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A look at the four finalists for the Aimia/AGO Photography Prize

The Aimia/AGO Photography Prize creates its longlist by asking photography experts from around the world – curators, directors, professors, artists – to nominate artists both in their own geographic area of expertise, and internationally. It’s then whittled down by a jury of three (the Art Gallery of Ontario’s associate curator of photography Sophie Hackett; the director of Munich’s Haus der Kunst, Okwui Enwezor; and the New York-based artist Laurie Simmons – who may be better known in mainstream circles these days as the mother of Lena Dunham).

“We’re looking for artists who have shown extraordinary promise in the last five years,” says Hackett. “We don’t really put age brackets around it. It’s more about the moment they’re having in their career right now.” All four shortlisted artists are awarded a six-week residency at the AGO and will be featured in an exhibition opening in September. And in a public engagement-ensuring twist, it’s the public who chooses the winner of the $50,000 prize. Before you cast your vote, here’s a look at the four finalists.

David Hartt

The Republic II/David Hartt

Born in Montreal in 1967, Hartt currently lives in Chicago. His work, which also includes videos and sculptures, explores how the built environment – such as the iconic headquarters of the Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago, publisher of Ebony and Jet – reflects the ideas and beliefs of a particular time and space.

David Hartt

His video installation The Republic is inspired by two postwar master plans by Greek urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis: One for Athens, one for Detroit, neither of which was realized. In the installation, Hartt merges footage he shot in both cities to create a fictitious and seamless hybrid city-state – The Republic.

Elad Lassry

Untitled (Mozzarella) 2014/Elad Lassry

What is the difference between an unremarkable commercial photograph and a work of art, between a museum-quality portrait and a headshot? This question – essentially, what is a picture? – is central to Elad Lassry’s practice (he also makes experimental films). The Israeli-born (in 1977), Los Angeles-based artist’s fascination with the utilitarian photograph has led him to source material such as how-to books, manuals and marketing materials.

Elad Lassry

His small scale works evoke a sort of deadpan humour and employ bright colours; his frames are often painted based on the dominant colour. “There’s something about his pictures that seems exaggerated and yet they’re very precise,” says Hackett.

Nandipha Mntambo

Praça de Touros III/Nandipha Mntambo

Born in Swaziland in 1982 and now living in Johannesburg, Mntambo trained as a sculptor and still works in cowhide, using her own body as a mould. But her practice has expanded to include photography, performance, video and painting. She is interested in opposing forces: male/female, animal/human, European/African.

Nandipha Mntambo

These themes are central in her video Ukungenisa and related photographic prints in which Mntambo, wearing a matador-inspired costume and one of her cowhide sculptures, fights an invisible adversary in an abandoned bullfighting arena that had been used mostly when the Portuguese occupied Mozambique. The work investigates what it might be like to be the bull, the bullfighter and the audience.

Lisa Oppenheim

Smoke (video still)/Lisa Oppenheim

Born in 1975 in New York, where she still lives, Oppenheim gives new life to old images. For her video installation Smoke, she found archival images online of smoke, such as volcanic eruptions and industrial pollution.

Lisa Oppenheim

She downloaded the images, output them to 35 mm motion picture film, and using that as the negative, processed the prints using light and heat from an open flame – a small kitchen torch or matches –thus linking the subject matter of the photo, smoke, to the process of creating the video. She then scanned the prints to create the video. “Every image I make is a document of its own making,” Oppenheim explains in an AGO video.

The Aimia/AGO Photography Prize 2014 Exhibition is at the AGO Sept. 3 to Jan. 4. The winner will be announced on Oct. 29.

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