Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Grange Prize

There's a fairly new (2007) Canadian photography prize - The Grange Prize - sponsored by the Art Gallery of Ontario and Aeroplan which seems to manage to keep a fairly low profile and its light under a bushell (or at least it feels like it does), but which offers the winning photography some serious benefits. For one thing, after the short list of four photographers is chosen, the winner is picked by popular (internet) vote. Then the winner also gets a couple of good exhibitions - one at the AGO in Toronto and another with their partner institution for the year - which this year is the Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City. There is also a residency included. Finally, the purse is $50,000(CDN), which is pretty damn good for any photography prize or award. Certainly enough to fund a new project for a good while without having to get a day job...

This years shortlist includes one of my favourite photographers - Lynne Cohen. I've talked about her at least a couple of times before.

As an aside, reading the bios I note Cohen has recently been photographing in Cuba. When I hear that phrase (as I did from another wonderful Canadian photographer recently) there's a little part of me that cringes. So many good photographers seem to have gone to Cuba in recent years and stumbled. Somehow they get entranced by the whole old crumbling Havana, peeling colours, 1950's old cars, Buena Vista Social Club thing and apparently manage to lose all the sensibilities that usually makes their work compelling or unique and end up producing something that would look just fine in National Geographic... but Dave Harvey has already done an excellent job at covering that base and it's been overdone ever since. Somehow everyone seems to forget Walker Evan's Cuba - among others.

I've only been to Cuba once, but did travel a bit (and never went to Havana). Where are the pictures of the isolated tourist resorts? Or the parade ground in Santa Clara built on a scale on the Communists could imagine? Or what photographer has been allowed to photograph on their own terms inside the physically oppressive yet aura filled Che Guevara Mausoleum? Or the Motorway/Freeway that just... peters out on the ground well before it does on the map - because it was designed and funded by the East Germans and work just stopped when the Berlin Wall fell?

So when I hear of a photographer whose work I like and admire photographing in Cuba, I both cringe a little bit inside as I say to myself; "oh no, I hope not...?" and at the same time there's also some excited anticipation as I think; "hmm... this could be good".

Back to the Grange Prize, the other three shortlisted photographers are Marco Antonio Cruz:

and Federico Gama:

and Jin-me Yoon:

All worthy contenders. You don't have to be Canadian to vote - so why not head over to their website and vote for your favourite of the three. You've got until May 24th to make your choice.

(P.S. I had some trouble logging on to the Grange Prize website - it may have just been my browser, but let me know if it's more widespread than that...)


Luis said...

I was born in Cuba, and can tell you that it casts a dense spell, specially over its native sons and daughters. This is a something I wrote for a friend that lives too far away (Alexis Alvarez) last year that addresses what Tim wrote about:

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan Main Bar – June 13-July 31

Not Quite a Tourist: An American in Cuba

Photographs by Alexis Alvarez

CUBA HAS A WAY OF EMBEDDING ITSELF IN ONE’S memory and personal mythology. Alexis grew up listening to stories of the paradise it was when her father was a child. And, as with her father, it, too, was the paradise of my childhood.

Upon entering first grade, I attended a private boys’ school in Havana. We went to mass every day, but once a week we would be marched single file down to the same chapel where we heard mass, while the French brothers set up a projector in the back of the chapel and a silvery screen on a tripod immediately in front of the altar. It was there that we were shown westerns every week, with painted, gilded, nearly life-sized statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Peter on either side of the screen where Gene Autry, John Wayne, and the Lone Ranger and Tonto safeguarded the pilgrimage of the pioneers. On the same day we would also pray to the crucified Jesus behind the screen. Biblical desert, American western desert, Exodus, pioneers, Mt. Sinai, Sierra Madre, California, and the Promised Land all blended together and made perfect sense. This may seem remarkable, but not in Cuba, where the gradient between the magical and real, the sacred and profane, rich and poor, was seamless. It still is.

Everybody went to Cuba looking for something. The Spanish wanted gold (although it took them generations to realize they were standing on it); the English, strategic positioning; the Americans, the sweetest Cuban sugar – and another domino; the tourists, earthly pleasures; the Russians, a base close to the underbelly of the U.S. Regardless of why they came, they all found and lost paradise.
Alexis was driven partly by the golden childhood dreams and memories of her father, that circumstances conspired to keep in a state of suspended, yet living, animation. She went to the town where her father lived, on an intimate dream-quest, which proved only tantalizing and elusive. These photographs are in part about a journey across the world, time, memories, and the human heart.

Cuba is like an old photograph you find in a drawer – a yellowing, fading photograph of people who seem vaguely familiar – but the people themselves do not succumb to the ravages of time, exploitation, or isolation. Cubans live life intensely, passionately, and in the moment. They also hunger to embrace the world, as Alexis embraces them.

Luis Gottardi
Exhibition Committee

Caille said...

You're not alone, Tim -- I couldn't get on there, either. Many thanks for your blog! It's lovely....

rabelais said...
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