Laugh with me

Since my family and I moved from Alert Bay to Victoria, all I’ve been thinking about is how much I miss laughing with my friends up island. My first week back in the city I was texting them and telling them that people weren’t laughing at my stories. I was never much of a story teller but something in me changed. I learned a few things about living in a small community during my three years in Alert Bay, and the most important teaching that I picked up is that shit happens and we are all in it together so let’s laugh about it.

Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-7

Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-2

Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-11

Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-5

I remember the laughter of my relatives in Saskatchewan. Most of the time we laughed because someone was being teased. I close my eyes and I can see my aunties with their eyes squinted, heads titled up to the sky with big smiles, I hear their cackles and I smell their cigarettes. It didn’t matter who was being teased; we all laughed, especially the one being teased.

Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-10

Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-1

Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-6

When I was little, my dad was always away working up North and my mom didn’t have very much time to herself, between cleaning other peoples homes and taking care of my sisters and I. She had to bring us along to do everything with her. There were the lawyers and doctors homes that our mom cleaned while we vacuumed or daydreamed about living different lives. We went to the the bank where we were told to behave while all four of us stood and waited in the line, and eventually one of us would start to swing on the stanchions (my husband had to look that one up) and we’d either get a scowl from a back teller or our mother. And now I have the convenience of an ATM or doing my banking from home without distractions. She brought us along to the grocery store (I need to practice deep breathing to avoid loosing my shit when I take the boys to the grocery store) where we would be told that if we behaved we could have a free cookie from the bakery. In the days of no iPads or iPhones my mom would visit her friends at their homes and tell us to sit and behave, there were no electronic distractions. I remember that as I got older, I enjoyed listening to the adults talk and laugh. Their was Milli, who was like a kohkum and we all called her Milli Vanilli. She lived in a small apartment where we would look at the most recent items that she knitted or beaded. There my mother would learn how to make moccasins. I would listen to them talk about their week and notice when their voices became quiet which was when I tried harder to hear what they were talking about and then suddenly they would erupt in laughter. In the evenings we would go visit Leah. She was such a tiny lady with a huge personality, great hair and a big heart. She was always, always laughing; it was infectious. We would go to her place to visit but also to do some shopping. It was her place where my mom bought my very first and only pair of brand new Guess jeans, the pair with the ankle zippers. They were so cool and I wore them with my favourite purple silk blouse. Leah was earning her money on the side while my mom was trying to please her eldest daughter who refused to go shopping at the Sally Anne. Years later I learned that Leah died while being held in a prison cell in Saskatoon.

Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-3

Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-8

Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-13Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-9Amanda_Laliberte_Laughter-4

In my circles we laugh, sometimes too much and I am told by a three year old that -we are too loud and that it is not funny. My laughter had always been loud but after living in Alert Bay, it is even louder. Not too sure how that is possible but it has happened. I always knew how to laugh but living in Alert Bay awoke something within me – I learned how to laugh like my aunties and grannies used to. We were always laughing. We laughed at everything and anything. If you were hurt, we laughed.  If you were sad, we laughed. If my husband told his “wing wing” joke, we laughed but not always. And its that laughter that allows us to survive even when we are hurting.

-Amanda Laliberte

Advertisements

Yellowknife known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (money place)

I daydream a lot about the North.

Perhaps it is because of all the stories my dad has told me about when he worked up there in his twenties. My dad still has a beautiful hand-made parka which he bought when he was up North. It has got to be at least 40 years old. From what I can remember, he worked on a ship, spending time in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Hay River, and many other places in the territories. Even though my dad denies it, I’m pretty sure that I’ve got some half-siblings somewhere up North (good thing my dad doesn’t do the internet and to my aunties out there who read this – shhhh). It was a time in his youth when he had money, no wife, and their was lots of work up in the territories during the 60s. For example, the mining industry near Yellowknife was thriving.

It looks as though someone took their finger and dug it into the earth and drew that river.

It could be that I am drawn to the North because of the stories my friend Elaine shared with me during our time at the University of Victoria. She’s from Fort McPherson. She told me about the caribou, geese, and life on the Peel River. And for a short while, my son and her nephew were pen pals. Adorable. We need to start that up again.

