The Art Gallery of Ontario held a talk that delved into a conversation about contemporary photography and art on a global scale. The talk, lead by the AGO’s photography curator Sophie Hackett, introduced four photographers: Liz Johnson Artur, Raymond Boisjoly, Taisuke Koyama, and Hank Willis Thomas, who were all shortlisted for the AIMIA AGO Photography Prize. The four finalists are a diverse group. Emerging from Ghana, Haida Nation, Japan and the United States, these photographers imparted their cultural perspectives in their portfolios.

Hackett emphasized the importance of realizing that artists cannot do what they do without financial means. He stated that the prize was worth $90,000. However, the entirety of the prize money doesn’t go directly to the sole winner of the award: $50,000 goes to the winner, $5,000 to the other shortlisted photographers, and $25,000 to a scholarship program for photography students in Canada.

The goal of the prize is to help budding photographers. Dreams can only be dreams, and without the push of financial help, photographers are just left with their hope.

The event was not so much as a talk, as it was a debate. Issues, challenges, and problems were raised, and this fuelled hunger for more answers.

Artur claimed that despite what people may think, she does not always have a camera at hand, and this drew laughs from the audience. Having a camera at all times and snapping whatever is in your realm is not a claim to photographic artistry. What is more important is what you do with it and the meaning behind the shot

This, it seems, was a challenge shared among all the artists. However, Thomas was quick to jump to the positives of this issue. He was persistent when claiming that photos are proof of something. It means that there was a time where someone was at a certain place.

When asked what kind of reality he was referring to, he insinuated that perhaps photography was meant to show instead of see. It’s important to find someone, take their photo, and begin to question: What’s behind that smile? What’s going on behind her? Why is she standing like that? This is how you begin to know people. This is how art brings us together on an equal scale.

There seemed to be a debate on how well images communicate themselves, and whether or not they can do that on their own. Hackett drew an example from Koyama’s untitled 2015 exhibit, which showcased images with prints of words that were larger than the photographs themselves. As it displayed on the screen next to her, Koyama defended the idea behind this.

Koyama relayed that images, although powerful and striking, do not always have the means to convey their own messages. He felt that although his images did not necessarily need words beside them, he included them to add ambiguity to the photographs.

In the end, talking about photography is as profound as the experience of viewing it. The discussion left the audience with insight into the complexities of a photographer’s thought.

Voting for the AIMIA AGO Photography Prize ends on November 5.

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