the love of photography

There are several reasons as to why I love photography, the main ones are that my camera allows me to capture and showcase everything that is of value to me, as well as special moments for my clients and for the many amazing opportunities that it has brought into my life.

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The first and foremost reason that I love photography is because it is a creative outlet that allows me to capture my family and everything that I love, while preserving my culture and my memories with my Jijuu. It is so incredible to be able to preserve my Gwich’in culture through my photography. I have made it a personal goal of mine to always carry my camera with me when I spend time with my Jijuu, because she’s always teaching me something new – from tanning a moose hide to setting a net under the ice in -40.

The second reason that I love photography is because I have the honor of being able to capture special, once in a life time moments for my clients and their families. It is a really great feeling to see a bride relive her wedding day while sifting through photographs that I took, or to look back on photographs of elders who have passed away.

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Last but not least, I love photography for the many opportunities that it has brought into my life. I have travelled throughout Canada – photographing the people, the scenery and my experiences. I’ve photographed the Moosehide Gathering in the Yukon, been showcased at the Adaka Festival and the Arctic Image Festival, as well as photographed several weddings all over Canada. On each of my adventures, I have had the opportunity to meet so many talented, kind and respectful individuals while creating memories that I will hold in my heart forever.

Photography isn’t just a hobby for me… it’s my lifestyle.

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 – shayla snowshoe

Beginnings

I’ve always loved taking pictures for as long as I can remember. I remember being fairly young and getting my mom to buy me disposable film cameras. In high school I took tons of snapshots my myself and my friends, trying to document it all. While I was in my first year of University, I splurged on my first dslr. 2011 is the year I started taking more serious portraits of other people and putting myself out there more, by showing my work to online communities. Since then, I’ve been getting requests to be hired as a photographer. Despite that, I do limited work. I work hard to find the balance between my love for photography and it becoming a “chore,” or just a job. It’s been one of the hugest challenges of being a photographer for me.

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I think one of the reasons I’ve had a fascination with documenting with photographs is because I have no photographs from my childhood. I have seen less than a handful of baby pictures of myself. We moved a lot when I was young so I think that made it harder for my mom to get pictures of my siblings and me. I want people to have photos of and for themselves, of their families and loved ones. Time passes quickly and I find pictures help with remembering special moments.

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I believe another reason for my love of photography (especially photography of First Nations people in Canada) is the lack of representation of Aboriginal people in mainstream media. Growing up, I found it so bizarre and disheartening that we “didn’t exist” in movies, magazines, and even books. I could never find anyone who looked like me, that looked like a Cree woman on t.v. The only place I saw people like myself was on the news, and it was often negative. One of my goals is to get images of us (First Nations/Inuit/Metis peoples) “out there,” for people to see that yes we do exist, we are beautiful, we have stories, lives, aspirations, and accomplishments.

Photography and social media have provided the most beautiful gift, a platform for us to share stories, and to network with other like-minded individuals. The amount of talented Aboriginal people I have been exposed to thanks to social media has made me so grateful and proud of who I am. The world is changing, our presence is becoming louder, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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 – claudine bull

MY FAMILY CONNECTIONS ARE THERE

As I rummage through old boxes looking for negative and prints, I find myself asking the question: Who am I? How does my identity affect my work?

I find piles of forgotten negatives, polaroids, burnt CDs, prints; photos of friends that I haven’t heard from in years mixed up with snapshots of old boyfriends. What am I supposed to do with these? Boxes and boxes of these tangled objects that I can see and touch, forming a web of tangible memory. Now most of my work has become immaterial, saved on a hard-drive or floating around somewhere in a  shared cloud. 

I follow a trail of notes, scrawled in the margins of books and papers.

Kindergarten photo of me in my curls and frills.

Kindergarten photo of me in my curls and frills.

I open a dusty banker’s box and I find a photo of myself as a child. I remember having to put up with my mother putting those pink foam curlers in my hair the night before. But I sure loved that dress with the frills.

