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.

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-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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Then I stepped back. 

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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.

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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?

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Hands by the side and facing the camera.

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

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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.

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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.

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Nabidu to the rescue!

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Much better.

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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!

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Another reflection image, this time in colour.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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Here she is relaxed.

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

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

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And Nabidu and my son have now wandered off….

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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-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.

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The waters east of Alert Bay. (BC)

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The waters of Northern Saskatchewan. (SK)

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Alert Bay playground. (BC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

-Amanda Laliberte

 

You need to believe in yourself

Since mid August I’ve been stuck in a creative rut. I could justify my actions with many excuses and reasons but in all honesty I just didn’t have the urge to pick up my camera and take photos. Moments like this seem to come and go in my life, especially with my tendency towards episodes of melancholia. Thank goodness for this collective because it keeps me shooting. Knowing that I had a post to prepare for today, I left it until the last minute. I do this a lot. The past couple of weeks I knew the post was coming but there was a heaviness in my heart. Instead of allowing this to consume me, I decided that I wanted to make a photo series that would make me giggle and maybe even get you laughing. Because laughing feels good.

Here are a few photos I took of my sons and their friend wearing my unicorn mask. Did I mention that I love unicorns? I am a child of the 80s.

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-Amanda Laliberte

As the sun spends less time in the sky

Our summer is nearing its end, and I find myself reflecting on our second year in Alert Bay. My family loves it here, especially these long warm vacation days spent sleeping in, playing in the woods, slipping and sliding, and building forts on the beach.  Despite this, I must say this is one mama who is looking forward to getting some good back to school routines started again.

When we went for a dip in the freezing ocean and I made you go first.

When we went for a dip in the freezing ocean and I made you go first.

The day my dad took the kids fishing.

The day my dad took the kids fishing.

That time the Rockefeller and his sailing entourage were in Alert Bay.

That time the Rockefeller and his sailing entourage were in Alert Bay.


That time we made a zombie movie with our friends which was directed by my seven year old son. (Here you can watch our trailer that I made with imovie which was incredibly easy! Anyone with imovie I encourage you to try making movies with the program. This was made using the SCARY trailer template.)

That time we went for a walk in the woods and I made you guys pose for me. Again and again.

That time we went for a walk in the woods and I made you guys pose for me. Again and again.

The morning we got to ride on top of a fire truck and throw candy to the kids and adults at the annual Seafest parade.

The morning we got to ride on top of a fire truck and throw candy to the kids and adults at the annual Seafest parade.

The afternoon when we saw a pod of killer whales.

The afternoon when we saw a pod of killer whales.

The day my husband got a selfie with Evan Adams. Whoops, that didn’t happen in Alert Bay but I am so excited about it that I had to share. Matching doctors.

The day my husband got a selfie with Evan Adams. Whoops, that didn’t happen in Alert Bay but I am so excited about it that I had to share. Matching doctors.

 

Another day when we saw another bloody cruise ship.

Another day when we saw another cruise ship.

And another.

And another.

The night we ended the day with a beach fire.

The night we ended the day with a beach fire.