The 2015 edition AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize features some major figures in contemporary art. Dave Jordano, Annette Kelm, Owen Kydd and Hito Steyerl are all in the running for the $50,000 prize, but, in order to win, their work will need to resonate with audiences, as the prize is determined by a public vote. The voting period runs until 11:59 p.m. on November 29, 2015.
For those who are less familiar with this year’s artists (or just wish to see more), an exhibition of the finalists’ work, curated by Adelina Vlas, the AGO’s associate curator of contemporary art, opened at the AGO on September 9 and runs until January 3, 2016. While the show will help visitors make their decisions, it will also clarify each artist’s relationship with image-making. This is a necessary distinction: more so perhaps than any other year, the four finalists have widely varied practices, working in both conceptual and documentary modes that incorporate elements of performance and installation.
Here, we assemble a brief primer to the multifaceted work highlighted by the 2015 AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize.
Based in Chicago, Jordano approaches photography with a warmly subjective eye, documenting people and places important to him, and telling stories as yet unseen. In his ongoing series Detroit Unbroken Down (begun in 2010), for example, Jordano captures images of his hometown, Detroit, that move beyond the expected photojournalistic images of closed factories and decrepit buildings. Through his lens we are introduced to individuals who have been left behind to cope with these major societal changes.
Internationally renowned for her densely theoretical and divergent practice, Steyerl hails from Germany, where she now teaches at the Berlin University of the Arts. Through writing, film, installation work and photography, she interrogates the boundary between the documentary and the abstract, building on a dizzying amount of research. Despite this heft, Steyerl isn’t afraid to approach these issues with a touch of humour, as evidenced in her exhibition at the German Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale.
While Steyerl plumbs the realm of the digital, her fellow Berlin-based artist, Kelm, resoundingly sticks to the physical. Her photographs are distinctly object-based: clocks, books, pieces of foliage and humans are frequently depicted in her iterative images (often displayed as series), where the subtle differences between each shot become apparent. Although Kelm’s images are devoted to objects, the actual subject of the photographs is their very representation. What does it mean, Kelm asks, to capture an image? What do we impart in this process?
Canadian-born artist Owen Kydd, who now lives and works in Los Angeles, also focuses on objects within his work, but his investigations lean more towards duration than strict representation. Throughout his work, Kydd fixates on the relationship between the still and moving image (as Aaron Peck noted in his feature on the artist in Canadian Art’s Summer 2014 issue). Kydd’s recent work focuses on filming objects over a period of time in his studio. His is a subtle, effective probing of the line between photography and film.
The four artists at the heart of the 2015 AIMIA | AGO Photography prize reflect the incredible diversity within lens-based media. Their unique histories and approaches are widely divergent and yet, individually, their appeal is undeniable, making it impossible to predict this year’s winner.
When the winner is announced on December 1, 2015, at the AGO, they will join a prestigious group of past recipients. Lisa Oppenheim, Erin Shirreff, Jo Longhurst, Gauri Gill, Kristan Horton, Marco Antonio Cruz and Sarah Anne Johnson have all taken the top honour home in past years.
To learn even more about the finalists, the prize and the scholarship program, head to the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize’s website, and follow along with the prize’s progress and discussion on social media @AimiaAGOPrize. Given the contenders, it’s a conversation you won’t want to miss out on.