Another photo I look at is of my father.

After my mother left my father, she went through the family albums and removed all of the photos of him. I am grateful that she held onto those images and gave them to me as an adult. Something for me to hold onto, something to remember, something to make sense of who I am.

Photograph my mother took of Elenor, Norman Sylvester and my Dad at Turnor Lake in July, 1985.

Photograph my mother took of Elenor, Norman Sylvester and my Dad at Turnor Lake in July, 1985.

I continue to document my life with images. I was born and raised in Saskatchewan with an unconscious mixed sense of pride and shame. As an adolescent my mother and my sisters and I were uprooted and relocated to Vancouver Island. That story includes heartache, struggle, violence, disconnection, and redemption.

The move was so long ago but I still call Saskatchewan my home. My family connections are there: in the people, in the water, in the sky, and in that land. My mother’s family were early settlers; they homesteaded the territory, cleared the land, planted roots and stayed, raising generations of farmers and ranchers, some of whom still call those wide open spaces their home.

My father’s family were from further north, where the land was less arable. They came from places with names like Île-à-la-Crosse, Buffalo Narrows, Meadow Lake, Green Lake, Big River. Names that tell of the importance of water.

I look at photos of my great grandparents in front of their mud brick shack in Green Lake. More photos of them with other family members who I do not recognize, faces smiling at the camera. I find a photo of my kookum. I notice that her profile is similar to my youngest sister’s. And to mine.

I miss this place, Saskatchewan.

I miss this place, Saskatchewan.

Another question comes to mind.

What do photographs of Indigenous women, taken by Indigenous women, look like? 

We have all been colonized by the white man’s gaze. We need to  change the visual narrative and create an Indigenous woman’s gaze. We live in a time where we can represent ourselves with a variety of tools. Smart phones, point and shoot disposables, DSLRs, film cameras, anything that can record the light.

We need to see the world from as many perspectives as possible and share them with others because as @runawaygtrain shared on Instagram: Our ancestors would have wanted us to give a shit.

Outtake from recent photo session with Victoria Pruden.

Outtake from recent photo session with Victoria Pruden.

Having fun with Pewi Alfred.

Having fun with Pewi Alfred.

First paid photo session with Sarah Hunt.

First paid photo session with Sarah Hunt.

 – Amanda Laliberte

Wild Horse, Moberly, BC

Darkroom, bright light

I’ve always taken pictures.

My earliest memory holding a camera I was five. I remember the feel of the cold chrome and smooth black leather and the hefty weight of it in my hands. It felt like a fragile brick.

I remember my eye looking through the view finder and the satisfactory “click” I heard made when I pushed the trigger.

I remember how the viewfinder would go black for a quick moment when the shutter opened and closed. When I captured that first frame, something captured me.

By high school I knew my way around a roll of film pretty well – but entering the darkroom was a new freedom. I could spend hours dodging and burning. Hanging film. Finding the perfect contrast. Reprinting the same image until I had it just right.

My story at the time was of the only indigenous student in a predominantly white school. The darkroom was my refuge.

And even though I produced far more work than my classmates, it never once occurred to me to do the assignments. As a result I failed high school photography – consistently and somewhat deliberately for years.

Thankfully my photography teacher seamed silently proud of my rebellion. Regardless of my lack of interest in their class – they gave me keys to the darkroom and taught me to load and process my own film. They encouraged me to develop my skills. They asked me thoughtful questions and they were the first to really hear the stories I was telling with my images.

As a result, the work I produced at that time was, and remains, my clearest voice.

I believe I inherited both the instinct for storytelling and a camera for a reason.

Perhaps it’s to help shift the narrative told about indigenous people, from the third to the first person. Perhaps it’s to make sure the images of our elders have names. Perhaps it’s to capture the history of the February 14th Memorial March and tell that in a way that is centered on resilience, not violence.

I just know that it’s part of how I speak in the world, that it brings me joy and challenge, and that with a camera in my hand – I’m always home.

