Standing in the grungy back-alley behind the Bellwoods Brewery, 10 minutes before her shift started, Paige Lindsay is jumping up and down, trying to contain her excitement. She’s listening intently on the phone and keeping her voice calm and professional – she thinks – during what feels like the longest conversation of her life.
“I had gotten an email saying that they were going to call me, but not really leaving any hints…I wasn’t sure if they would call people that didn’t win,” Lindsay laughs, recalling the moment she found out.
The moment she found out ended up being life-changing.
Lindsay is one of three winners of the inaugural Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Scholarship Program, and one of the hundred then third-year photography students who applied. Open to only eight schools in Canada, all three winners received a $7,000 scholarship towards their tuition and an exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The decision to apply was easy, however the application was not as simple. She submitted a focused portfolio – “I remember going to my teachers asking, ‘What does that even mean?’” – of up to fifteen pieces, all with a central theme. The portfolios were then judged at each school, until a representative was picked, leaving eight finalists for the prize.
The AGO would then choose three winners from the eight finalists. “It just seemed like so many things were lining up that to not take advantage of the opportunity, I would’ve been kicking myself for sure,” Lindsay says.
A native of Victoria, B.C., Lindsay moved to Toronto three years ago to start at Ryerson University. In an effort to get to know the city around her better, Lindsay began to use her photography as a way to help with that, using her first project to interact with the community at Trinity-Bellwoods Park. This has led to Toronto being the theme of most of her photography.
One of her newer projects, being shown at the AGO exhibit, was created by taking photographs of objects left lying in the streets, paired with short stories from the perspective of the person who left them there. Lindsay says it’s remarkable the types of things that can be found lying around, and wanted to tell their stories. The series, called Where Did You Come From?, has two 40×80 inch installations in the exhibit.
“I’ve always admired street photographers but I’ve never really felt comfortable cold-approaching someone, so I think as a result I started taking pictures of objects instead,” Lindsay says, “I mean, you don’t have to ask a pencil on the ground if you can take its picture.”
The second part of the exhibit is smaller and contains 1000 take-away postcards that Lindsay printed herself. The postcards are prints from Lindsay’s photo series, Vocabulary, pictures taken of various signs that line the streets of Toronto. The photos are then edited to only include one of the words on the signs, giving the series a look of “fridge magnet poetry”. Within days of her exhibit being open, Lindsay learned that all of her postcards have been taken, leaving her to imagine, “this empty postcard rack being apart of my show right now,” she laughs.
Taking inspiration from short-story writers Lydia Davis and Amy Hemple as well as photographers Lynn Cohen, Alfredo Jaar and Vik Muniz, combining images and text is normalcy for Lindsay. An avid reader and writer, she explains that it’s a different way for her to engage with her own photography as well as remind her, during those slightly difficult times, why she loves photography so much.
Intending to stay in Toronto after graduation, Lindsay is most looking forward to being able to work at her own pace on projects instead of the pace set by school. While she understands the importance of deadlines and the necessary pressure school creates, working on projects a little bit slower and spending more time on them is something she is excited to begin.
The experience of it all has changed the way Lindsay views her own work. Instead of doubting and second-guessing her work, it’s slowly starting to change. “I just have more confidence I guess, and I can trust myself to make work that I will ultimately be proud of.”