Shayla and I grew up on opposite ends of the Northwest Territories, like many youth in the North, we met at Arctic Winter Games tryouts for Dene Games. We competed, we laughed and we shared many stories.
Our friendship was instant; Shayla’s personality is humorous – absolutely hilarious, outgoing and could make me laugh like nobodies business. It felt like we had known each other for years. We share a lot in common; it’s actually quite weird. We both have a true passion for the Dene Games sport, we both love to travel, we love the North and we both attended photography school the same year – different schools.
While I was in photography school, I turned to Shayla for help, advice and ofcourse a good laugh. We often compared schools, photographers, photography work and assignments. That was almost 5 years ago!
I’ve always admired Shayla’s work straight from the get-go, her ability to capture her culture, the pristine land, the elders; her people never seize to amaze me. She inspires me every time she shares an image – she is always willing to push the envelope a little farther every time.
It was only natural to ask Shayla to apart of the Tea & Bannock blog as a featured artist, she was the first person I thought of, one of my favorite Northern photographers and I knew she would never disappoint.
I’m proud to call her my friend and so proud of her as the photographer of Snowshoe Studios!
Tell us about yourself and where you come from?
Drin gwiinzi shilakat, jii juudin Shayla “Gwikitch’ihkheh” Snowshoe vilzhih. My name is Shayla Snowshoe; I am a Tetlit Gwich’in woman born and raised in Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories. I am a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a friend, a fighter, a photographer and a laugher. I come from a long line of strong, beautiful and intelligent mothers and grandmothers that I would like to acknowledge, because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for every single one of them.
The most important thing in life, to me, is my family; they are my source of strength, unconditional love and inspiration. One of the people that I cherish the most in my life is my Jijuu (grandmother) Mary Effie and her knowledge. She has helped me to appreciate my culture, while teaching me the traditions that were passed down to her from her father as well as respect and humility. I love spending time with my Jijuu, learning to hunt, fish, cook, sew and provide for our home.
How did your journey to photography come about?
My journey to photography started at a very young age, my mom literally has photographs of myself as a baby holding a camera with the biggest grin on my face. I was always running around family dinners and events with a little digital camera in my hand, bugging everyone to let me snap their photos. But I really truly fell in love with photography when I was in high school taking a film photography class in Vancouver, BC. I had never had that type of exposure to photography before, so it was all so new and intriguing to me. During that year, my dad gave me my first film camera, and that’s where it all started.
Describe your style of photography?
I would say that my style of photography is a combination of, but definitely not limited to, portrait and wedding photography. I love being able to capture and showcase the many different faces of the North while incorporating the diverse cultures that each client has intertwined into their lives.
Where and how do you find inspiration?
I find my inspiration mainly through the encouragement and gratitude that is expressed towards myself and my photographs, especially from my family. I also find a lot of inspiration from other portrait photographers, especially aboriginal photographers who also incorporate the unique cultures of the different clans around the world into their work.
How do you want to be remembered?
I have never really thought about how I would like to be remembered, but the very first thing that comes to mind is that I want to be remembered as kind. I want to be remembered as a person who was kind and respectful to all that I crossed paths with, as well as passionate about my work and creative.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
Without a doubt in my mind – ANNIE LEIBOVITZ. Annie is my all time favorite photographer, she is amazing on so many levels. This woman has experienced it all and she continues to thrive within her photographic career… It would be an absolute privilege to work along side one of the world’s most legendary photographers.
Explain how is it to be a photographer in the North of 60?
Cold. Dark. Quiet. Amazing. Culturally rich. Beautiful scenery. I feel as though there are definitely some hard cons to deal with, but the pros are far greater than any of those setbacks. It can be so cold and dark in the winters that it’s hard to book sessions or find the inspiration to go out shooting… but there are days when the sun is shining all night and the geese are flying around or the northern lights will be dancing and I have a moment where I realize that this is exactly where I am meant to be. This is my home, these are my people and this is my culture… this is exactly what I want to be photographing and showcasing to the world.
How does your culture tie into your photography work?
My culture is a huge part of my photography work because I spend a lot of time working to incorporate any types of cultural representations into my photos; beaded slippers, baby belts, hand sewn mitts, etc. I also love going out on the land with my Jijuu and being able document her in her element; harvesting caribou, carefully cutting dryfish, chopping wood, making bannock, all of the things that she loves to do out on the land.
What was your proudest moment as a photographer?
My proudest moment as a photographer was when I won a photo contest with the Gwich’in Tribal Council with a photograph of my Jijuu chopping wood. Although winning the photo contest was pretty amazing in itself, nothing could ever beat the look of pride and appreciation on my Jijuu and Jijii’s faces when I hung the winning photograph on the wall in their home. Those are the moments that make my career worth while.
Do you have any advice for up and coming photographers in the North?
Enjoy the learning process. It’s okay to make a mistake… that’s how I learned most lessons since beginning my photography journey. Experiment with your camera’s settings, different subjects and new locations. Interact with other photographers; it’ll be good for your knowledge base as well as your inspiration. Never stop creating. Never stop believing in yourself. And like my mom always says, #1 rule: always be kind.
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