Images of life up there were almost entirely conceivable after watching Ice Lake Rebels, Arctic Air and Ice Road Truckers. Ha. Joking. No, it was Shawna, Caroline, and Shayla’s images from their home communities which drew me to take my family to Yellowknife for Spring Break. I know – even Shawna’s mom thought we were a bit strange spending our Spring Break up North. But with friends and family living up there and the chance to show my West Coast babies a REAL winter, we did it. And all of us southerners fell in love with the North. We fell hard. Honestly, how could you not? So much sunshine and no need to worry about slathering the kids with sunscreen because you are layered upon layer with clothing to stay warm. No heat stroke. It was wonderful.

-10C is better for my family than 30C.

We got to stay on a houseboat with a couple of those Ice Lake Rebels, Stephan and Allyce, at Vee Lake. What’s up with all these reality shows? We drove on ice roads. We went snowmobiling. We made snow forts and demolished snow forts, we saw the Aurora Borealis while we felt our hands and feet freezing. My sons adopted a new uncle.  We got snowed in, learned a bit about kite skiing and we learned our most valuable lesson – you must remember to plug in your vehicle when it is -30C overnight. Whoops. Wait, the valuable lesson I took from staying on their houseboat was how much we waste water and electricity in our homes on the grid. My kids loved not having to wash their hands after every time they used the compost toilet with the pee and poo hole. Don’t worry, I was there reminding them about the hand sanitizer.

Houseboat at Vee Lake.

Isn’t that snow so pretty?

This kid isn’t tired of me taking his photos all the time, yet.

He loves having a mom as a photographer.

I googled how to take photos of Northern Lights and this was my first image. I was so excited that I forgot to lower my ISO and adjust my shutter speed.

We woke up around 1am to see the Aurora Borealis and let me tell you it was freeeezing cold. I couldn’t stop clicking my shutter release because the lights were moving quickly. It was beautiful.

Meet Dora the dog.

Afterwards, we stayed with my husband’s cousin and his lovely family. They invited us into their home and we are will be forever grateful for their hospitality. I gave them the option to throw us out if we were out of hand but they actually kept us around. At their home, we got to watch the cousins bond with each other which was a memorable experience for all. I also earned my aunty pin: sent kid out into freezing temperature with rubber boots and those silly stretchy mittens (she had me convinced that all her other gear was wet and she’d be okay), woke toddler up from afternoon nap by walking into her room and banging open the door and abruptly turning on the lights, forgot to change toddlers poopy bum, listened to the kids talk non stop about poo, took lots of pictures, bruised up my knees crawling after baby in the kid tunnels at the ice castle and tried to earn trust from the sweet & spicy niece who wouldn’t have anything to do with me until I came home with a beaded pink necklace. Then she told me we were best friends. I knew the pink beads would work. Our family took us to see the Northern Heritage Centre where the kids ran through and spent most of the visit trying on homemade “Northern style” clothing. I went shopping for some Northern wear for myself at Weaver & Devore and Just Furs. Let me just mention here that I can still smell the smoked moose hide and feel the soft seal skin on my skin. My husband and I went on a date to the Salvation Army Thrift Store where I saw an old man wearing beautiful beaded moccasins with galoshes as he spoke to his wife in their language. I found a stylish mustard coloured sweater vest and my husband bought some Stephen King books. We then went for a walk though the mall which was a good representation of the changes in the North. Afterwards we walked holding mittened hands to do some t-shirt shopping at the family owned Erasmus Apparel. Best date yet because honestly we don’t get many (dates, that is). Our last couple of days were spent going to Aurora Village where we did touristy things like being instructed on how to roast a marshmallow by an Australian tour guide, drank hot chocolate in a teepee, tobogganed down a man made hill, and went for a lovely dog sled ride while listening to my kids complain about the dogs farting.

Our cousins and Brody’s wall of drawings.

Those moccasins with all that moose hair tufting!

Look there is a moose and you can even see the drool.

Astum, Astum!

My husband never gets tired of me asking him to pose for another photo.

