberger’s work is hard to define. Using film and video as well as the photographs you can see as part of The Grange Prize exhibition, she documents her collaborations with people. The people she works with are often well-defined social groups, and the social experience is a key concern for this artist. She works with communities to develop performances that offer the members opportunities for self-exploration and self-definition. The works, which Thauberger produces to record the collaborations, are always extraordinarily striking documents that entice, engage and surprise her viewers. She is based in Vancouver and has been working as an artist for more than a decade.

Althea Thauberger (Canadian), Northern (Production still), 2005, 35mm film with sound transferred to HD video, 8:00 min. Courtesy of the artist. ©2011 Althea Thauberger.

Althea Thauberger (Canadian), Northern (Production still), 2005, 35mm film with sound transferred to HD video, 8:00 min. Courtesy of the artist. ©2011 Althea Thauberger.

Her work has been presented at the 17th Biennale of Sydney; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Guangzhou Triennial, China; Manifesta 7, Trento, Italy; Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Vancouver; Vancouver Art Gallery; BAK, Utrecht; Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin; Kunstverein Wolfsburg, Germany; Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax; Singapore History Museum; Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver; Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Antwerp; Berkeley Art Museum; Insite, San Diego/Tijuana; White Columns, New York; and Seattle Art Museum.

Althea Thauberger: At A Glance

  • Althea Thauberger was born in 1970.  She received a BFA in photography from Concordia University in 2000 and an MFA from University of Victoria in 2002. She is currently studying part-time for a PhD in cultural theory.
  • She uses films, videos, audio recordings and books to explore themes of social, political, institutional and aesthetic power relations.
  • As a child she wasn’t allowed any friends who did not share the fundamentalist Christian beliefs of her family.
  • She was a tree planter for ten years.
  • One project took her to Kandahar, Afghanistan as a part of the Canadian War Artist program. Canada was still active at the front at the time of her trip.
  • Listen to a voice recording of Thauberger on Art Talk AM
Althea Thauberger (Canadian), Ecce Homo, 2011, laminated digital c-print. Commissioned by the City of Vancouver, Courtesy Susan Hobbs Gallery. ©2011 Althea Thauberger.

 “It would be nearly impossible to accuse Vancouver artist Althea Thauberger of being weak or fearful; in fact she is quite the opposite. Not only does she happily invite controversy and criticism, but she willingly flew to Kandahar, Afghanistan as a part of the Canadian War Artist program while Canada was still active at the front. Not an adventure for the light of heart for sure, but one that Thauberger took on with her characteristic aplomb.


To see more works from Althea Thauberger and to vote for her please visit
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