 – Jessica Wood

Art, Photography, & Culture

Art, photography, and culture are three of my greatest passions. Photography being a more recent passion. I’m no means a ‘professional’ or have any formal training in photography, however, as a beginner with a curious heart, I’m drawn and open to learning from everyone and everything that’s available to me.

Lately, my greatest inspiration has been focused on photographing my art on people. Since a young age I’ve always been very observant, and so by the time I was given a camera I wanted to capture it all. I would try to notice small bits of beauty in every person and place I visited.

In many ways, photography has also been a creative extension to my current full time job – jewellery artist. It has given me the opportunity to have a voice and a vision. Similar to my experience with jewellery, It has been somewhat of a guide for me to further explore and understand my culture while inspiring and stimulating curiosity and wonder for others. For example, caribou upholds strong value and importance to my culture as it is one of the animals that provides food and material for clothing and accessories. I use this material in a lot of my artwork in addition to porcupine quills which is the most common and traditional form of adornment before beads were introduced. In a similar way, photography became another form of outlet in which I could understand and appreciate the beauty of culture and the people around me. My trips to northern communities such as Inuvik during GNAF and bush life in Norman Wells, NT with my auntie Ida and uncle David were all adventures and discoveries i’ve captured on camera for myself, and for others to visually experience some of its unique beauty.

People are probably my favourite thing to photograph because I love the idea of instilling confidence and bringing forth each individuals beauty. I also love the idea of capturing people and art that show a connection to a part of ancestry intertwined in a modern setting or style. I’ve always believed our roots are an important part of our identity, and being able to incorporate both worlds – the traditional and modern- is something that keeps me grounded yet continually growing.

 

 – caroline blechert 

The Bugs, The Mud & The Bison!

What do you love about your home community? I love the endless smiles and waves as you walk along the shores of the Mackenzie River, the culturally rich community with many Dene and Metis traditions. Seeing the bison roam the fields freely, and of course the mosquito and black fly filled air – that’s when I know I am home.

I have spent most of my life living in the small aboriginal community of roughly 800 people, Fort Providence; Zhahti Koe meaning, “mission house” in Dene Zhahti. It’s located on the shore of Canada’s longest river and is located along the highway between Yellowknife and Hay River. We have an Elementary and High school – Deh Gah School, which means “By the River”. It’s where I’ve spent many long days in class making friendships and the best childhood memories.

Fort Providence is home of trappers, hunters, fishers, drummers, hand game players, traditional artists, beaders, quilters, moose-hair tufters, and moose-hide tanners. We also have the infamous Deh Cho Bridge, Dene Fur Clouds, a small hardware store called the Aurora Market, two little coffee shop called Snowshoe Inn & Big River Service and a Northern Store. Many cabins, snowmobile & quad trails, swamps and stray dogs surround it. I always look forward to returning home to the welcoming hugs and handshakes.

As a young lady hanging out with friends, playing hide and seek outside the band office, driving around on a snowmobile all hours of the night, or simply walking in the same circles around town, one thing is for sure – I always had a camera in hand, capturing it all. Photography quickly developed into a passion of mine and, thankfully, I grew up in a beautiful town with people who were willing to be subjects of mine.

Church, Fort Providence, Blue Sky, Sunset, Willows

Church of Our Lady of Providence – a sunset assignment for photography school

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Deh Cho Bridge Opening – Fire Feeding Ceremony

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Bison resting along the shore of the Mackenzie River

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Big Smiles from Youth of Fort Providence

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Helen Canadian, Elder of Fort Providence

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Idle No More Protest, Deh Cho Bridge

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Annual Mud Run held in Fort Providence

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Moon above the Mackenzie River

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Stray dog chilling outside the Northern Store

No matter where I go and how long I am gone, I’ll never forget where I come from. Fort Providence fills me with many amazing memories. It is a part of my identity and has helped shape me into who I am today.

– Shawna McLeod

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!

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