This snowcastle was impressive. To see more photos you can read Caroline’s blog post from last year’s Snowking’s festival. They change the design every year.

We loved every moment about our trip up North. It went by so quickly that Shawna and I had the good intentions of collaborating on something but the only thing we collaborated on was attending a Booty exercise class (yassss did we ever burn it while looking like monkeys) and then talking about parenting and photography over a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint tea bag. Shawna and I hadn’t seen each other since we finished our diplomas in photography at Western Academy in Victoria, BC. Back then she was fresh out of high school (perhaps not that fresh) and I was already pregnant with my second son. Over the years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing her grow as a photographer but also as a young woman and now mother. All these connections are so important for the growth of my young family and for me, as an artist, friend, mother and aunty.

Look – it’s the talented and lovely Shawna McLeod.

These are a few more stories about the North, that I can add to my daydreams for years to come. While my children can share their own stories about that time we went to Yellowknife for Spring Break.

We miss you.

*In the Dogrib language, the city is known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (Sawm-ba Kay) (money place)

-Amanda Laliberte

the ones who raise them

We raise them. We hold them. We raise them high the ones we hold. These are the ones who will be our future. They are our children.

In most of my photo sessions I will ask family members to hug their children, squeeze them tight, give them a kiss and hold them high in the sky. There are two reasons why I do this. Firstly, because its a good maneuver to get the children either smiling or laughing. Secondly, it is because our children deserve to be held, comforted, and raised up. Even when I am behind the camera, I see the hope that we all have in our young ones. I am privileged to be able to capture some images of these precious moments that pass us by. I see in the children their innocence, their open honest emotions, and their need for love, acceptance and safety. We are responsible for holding their little hands and guiding them through life. All the ups and downs, we stand by their side.

Because one day, we all need to let go.

amandalaliberteteabannock-1

amandalaliberteteabannock-2

amandalaliberteteabannock-4

amandalaliberteteabannock-6

amandalaliberteteabannock-5

amandalaliberteteabannock-7

amandalaliberteteabannock-12

alaliberte-photography-2

amandalaliberteteabannock-11

amandalaliberteteabannock-16

amandalaliberteteabannock-13

amandalaliberteteabannock-14

amandalaliberteteabannock-3

-Amanda Laliberte

We share the breath

Life and death have been on my mind a lot recently. This community has gone through too much heartache the past few months and to be honest, I have lost count of how many people have died here. I am not immune to this. I am constantly reminded of this shared sadness though social media, seeing people hugging and holding each other, or driving around the island and noticing that other drivers or pedestrians are not waving at me. Everyone’s spirits are low and it effects all of us in one way or another, especially when it’s the young people who are the ones passing into the spirit world.

What do I know about death? How can I understand this? The church taught me that if I behaved like a good little girl, when I die, I would go to heaven to be with the angels and hop around on the fluffy white clouds in my halo. My dad taught me about the stars and their connections with our ancestors when he took me on night drives to the outskirts of Saskatoon, where the lights of the city faded away. My kookum taught us ghost stories about relatives who had died, and how they had come back to visit her bedside. She would tell us to watch out for her when she died because she was going pay us a visit before going to heaven. We would all erupt into laughter; to be honest, I believed that she would pay me a visit just so she could tease me one last time. Whenever my cousins, sisters or I found dead animals or butterflies, we always had a funeral procession and buried them.  I’ve been told that the first funeral  I attended was of a family friend of my mother’s side of the family, but I remember very little from that day.

I am raising my children with a very different understanding of death than what I was taught. My boys are being taught other ways of knowing that don’t include halos and fluffy clouds. Since we’ve moved to Alert Bay, we speak about death quite often with our children. We have to. Either because someone close to us has lost someone, or a child that they know in school has lost a parent, or we have found another dead animal on the beach. This is for real.

My boys found a dead crow yesterday while out walking on the beach. My four year old tried to pick it up and bring it home to me. Instead, I went down with my camera and took some photos and video of the dead bird. I then started filming my surrounds the ocean, trees, a tree swing, tension of a rope holding on tight to the land and a fire.  I wanted to move away from the still image and work with moving images and decided to piece this brief moment in my life into a short video.

