The crowd at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s reception for the announcement of this year’s four Grange Prize finalists–Gauri Gill, Elaine Stocki, Althea Thauberger, and Nandini Valli–was strikingly high end. It was set in the spacious atrium of the Walker Court, with Frank Gehry’s beautiful spiral staircase whorling upward on one side. Present were AGO trustees in dark power suits, stiff Aeroplan executives representing the prize’s corporate sponsors and groups that looked like members of the Indian diplomatic corps, the men elegantly coiffed and the women in saris, dripping gold jewelry. AGO director Mathew Teitelbaum circulated through the crowd as if he were running for office, his tie slightly askew; the music pounded as though the DJ thought he was working a rave and not a cocktail party; the bar was, as always, mobbed. Dressed in a long skirt and silk blouse, hair pinned up above her slender neck, Elaine Stocki drifted uneasily through the crowd, smiling shyly, eyes scanning the floor. Though the evening was dedicated to her and the three other nominees, this was clearly not her kind of scene.
While she has exhibited only sparsely thus far, thirty-two-year-old Elaine Stocki is among the most authentically original of the younger generation of North American photographers. Stocki grew up in a traditionally Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish working- class neighbourhood in north Winnipeg; her father was active in the Ukrainian Labor Temple, a pivotal site in the legendary 1919 Winnipeg General Strike and still the national headquarters of the Workers Benevolent Association. While Stocki took playing piano seriously and her father is an avid amateur photographer, constantly snapping pictures of the family with a clunky old camera, it was not until she was halfway through a degree in chemistry at the University of Manitoba that she took a photography class at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and realized she was an artist. “I had to give up playing piano after 13 years because studying chemistry just took up too much time,” she told me. “I missed having a creative outlet, and when I took the class at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, something clicked. I realized this is it, this what I want to do. So I finished my chemistry degree, took a year off and reapplied as a fine arts major.”
“One of the good things about the photography program at the University of Manitoba is that you’re pretty much left to your own devices,” Stocki continued. “I first started driving around and taking photographs of things like the burnt-out basilica at St. Boniface, and I also took photographs of family and friends. I took a trip to Europe and took more photographs there. I’m really too shy to do a lot of street photography–it was hard getting used to being that conspicuous, to people seeing me photographing them.” Stocki studied with David McMillan, who began the photography program at the University of Manitoba, and Larry Glawson, and their work and interests shaped her early education in the history of photography. “When I first started out, we were mostly shown very structured works by people like Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, Jeff Wall and Tina Barney,” she said.
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Top image: Elaine Stocki, *Laverne, 2009, c-print, 26 x 26”. All images courtesy the artist.*
Lower images: (Top left) *Jeff, 2009, c-print, 26 x 26”. (Bottom left) Sandra, 2008, c-print, 26 x 26”. (Top right) Balcony, 2009, c-print, 26 x 26”. (Bottom right) Hand, 2008, c-print, 26 x 26”.*