I’m not a photographer

I remember nervously loitering around the entrance to the photography lab in my first year of classes at the University of Saskatchewan. I almost didn’t go in. It was the fall of 2000, I was 18 years old, and I had recently moved to Saskatoon from my home of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation about 100 kms north of the city. I attended high school in Leask, a small town school that offered no creative outlet (let alone art classes) past Grade 9.

I thought I’d be waaaaay behind the city kids who probably had art-focused high schools (I’m thinking of the school from FAME) with functioning dark rooms and enthusiastic art teachers that wore berets. After some coaxing from a friend, I walked into the darkroom and stayed there for the next 4 years.

In one of my first photography classes, the instructor talked about the work of Jeff Thomas and showed slides from his Indians On Tour series. I remember feeling for the first time that I could be an Artist with a capital A. At school, I devoured the work of Indigenous artists using photography to share their contemporary realities. Some major early influencers in art were Shelley Niro, KC Adams, Lori Blondeau, and Dana Claxton, among many others.

My earliest art school projects were probably out of focus and underexposed. I don’t consider myself a Photographer (with a capital P), but an artist that works with photography. I found the camera was the most effective way I could get my story across. Everyone in my family became unsuspecting subjects of my art projects (they still are). Most importantly, I found an outlet for my views, ideas and experiences. Photography is a powerful tool in the hands of Indigenous women.

I’m glad I walked into that photography lab, I’m grateful to the instructors that pushed me to tell my story and to the artists that paved the way so that I could add to the conversation. I’m also grateful to my first-year advisor that told me I should go into Math & Sciences! I probably should have! I kid.

Thanks to Tenille for inviting me to share my experiences with photography. I’m looking forward to getting to know the work of the other contributors to this blog!

From one of my first (successful) art school projects. Postcard Series by Joi T. Arcand, 2004

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