-Amanda Laliberte

Mentoring with Nabidu Willie

I first met Nabidu Willie while photographing some carvers working on pieces for the Nolie Potlatch. She belongs to the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw Band of Kingcome Inlet, known as Gwa’yi in Kwak’wala, and is a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. She was casually sitting on a couch chatting with the carvers while watching me taking photos, and I could tell by the way that kept her eye on me that she was interested in what I was doing. I know she was also wondering who was the Mamała. I am not too sure who initiated the conversation, but somehow we started talking about gear. She told me about her Pentax, I told her about my Canon. She told me about how much she enjoys photography and I told her how much I enjoy it too. I could tell that she wanted to learn more about the art, and we ended up exchanging contact information.  I told her to check out Tea & Bannock on Facebook and Instagram, and through social media we would message each other on the idea of mentoring but we were limited in what we could actually do because she was living in Kingcome Inlet.

Months later, she graduated from high school and eventually moved from Kingcome to Alert Bay to live with her auntie. This week we finally piled into my vehicle, and drove off for a photo shoot with our friend, Alexis Nolie. We were quite a crew; myself, my four year old pre-school drop-out, Nabidu and Alexis, riding around the island, listening to novelty Christmas carols, trying to figure out where to go for the shoot. We ended up agreeing to go over to the north side of the island, to a place everyone calls Grassy Point. There were a few lessons that day. First,  we forgot to check the tide, as it turns out that there can be no beach photos if the tide is high, which it was.  Second,  Nabidu learned that its a good idea to always make sure your battery is charged before leaving your place. I think she shot four or so images before her camera died. These are the hard lessons of the seasoned photographer. But we adjusted, and while I kept up with taking pictures of Alexis like we had planned, I tried my best to explain to Nabidu what I was doing and why. I had to remember what it had been like for me as a student, following my mentors, doing my best to remember everything they said, everything they did.  I think back to one of my good friends, Ryan MacDonald, that day she first took me out and showed me how she did it. She made it look easy. With mentoring Nabidu, I quickly came to realize that I ain’t no Sweetmoon but that is what makes our collective so wonderful. Its the diversity of images that we have to offer. I still have much to learn about photography and the gift of mentoring.

Here are some outtakes from our mentoring session. Please bear with me on this because this is a first for me. I’ve never written about my shooting process.

a_nolie-1

This was the first photo I took of Alexis. I talked about composition, lighting, exposure. I wanted to show Nabidu how different the lighting was on Alexis and the backdrop. Also notice my own reflection in her glasses? It means I need to move or move Alexis, plus try to experiment with the reflection in her glasses. My goal was to show them how many different images we could get with the same backdrop.

a_nolie-2

This image I positioned myself and Alexis so we could get the reflection of the ocean in her glasses. To have less blown out background I had her stand in front of a tree with her looking towards the water.

a_nolie-3

Here I simply moved to my left, got closer and shot lower. Again different lighting. Just love the colour of Alexis’ red jacket.

a_nolie-4

Then I stepped back. 

a_nolie-5

I was taught that you should always move around while shooting. I need to remind myself to do this more often. So I turned around and found these two doing their thang. Nabidu just LOVES having her photo taken.

a_nolie-6

Back to Alexis I wanted to explain how posing can certainly make an image more interesting and flattering for your model. I attempted to explain the pivot stance, you know more weight on one leg, hand on hip, lean in or is it back?

a_nolie-7

Hands by the side and facing the camera.

a_nolie-8

And then it was Nabidu’s turn. Oh, she loves the camera!

a_nolie-9

In this image I wanted to have a full body and play with some layers, textures and depth of field in the photograph. Here hands by her side and some attitude.

a_nolie-10

But I wanted more angles, so I had her put one hand on her hip. It was better but her hair was covering up half of her face.

a_nolie-12

a_nolie-13

Nabidu to the rescue!

a_nolie-14

Much better.

a_nolie-15

I move further and deeper into the grass to frame her face. I am much happier with this composition. There is even an A for Alexis!

