Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Grange Prize: Cast Your Vote!

The art world could hardly be described as a democracy, being filled as it is with experts and academics ready to pass judgment on what does or does not qualify as "fine". Here is a rare opportunity to have your say, and make your opinion count.

Now in its second year, the Grange Prize recognizes the work of Canadian and international contemporary photographers, awarding $50,000 CAD to a winner chosen through an online public vote from among two Canadian and two international artists. The Art Gallery of Ontario works each year with a different partner museum in a country other than Canada. The partner museum for 2009 is Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City.

The four photographers in the running this year are:

Jin-me Yoon: "Her photographic and video-installation works pivot on explorations of identity and place that the artist links to her autobiographical experiences of moving to Canada from South Korea at the age of eight."

Lynne Cohen: "The extraordinary places photographed by Lynne Cohen are perplexing environments. Uncanny and devoid of human presence, these spaces are yet complete with tell-tale traces suggesting imaginative if, at first look, troubling narratives."

Marco Antonio Cruz: "Cruz understands documentary photography as the exercise of a point of view that is ethically and politically engaged, yet aspires to an aesthetic clarity."

Frederico Gama: Photographs of young immigrant labourers in Mexico City who "use fashion to break away from the stereotyped figure of a passive Indian sprung from an idyllic past."

Both the Canadians in this contest present work with a certain creepy flatness that I found extremely compelling intellectually. Disengagement, anomie and isolation are strong thematic elements in both Cohen's and Yoon's work. Many of Yoon's images are stills from video installations, which does not to my mind technically qualify as "photography", so she seems an odd choice in this short list. The two Mexican photographers could not be more different from the two Canadians. Gama's images would be at home in National Geographic, and are more editorial than artistic in nature. It was Cruz's black and white photographs of blind people which really grabbed me, for their technical skill, humanity and Arbus-like capture of moment and gesture.

What do you think?

Take a look at the Grange Prize website to read more about each photographer, to see many more images....and to cast your vote.


  1. So glad to come across a Candian Art blog! These photos are interesting, I understand what you mean about the flatness of the two Canadian entries. However I also really enjoy the colour and composition in Gama's photo, I don't think that having a National Geographic feeling has to completely bar it from being art. Cruz's photo, while I find it haunting, seems to play for my sympathy just a little too much. Is that a terribly cynical thing to say?

  2. Josephine: If you are inclined to do so, I'd enjoy hearing back from you after you click through to the Grange Prize website and look at the whole series of photos by each of the artists. My feelings about the photographs changed considerably as I thought about each body of work as a whole. Honestly, I was a bit surprised at myself for liking Cruz's series after all was said and done, because my initial reaction was just like yours. I confess that I have not voted yet...I'm going to go back and look again in a couple of days!

  3. I was more engaged with the series by Cruz and Gama. And surprisingly I still find Gama's series to be of a vocabulary that is still currently under explored.

    I do enjoy being faced with his characters that present an aspect of wariness towards the outsider - flipping the typical perception of them as being the outsider, - so how was I, the viewer displaced into that position of the outsider so easily? I don't mind the grammar of the documentary photograph - it seems to work here for me. It makes me wonder if this inversing of the subject/viewer "roles" the result of that journalism's visual grammar? And if so, what does that reveal about our current medias social impact? (shades of Innis and McLuhan here) I have a preference for Gama's series at this moment.

    thanks for introducing your readers to this prize