Nadya Kwandibens has been appointed the City of Toronto’s third Photo Laureate following City Council approval March 29. Read the staff report recommending her appointment.
Toronto’s Photo Laureate is the first position of its kind in Canada. It honours a photographer recognized for exceptional photography and whose work focuses on subjects relevant to Torontonians. The Photo Laureate champions photography and visual arts in the city, and uses his/her perspective to create a dialogue on contemporary issues.
Nadya Kwandibens is Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) from the Animakee Wa Zhing #37 First Nation in northwestern Ontario. She is an award-winning portrait and events photographer, a Canon Ambassador, and has travelled extensively across Canada. In 2008, she founded Red Works Photography, a dynamic photography company whose vision empowers contemporary Indigenous lifestyles and cultures; Red Works specializes in natural light portraiture, headshots, events and concert photography. Nadya’s work has been exhibited in group and solo shows across Canada and the United States.
Nadya’s artistic practice builds upon three ongoing bodies of work: Concrete Indians is an open-call series that explores Indigenous identity and decolonial assertions of resistance and cultural resurgence; Red Works Outtakes is an uplifting portraiture series created to combat the “stoic Indian” stereotype; and The Red Chair Sessions, places importance on the reclamation of Indigenous lands and languages. Nadya is also currently in the research and development phase for a new multimedia series titled The Kitchen Table Talks that will bring together Indigenous women and the 2SQ community to round-table perspectives on matrilineal leadership and nationhood with a focus on addressing urgent local and regional Indigenous matters.
Nadya was also a member of the Indigenous Laws + The Arts Collective, the founding body of Testify, a travelling multimedia group exhibition. Testify paired artists and legal thinkers to work in conversation with each other to create art pieces that explore facets of Indigenous law. Her work in this dynamic exhibition is titled RE:Turning Home and focused on child-welfare law and the foster care system.
In 2018, Nadya won the Ontario Arts Council’s Indigenous Arts Award. Jurors stated, “Nadya is an intrepid, ground-breaking and influential artist. She has brought an Indigenous voice to portrait photography that recontextualizes images and shows us our true selves.”
In addition to commissioned works, Nadya delivers empowering photography workshops and presentations for youth, universities, and community groups. She currently resides in Tkarón:to on Wendat, Haudenosaunee, Mississauga of the Credit River & Dish With One Spoon Territory.
Nadya Kwandibens will receive an annual honorarium of $10,000 for a three-year appointment. She is expected to commit a portion of her working time to duties as Toronto’s ambassador of visual and photographic culture at events that promote those arts. She will also develop a legacy project in collaboration with City staff, unique to the individual Photo Laureate.
In recommending Kwandibens’s appointment the selection panel, assembled from Toronto’s photography and visual arts community, cited her many artistic accolades, the opportunity to advance important community dialogues through work, and their confidence that she would excel as an ambassador for the visual arts.
During her tenure as Toronto Photo Laureate Michèle Pearson Clarke was a champion for emerging BIPOC and 2SLGBTQ+ photographers. She gave engaging artist talks at the Image Centre, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Power Plant, Gallery TPW, Artstarts and the Bentway, among others. She wrote a monthly column on photography for the Toronto Star and she got excellent traction with a well-researched Instagram account, @tophotolaureate.
Clarke curated a major exhibition of emerging BIPOC artists at Nathan Phillips Square as part of Doors Open Toronto and the CONTACT Photography Festival in 2022. In 2020, Clarke was one of three judges of Scarborough’s New View photo contest. She also served on the advisory committee for ArtworxTO:Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022.
Based in Toronto, Clarke holds an MSW from the University of Toronto, and received her MFA from Ryerson University, where she was awarded both the Ryerson University Board of Governors Leadership Award and Medal, and the Ryerson Gold Medal for the Faculty of Communication + Design. From 2016-2017, Clarke was artist-in-residence at Toronto’s Gallery 44. She is currently an assistant professor of Documentary Media at Toronto Metropolitan University.
Internationally admired Toronto-based photographer Geoffrey James was selected as Toronto’s first Photo Laureate in March 2016.
“Photography is a powerful way to tell Toronto’s story — to show our city’s diversity, talent and beauty,” said Mayor John Tory. “The quality and range of Geoffrey James’ work makes him an ideal Photo Laureate and I look forward to his inspiring work in this role.”
James has exhibited extensively in Canada, the United States and Europe, and in 2012 he received the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts. He is the author, or subject of, more than a dozen books and monographs, and he writes about photography. His more recent works focus on urban and suburban landscapes, and his 2007 book Toronto was nominated for a Toronto Book Award.
James is a Fellow of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Chicago, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, New York. He is a recipient of the Gershon Iskowitz Prize, among many other accolades and awards. His work is also featured on a 2015 Canada Post stamp. The portrait, of artist Alex Colville, was taken while he was writing a profile of the iconic Canadian painter for Time Canada.
During his term as Photo Laureate James initiated two innovative exhibitions for Doors Open Toronto using the ground floor windows of City Hall as display surfaces featuring his photographs of Yonge Dundas Square (2017) and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Prince Edward Viaduct (2018) with images by Toronto’s first official photographer Arthur Goss (1881-1940). James spoke at a number of events including the opening of Enduring Wilderness at the John B. Aird Gallery, at a McLuhan Salon and at the Toronto Camera Club. James also unveiled a legacy book project, United Marble, in collaboration with Toronto’s fifth Poet Laureate, Anne Michaels.