a_nolie-16

Another reflection image, this time in colour.

a_nolie-17

a_nolie-18

I moved Alexis behind me to where there is less light on her face so Nabidu can see the difference in lighting. 3/4 frame and then a close up.

a_nolie-19

Our second location was the Big House. You can see in this frame with the shadows that we were shooting mid afternoon, it was a clear sunny and freezing cold day.

a_nolie-20

a_nolie-21

We went to the side of the building to see what the texture and colour of the wood would look like as a background. I wasn’t happy with it. Too flat.

a_nolie-22

a_nolie-23

I noticed the direction of the sun which was behind Alexis so I tried to show Nabidu what rim lighting looks like and how to play with lens flare. It isn’t prefect but you get the idea.

a_nolie-25

a_nolie-29

In front of the big house, the light was very bright so we played around with shadows.

a_nolie-26

Nabidu just loves the camera so much that she had to be in the photo too.

a_nolie-30

Her smile here is genuine, the real Alexis. I love it. Afterwards I noticed her hair on the right side. 

a_nolie-31

So we moved it out of the way but I lost that smile in her eyes.

a_nolie-33

I then had Alexis turn herself the other direction to show difference in light again. She was facing towards the sun and found it really hard to keep her eyes open.

a_nolie-27

a_nolie-28

Then Nabidu asked to use the camera and took some silly shots of Alexis. What I love is seeing how different people are in front of a camera when the shooter is someone they know really well. Since we moved here 2 1/2 years ago, I’ve photographed a few families and events here in the community. Sure I can get them smiling but photographers who are from here are able to get genuine smiles from their family and friends in community.

a_nolie-34

Nabidu suggested that we frame Alexis with the big house behind her so we did. Her with my son chatting.

a_nolie-35

Here she is relaxed.

a_nolie-36

I then ask her to just stand tall with arms by her side when I notice her shadow. 

a_nolie-37

I ask her to take a few steps forward and to show her profile.

a_nolie-38

And Nabidu and my son have now wandered off….

a_nolie-39

And a few more profile shots with her framed by the mouth of the sea monster. I had to position myself so her shadow wasn’t in the frame.

a_nolie-40

I really like the composition of this one but it looks like Alexis has something going through her neck. I didn’t notice this until later. Whoops.

I asked Nabidu to share with me a bit about her thoughts on the session.

“I actually enjoyed trying to be a model. I learned a few things. I enjoyed everything.”

-Amanda Laliberte

the ocean gives and the ocean takes away

A couple of years ago I received an artist grant from the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. Initially I was going to do a documentary photo series on Indigenous women who have overcome trauma and abuse. I had to think some more about this series. About how I could show to others how strong, amazing and inspiring these women are. I had to avoid labelling these women as victims because that they are not. We are survivors. And trauma and abuse can come in many forms, so how was I going to photograph that?

alalibertephotographyfpcc-5

I decided not to do a documentary photo series because I didn’t want the images to feel like outsiders gazing into the private lives of these women. It wasn’t going to be something you’d see in a National Geographic magazine. There is enough voyeurism in the media, so I went with formal portraits, which I have to admit isn’t my strongest way to shoot. My photo classmates (such as Shawna McLeod) will remember me in not providing much direction nor guidance to the models provided for our practice. I was too quiet. Someone would tell me, you gotta tell them what to do! Ugh, the only people I am good at telling what to do is my husband, my boys and my younger sisters.

I learned that there are many similarities between formal portraiture and being a big sister.

alalibertephotographyfpcc-3

After many talks with friends and family, I decide to go in another direction with the images. I wanted to include a backdrop, a theme of sorts, that all these women share. Even though some are from the West Coast, most of us have moved away from where we are from. We have left the environment where we suffered our trauma and abuse, and have ended up on the west coast, within reach of the ocean. And so, we are all connected to these waters that heal. The tides are connected to the cycle of the moon and so are we. The ocean swells and alters the landscape and so do we. The ocean can have moments of stillness as do we. The ocean carries life and so do we. As they say in Alert Bay, the ocean gives and the ocean takes away.

