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Karsh photography award given to professor Chantal Gervais

Photo by Chantal Jiang

What do celebrity portraits, Canadian landscapes, and the University of Ottawa have in common? Chantal Gervais, a part-time professor from the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa. Gervais recently won a prize for her photography in the name of the world-famous Karsh brothers.

The late brothers, Malack and Yousuf, were two well-known and highly respected photographers. They shot just about every public figure and celebrity, along with every Canadian landscape, under the sun. Some of Malack’s portraits include Muhammad Ali, Grace Kelly, and Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy.

The Karsh Award was presented to Gervais on Sept. 12 at the Karsh-Masson Gallery in Ottawa’s City Hall. Recipients are chosen every two years for their photo-based work.

“I was so delighted and honoured to get this prize,” Gervais tells the Fulcrum.

Gervais believes this gallery and award program allows the community to know the Karsh brothers’ history in Ottawa, as well as other photographers in the region.

“Not only have you won the prize, but also you get an exhibition for a month which allows people in the city to see it (your work),” she says.

Photography is her favourite artistic medium because it allows artists to record the things we live with in the space we live in, she says.

Gervais has a series of photos called “Portrait of My Father Paul,” in which she explores the space her father Paul worked in. Gervais really enjoys the portrait of an individual. “You see the objects that he collected and the tools he was using,” she explains. “You’ll see different writing on surfaces. Only photography can do that.”

In 2003, Gervais graduated from the University of Westminster in London, England, with a degree in art and media practice. In her time spent in England, she saw a lot of imaginative contemporary art. “It was amazing,” she says. “The contemporary artists are very lively.”

Her teaching experience at the U of O allows her to stay connected with the art scene in Ottawa, her hometown.

“It’s very gratifying and a great experience to teach because you always keep in contact with what’s going on in the contemporary scene,” she says.

Gervais says she loves talking about art and exchanging ideas with her students, and she can see the progress of a student’s work as it happens in front of her.

She says she plans to turn the prize money into a reinvestment fund: “It’s probably going to be a new body of work.” As an artist, the money she makes usually turns into an investment in her production of future works.

Though it’s certainly nice to be recognized, Gervais says the fact that she’s an award-winning photographer won’t change a thing.

“I think I’m the same person,” she says. “I’ll keep doing the artwork I’m doing now, even without the prize.”


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