Michèle Pearson Clarke makes history as the second Photo Laureate - Nia Centre for the Arts

Michèle Pearson Clarke makes history as the second Photo Laureate

By Alica Hall, p
Posted on June 20, 2019

The City of Toronto has announced Michèle Pearson Clarke as the second Photo Laureate. 


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. 

Her Career

Michèle's artistic career began after she graduated from Ryerson University's MFA program in 2015 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. Currently, she teaches in the Documentary Media Studies program at Ryerson University. Prior to pursuing photography, Michele earned an MSW from the University of Toronto and worked as a health promoter.

Michèle's photography, video and installation work has been widely exhibited across North America including Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art at Le Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (2018); All That is Left Unsaid at ltd Los Angeles (2018); Black Radical Imagination at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2016).

Appointed Photo Laureate

“It made me excited to feel that the selection committee felt like they could make a different type of choice, It feels like a recognition of what I've accomplished so far and it also feels like an investment in me as an artist.”

Michèle will hold the position of photo laureate for three years and will receive an annual honorarium of $10,000 for her services to the City. She will serve as Toronto's ambassador of visual and photographic culture at events that promote those arts and she’ll develop a legacy project, in collaboration with City staff.

“I'm not so much interested in this role as an opportunity to promote my own work, I’m more interested in being an advocate and an ambassador. I'm a mentor and there are ways that I incorporate that into my practice but, obviously, this is a much bigger platform to explore how to leverage the resources and power that people will give to me because of this title, to do things for other photographers and to engage with Torontonians in ways that fall outside of the typical scope of a contemporary art practice,” she said.

Michèle's intent to use her legacy project to support other emerging photographers is a direct reflection of her community-minded nature. Whether in front of her class or working individually with people to create her artworks, Michèle is most concerned with human connection, challenging representation and holding space for others which is similar to the work she used to do as a social worker. She will spend her first weeks talking to as many Torontonians as possible to hear what they think about the position and what they would like to see her take up.

A selection panel assembled from Toronto's photography and visual arts community-recommended Michèle to be appointed as photo laureate and the city council approved the recommendation last month. Mayor Tory said, “the quality and scope of her work makes Michèle Pearson Clarke an ideal choice to represent Toronto as a photographer and visual arts ambassador.”

“I know the life I live today, I live it because thousands of people before me shifted things just a little bit and to me my job as an artist, as a person, as an activist, is to move things forward a little bit in my time.”

For more information on Michèle Pearson Clarke visit her website.

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