Veteran Toronto photographer Arnaud Maggs, known for exploring themes of identity and categorization in his work, has won the Scotiabank Photography Prize.

Maggs, 86, received the $50,000 award at a ceremony at Toronto's Design Exchange Wednesday evening.

"To receive this award is an honour and it is an honour to be named in the company of my gifted peers, Fred Herzog and Alain Paiement," Maggs said in a statement.

Organizers of the fledgling prize, now in its second year, are "helping to raise the profile of Canadian photography and the people and stories behind the lens," he added.

After working as a graphic designer and commercial and fashion photographer, Maggs moved into art photography in the mid-1970s. He is best known for a portrait series that showcased multiple images of famous subjects — including German artist Joseph Beuys, fellow photographer Yousuf Karsh and literary critic and author Northrop Frye — presented in stark, grid-like arrangements.


Maggs, 86, opens 'our eyes to the significance of ordinary things,' the jury said in its citation. (Canadian Press)

He stopped doing human portraiture in the early 1990s and moved onto documenting human systems of classification. A recent project features Maggs himself as the sad, French clown figure Pierrot.

He received the Governor General's Award in visual and media arts in 2006. The National Gallery of Canada opened the retrospective Arnaud Maggs: Identification in Ottawa on May 3.  

"Arnaud Maggs has made a unique contribution to Canadian art and photography with his clear and original way of looking at the world around him," said Ann Thomas, prize juror and curator of the NGC's photographs collection.

"Under his unswerving and affectionate eye, he brings to a new level of appreciation both the idea of human identity represented through the photographic portrait and the idea of cultural evidence garnered through the traces that everyday things leave behind. We are grateful to him for opening our eyes to the significance of ordinary things."

Thomas was joined on the jury by Vancouver Art Gallery curator Karen Love and William Ewing, director of curatorial projects for publisher Thames and Hudson.

Maggs, who divides his time between Toronto and France, receives $50,000 as well as a solo exhibition at the 2013 edition of Toronto's CONTACT Photography Festival and a book deal with art book publisher Steidl.

He is the second winner of the prize, which was conceived by famed Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky and Scotiabank to celebrate established Canadian photographers for a body of work. Montreal's Lynn Cohen was the inaugural winner.