Lens-based Art: the New Generation Photography Award 2020 and 2021
The 2020 and 2021 winners of the New Generation Photography Award, supported by the Scotiabank Photography Program, attest to photography’s broad expressive capacity. In some cases, straight documentary approaches convey issues of social urgency. Other works mix photography’s descriptive capacity with narrative strategies to present personal journeys. The works by the six winners, currently on view at the National Gallery of Canada, explore the medium’s privileged relationship to conceptual art, as well as its ability to depict issues of identity and culture.
In his photo story My Father’s Son, Curtiss Randolph assumes the persona of “GG Jangles” to enact a docu-drama loosely based on the life of his father, George Randolph, a dancer and theatre owner. The Bathurst Street Theatre, where the artist spent much of his childhood, provides the setting for a story of determination and heroism, as Jangles struggles to maintain the promise of “the show must go on” in spite of adversity and lack of support and funding. The artist presents the backstage paraphernalia of his second home – ropes, lights and posters – and scenes of grand drama: a leap from the balcony impossibly mitigated by a golf umbrella; a tumble from a ladder and its aftermath. In what Randolph calls a “parable of creation,” these photographs present scenarios replete with narrative and aesthetic significance that speak to how our identities are shaped by our environments and the people that raise us.
Katherine Takpannie’s work addresses aspects of her life and community. Born in Montreal and raised in Ottawa, Takpannie represents a new generation of Inuit artists whose images capture the drive to visualize the contemporary contexts and environments of Inuit experience, both natural and urban. In her works, the beauty of the female form situated in nature speaks to quiet power, while the artist’s presence within abandoned, graffiti-filled structures indicates more chaotic realities. In the face of the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, Takpannie’s Our Women and Girls are Sacred series honours these women through performance. Her work acknowledges the strength of tradition that underpins her travels, the urgent situations that Inuit youth must address and the critical support of community in confronting these issues.
Noah Friebel works with photography and video, challenging the two-dimensional nature of the image with sculptural and installation elements. His works emphasize material components, such as framing devices, to draw attention to the mechanics and boundaries of picture-making: the conceptual underpinning of the medium pivoting on dichotomies such as inner versus outer reality; documentary versus abstraction; two-dimensional versus three-dimensional; inclusion versus exclusion; and private versus public. In Finn Slough, the photograph’s frame references the physical material of the fence and gate in the image, creating a conceptual link and feedback loop between real and photographed objects. Friebel also draws attention to how the camera frame’s ability to include and exclude accords with notions of private/public boundaries, such as fences that both include and exclude.
Dustin Brons delves into the ideological constitution of how we frame our understanding of the everyday, the environment and urban existence. His still-life photographs present staged and found arrangements of objects in apartments where he has lived in recent years. They offer subtle commentaries on broader socio-economic issues present in the domestic sphere. Subject matter includes a jar of now obsolete pennies, an analog watch, the seeming need to double up on household items such as microwaves, and the somewhat old-fashioned but now environmentally more acceptable brown paper bag. As well, the capacity of photography to present ordinary moments as extraordinary is seen in the image of a spoon perfectly balanced on a cooking pot.
In his series The Cloud Factory, Chris Donovan explores how identity is shaped by classism, environmental injustice and community. A city of extremes, Saint John in New Brunswick is home to the some of Canada’s wealthiest citizens as well as one of the country’s poorest neighbourhoods, with a child poverty rate of 50%. Like other documentary photographers before him, Donovan chooses an in-depth approach to his subject matter, getting to know the people and issues over a long period of time. Through this extended period of familiarity, he gains trust and opportunity to capture candid shots. By juxtaposing images of the harsh realities with the intimate moments that define the lives of many locals, Donovan presents a poignant portrait of a singular industry’s effect on individual well-being, as well as its deleterious impact on the environment.
Through performative video works and photographs, Toronto-based artist Dainesha Nugent-Palache explores the dichotomies and paradoxes inherent in representations of Afro-Caribbean femininities. She has participated in numerous exhibitions throughout the Toronto area and engaged in multidisciplinary curatorial projects such as the feminist music festival and concert series Venus Fest and Blindspots Screening, which presents the films of queer diasporic artists who explore LGBTQ experience through a diasporic lens. Drawing upon diverse photographic practices, such as fashion, portraiture and still-life photography, she explores visualizations of Black diaspora across pasts, presents and speculative futures. With an exuberant approach to colour and display, Nugent-Palache’s work often negotiates with forms of glamour, excess and other photographic strategies inherent to the visual cultures of consumer capitalism.
Work by the winners of the 2021 and the 2020 Scotiabank New Generation Photography Award, organized by the National Gallery of Canada, supported by the Scotiabank Photography Program, are on view at the National Gallery of Canada from 13 August 2021 and at Ryerson University as part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival until 14 November. Share this article and subscribe to our newsletters to stay up-to-date on the latest articles, Gallery exhibitions, news and events, and to learn more about art in Canada.