The Grange Prize; huh?
It's more or less impossible to criticize the selection, as, American-Idol style, Cruz was chosen by We The People, over the course of a lengthy online voting process. And frankly, I wouldn't want to; while the conceptualism of the Canadians in the field -- the provocative coolness of Lynne Cohen, or the quirkily sombre work of Jin-me Yoon -- are more my cup of tea, Cruz's straight documentary work, on a school for the blind, is accomplished and engaging, to be sure.
What I do feel I can criticize, however, is the Grange Prize itself. Its mandate, apparently, is to engage the public in a dialogue about contemporary photography, which, by way of the voting process -- 20,000 strong -- I suppose it's done.
But the institution itself is a puzzlement. Sponsored by the AGO, we have Canadian entrants, which is good; so we should. But it seems, in its second instalment, that the model is for the AGO to go hat-in-hand to whatever national tourist board wants to use the gallery as a promotional vehicle. Hence this year's field of Cohen, Cruz, Yoon and Federico Gama -- 2 Canadians, 2 Mexicans. Why? Because the Mexican government chipped in the $50,000 purse.
If the Grange were awarded amid a field of contemporary Canadian photographers voted on by the public, then it might make a little bit of sense; or, if the prize were awarded amid a truly international field, then okay. But choosing photographers exclusively from a country simply because their government sponsored it is, on the one hand, bizarre, and on the other, transparently tokenistic.
Grange Prize 2010 will intermingle Canadians and photographers from France. What can we expect from Grange Prize 2011? The best of Canadian and Belarussian photographers, or Canadians and Luxembourgians? No disprespect to the fine photographic communities that I'm sure exist in those places, but really, the Grange Prize, much like the AGO itself, feels just that random. In some ways, it's a perfect marriage; but that doesn't make it a happy one, does it?