Power to the People: Erin Shirreff wins the 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize

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2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize winner Erin Sherriff in front of her work, Moon. Photo: George Pimentel. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

After casting more than 25,000 votes, the public has chosen Canadian artist Erin Shirreff as the winner of the 2013 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize. “I was genuinely surprised to win,” said the Brooklyn-based Shirreff when NGCMagazine caught up with her, the day after she won the $50,000 prize. “The fact that people were able to have an experience with my videos, and hopefully engage with other things I’ve been working on—sculptures and non-moving photography—I’m very happy about.”

Known as Canada’s leading international contemporary photography award, the winner of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize is chosen entirely by public voting. This year, voters were able to cast their ballots online via the prize’s website and Facebook page, and in person at the Art Gallery of Ontario

It’s easy to see why voters were drawn to Shirreff's work, which has been described as extending and exploring the act of looking. “I am interested in how we relate to things that have a dimensionality, but that we’re only seeing as an image,” says Shirreff. “The moon is the quintessential example of this. Most of the human population only ever sees [the moon] from the vantage point of it being an image in the sky,” she adds, describing the concept behind her 2010 video, Moon.

Shirreff constructs her long-duration videos from hundreds of individual photographs she captures in her studio. To create her 2012 work Lake, for example, the artist adapted a 1980s brochure featuring a yellowy-green image of the Okanagan Valley, located near her hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia. While the image initially transported her back to growing up in the eighties, Shirreff reproduced it and altered its colouration to produce thousands of images that evoke different decades. She then photographed each one to create a meditative video that flickers through eras, collapsing time and space.

“In the videos, my hope is to create an encounter between you and what it is you are looking at. There is a quality that all the subject matter shares, in which you feel as though you are being regarded back,” says Shirreff, noting that her works feel “very animate,” even though they don’t depict any people.

What’s clear from viewing Shirreff’s work is that she’s pushing the boundaries of what some might traditionally consider photography. “Even though I say I work in photography, video, sculpture, a lot of that work is generated by bringing the mediums together. For example, I’ll make a sculpture specifically to photograph it. Or I’ll take photographs specifically to put them into a video,” says Shirreff, noting that the common denominator in the work is the relationship to—if not photography—then the image. 

Indeed, Shirreff and the other artists shortlisted for this year’s award—Edgardo Aragón from Mexico, LaToya Ruby Frazier from the United States, and Chino Otsuko from Japan and the United Kingdom—together provide fascinating insights into how photography is evolving. For this reason, you won’t want to miss the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Exhibition, on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario until 5 January 2014. Or check out the finalists’ work online to see what you think.


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