Long Exposure: Community as Practice in the New Generation Photography Award
Can an art prize foster community, while also rewarding individual excellence? It's a question the four finalists of the Turner Prize may have asked themselves, before deciding to ask that the 2019 prize be awarded to all four of them as a collective, "in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity — in art as in society.”
When the New Generation Photography Award was established in 2017, Scotiabank and the Canadian Photography Institute created three equal prizes, rather than one. In a country as vast as Canada, the chance for peers to meet, exchange ideas and exhibit their work together can be as great an opportunity as the award itself, although different in value.
This year’s New Generation Photography Award winners — Luther Konadu, Ethan Murphy and Zinnia Naqvi — met in person for the first time thanks to the prize, although they had already exchanged ideas online, mainly through Konadu’s interdisciplinary publication Thisispublicparking.com.
The name “Public Parking” was chosen in 2016 for its ability to take the shape of whatever context within which it’s placed. Initially, it’s where Konadu transcribed the extensive conversations he had with other artists during studio visits. “Now,” he says, “it’s become more than just a capsule for documentation; a search for criticality has taken as much hold.”
When Konadu interviewed Naqvi for the publication in late 2016, she recalls, it was the first long-form interview she had done with someone who had taken the time to familiarize themselves with her work and ask thoughtful questions.
“It's a gift to be able to think through those ideas with someone, and then have it recorded somewhere to reflect back on,” she says. “Emerging artists rarely get that time or space to express the thoughts going into the work they make on a public platform.” Recently, she realized that they spoke about her being a documentary artist at the time. Currently, however, she is much more interested in playing with the boundaries between documentary and fiction.
During the Meet the Artists event held at the National Gallery of Canada after the opening of the 2019 New Generation Photography Award Exhibition, the three winners chose to ask each other questions, in a roundtable, instead of only doing individual presentations. Although their approaches are different, each placed an emphasis on community and reciprocity, both in the form and content of their discussion.
"That's one of the greatest functions of art: opening up dialogue amongst viewers and artists, and similarly, with artists together," Murphy explains. "It's really important for people to be able to see that there's not one way to be an artist, one way of exploring an idea or doing something."
With this same collegiality and candour, Murphy interviewed his mentor Steven Beckly for Public Parking in June. Many of the publication’s interviewers are artists themselves, and new interviewees are often recommended by previous ones. So, after receiving Beckly’s attention and advice, Murphy wanted to reciprocate and gain more insight into his mentor’s work, philosophies and influences.
Public Parking, through its many collaborators, has evolved from an online extension of Konadu’s studio practice, which is a lot like “hanging out,” he says. “I’m always interested in giving individuals the power and agency of looking and how they can look back at the viewer, who is looking at them.”
In a similar way, the publication has become a casual, intimate, yet public place, like getting into a friend’s car that’s waiting in a parking lot. In a loose, but growing collective, artists across disciplines are coming together through Public Parking to assert themselves, with and for each other, and for interested readers at large.
Artist-led publications like Public Parking are one of the many ways in which contemporary artists are interacting and sharing ideas, while looking both inwards to the artistic community, and outwards to the wider world. By bringing photographic artists together, prizes like the New Generation Photography Award become an important part of this process.
Visit the 2019 New Generation Photography Award Exhibition, which presents recent works by Luther Konadu, Ethan Murphy and Zinnia Naqvi, in the Canadian Photography Institute’s PhotoLab, until March 22, 2020.