These are the finalists for the 2016 Aimia AGO Photography Prize, and you get to pick the winner

See photos from this year's final four: Talia Chetrit, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, Elizabeth Zvonar and Jimmy Robert.

It's an award for the world's best photography, and Vancouver's Elizabeth Zvonar is on the short list

Detail of The Experience by Elizabeth Zvonar. The Vancouver artist is the lone Canadian finalist for the 2016 Aimia AGO Photography Prize. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Zvonar)

It's one of the most prestigious art awards in Canada, recognizing the best contemporary photography from around the world, and you get to pick the winner.

The Aimia AGO Photography Prize announced its shortlist today, and the four finalists — whose work will be on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario starting September 7 — are Talia Chetrit (USA), Jimmy Robert (France) Ursula Schulz-Dornburg (Germany) and Elizabeth Zvonar (Canada). Visitors to the museum (and the prize's website, for those who can't get there IRL) are asked to vote for their favourite, but for those who might stumble through the exhibition this fall, what you'll find inside might push your definition of what photography can be.

"I think that should be the point, too!" says Zvornar, a recent artist in residence for the City of Vancouver.

Elizabeth Zvonar is among the finalists for the 2016 Aimia AGO Photography Prize. (Courtesy of the Aimia AGO Photography Prize)

"That's the discipline of contemporary art," Zvonar says. "It offers new ways of thinking, so it always has to be changing, it always has to be a little bit experimental. With the AGO taking this [prize] on as an annual way of presenting new ideas, I think they're only keeping up with the times."

Zvonar's own practice often involves a blend of collage and sculpture, and for the Aimia AGO Photography Prize exhibition, she tells CBC Arts that she's excitedly producing new work, a series including "oversized, larger-than-life" images, many ripped and remixed from a textbook familiar to any kid who ever took Art History 101. "I'm making work that speaks to the history of art through an entry-level textbook called H.W. Janson's History of Art," she explains. "I'm playing around with time and space, basically, mixing things up and playing around with how art history is understood."

Elizabeth Zvonar. Join the Resistance, 2015. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Zvonar)
Elizabeth Zvonar. The Challenge of Abstraction, 2015. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Zvonar. Photo credit: Jennifer Rose Sciarrino)
Elizabeth Zvonar. The Spectre The Serpent The Ghost The Thing, 2013. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Zvonar/Photo credit: Jennifer Rose Sciarrino)

Of specific interest is how we see the human body — portraits from 570 BC might intermingle with partial images from the Renaissance or '60s op art. In some of Zvornar's past collages, the effect can be a little like seeing a person pulled inside-out, to reveal an interior life — or just the unsettling subliminal ways we see others, women being a particular focus.

"As humans we recognize another body very easily — so to change it and skew it, it becomes like an interior thought, perhaps," she says.

The exhibition will be curated by the AGO's Adelina Vlas, and as the museum's associate curator of contemporary art writes in a statement: "The four nominated artists for this year's Aimia AGO Photography Prize all work with photography in singular ways, each of which embodies a current mode in contemporary art.

There's a loose, and unintentional, theme linking a few of the finalists, however. There's a bit of a shared fascination with how the body is represented and understood through photography in the work of Talia Chetrit...

Talia Chetrit. Parents/Glasses, 2014. (Courtesy of Talia Chetrit)
Talia Chetrit. Untitled (Turn #1), 2012. (Courtesy of Talia Chetrit)
Talia Chetrit. Brother (Sunglasses), 2013. (Courtesy of Talia Chetrit)

And Jimmy Robert...

Jimmy Robert. Untitled (Fragments), 2015 (Courtesy of Jimmy Robert and Tanya Leighton, Berlin)
Jimmy Robert. Untitled (Fragments), 2015. (Courtesy of Jimmy Robert and Tanya Leighton, Berlin)
Jimmy Robert. Metallica, 2007. (Jimmy Robert)

Their fellow finalist, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, turns her camera to something bigger – spatially speaking, anyway. Interested in the impermanence of buildings and the power they can represent — the German photographer has been making art about people's relationships to the places where they live since the '60s.

Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. Opytnoe Pole. Kazakhstan. Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, 2012. (Courtesy of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg)
Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. Bus stops. Armenia. Erevan-Parakar, 2004. (Courtesy of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg)
Ursula Schulz-Dornburg. Chagan. Kazakhstan. Airfield shelters of nuclear test site, 2012. (Courtesy of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg)

The nominees were selected by a three-person jury, who chose the finalists from a long list of 23 artists. After public voting closes, the results will be announced at the AGO on November 29. Each runner up will receive $5,000, with $50,000 going to the winner. American artist Dave Jordano was last year's recipient, and past Canadian winners include Erin Shirreff (2013), Kristan Horton (2010) and Sarah Anne Johnson (2008).

Aimia AGO Photography Prize 2016 exhibition. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Opening reception September 7.


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