alalibertephotographyfpcc-4

I started by photographing one of my mentors. She has a story to share but it wasn’t my place to share it, so I just did what I could do with my camera. I would photograph and then wait. We would cackle a bit. Then I would look at the light, her body, the ocean and continue shooting while reminding myself to give her guidance. I shot like this for most of the sessions. And in between each session I’d second guess myself and what I was doing. And wait. I do a lot of waiting and sitting on the images. I share with others my thoughts on the direction I want to take. And wait some more. I think and think and think and second guess myself again and almost give up. Pick myself back up and arrange another photo session. And just keep on shooting, talking, reading and thinking.

alalibertephotographyfpcc-2

Over the years I have had many conversation with these women, my friends, who have shared bits and pieces of their life stories with me. I am forever grateful for their willingness to be part of this series and their friendships. I have a feeling that this series will be an ongoing project. And I am very thankful to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council for supporting me and believing in me. As for the ocean, I will end with the following quote:

“Some people love the ocean. Some people fear it. I love it, hate it, fear it, respect it, resent it, cherish it, loathe it, and frequently curse it. It brings out the best in me and sometimes the worst.”

 Roz Savage

alalibertephotographyfpcc-1

-Amanda Laliberte

HOME

Takwakin (Autumn or Fall) is the time of year that my family and I usually make our annual visit to Saskatchewan. However, this year we decided to stay home on the coast. Taking my boys back to where I come from is always a time that I look forward to. I want them to see, smell and hear the sounds of the places that form my earliest memories. I want them to feel the warm sun on their faces as they gaze at the endless prairie sky. I want my boys to remember where their ancestors came from. To see the place of the stories of the rougarou and the Virgin Mary. I want my boys to play in the same leaf filled ditches that my sisters, cousins and I did. To smell the freshly cut wheat, barley and canola. To taste fresh lake fish caught by my grandfather. I want my boys to know those connections. I want us to feel those experiences in our bones, to remember the changes of the season.

For a long time I lived a life where I was torn between my home in Saskatchewan and my home on the coast. I struggled with how to teach our children about where our ancestors came from when we live so far away. Over the years we have even discussed the idea of moving closer to our ancestral territories. We exchange romantic ideas on learning Cree, harvesting from the land, getting a horse or two, maybe some chickens and driving off into the sunset. Then we would wake from that dream and look around at the life that we have built for ourselves on the west coast. We love it here and will probably never move back to Saskatchewan. And that is okay.

More than half of my life has been spent on the west coast. Where we live now on Cormorant Island, traditional territories of the Kwakwaka’wakw, is where my children call home. My youngest has no memory of living anywhere else. Community members have welcomed me, this lost halfbreed from Saskatchewan, and my family into their lives. We are forming friendships here that will last lifetimes. We laugh, we cry and we laugh again. Our stories weave together into a new narrative. It is this connection that makes me feel at home. All these years later, I have finally learned that home doesn’t need to be tied to a specific space and place. Home can change, like the seasons. So, I guess that I must not be lost anymore. I’ve always been home.

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-8

The waters east of Alert Bay. (BC)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-7

The waters of Northern Saskatchewan. (SK)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-1

Alert Bay playground. (BC)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-2

My eldest son takes a break while we visit my cousin on his farm. (SK)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-11

My youngest looking at all the eulachon inside the smokehouse. (BC)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-12

My eldest walking into the barn as my grandfather walks out of the barn. (SK)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-6

My boys and their friends playing in our backyard. (BC)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-5

My son and his cousin playing around the same slough I played around with my cousins. (SK)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-15

Ziplock bag, eagle feather, tarp and a black bear. (BC)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-14

Truck, chairs, velvet paintings and a moose antler rack. (SK)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-4

The next generation getting to know each other. (BC)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-3

My father locking the gates after paying our respects to our ancestors at the Green Lake cemetery. (SK)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-10

Gukwdzi (Big House) in Alert Bay. (BC)

amanda_laliberte_photography_tb-13

Visiting Wanuskewin Heritage Park that sits above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River. (SK)

-Amanda Laliberte