on poetry and photography – Kelsie Marchand, Guest Blogger

Lately I’ve been focusing on doing some shape-shifting. I’ve been an official photography business since October 2017, but my passion for photography and visual arts extends far beyond my English language. The best way I know how to express myself, before I knew any of my Nsyilxcən words, is through the expressions of my work. I envision things all the time. I’ll be driving and see something and it literally just shapes itself as I drive by.

I absolutely love and have the deepest respect for all my fellow Indigenous artists out there but poetry always speaks directly to my spirit, deep down to the roots of my being. My favorite Indigenous poet is Helen Knott of the Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw, and Euro descent from Prophet River First Nations in Northwestern BC. She is so talented and has been inspiring me for the past few years. I use her poetry along with most of my photos because she has the gift to put life and words to what my photos need to say.

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“Too Many Memories” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

I have too many memories that tell me of your lack of integrity.

Too many stories told to this young body.

It has aged me so.

I hold ancient songs in my bones.

I have absorbed the tears of elders, of young ones, from far off territories.

Our lands split up by mountains and rivers and your invisible borders.

I have seen you offer up apologies and promises.

While simultaneously taking actions that demand that we forget.

Demand that we bow to colonial rule

Over and over

and over

and over

Until we sit like a young spruce sapling under the winters weight of snow.

Helen Knott; “Canada 150. We are still Here or Have you Forgotten?”
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“Below the Cement” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

You see,

there are stories just beneath the city streets

that your bones are trying to remember

there are trail ways laying just behind those barbed wire fences

that you just can’t reach

there are ancestors bodies in these manicured landscapes

that have mixed and mingled with the earth

knowing this, you try to listen closely in these trafficked spaces

holding breath, keeping silent

knowing that a blood memory might be trying to speak

Helen Knott; “Indigenous Diaspora: Out of Place in Place”
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“Below the Cement” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

In the deepest parts of myself, and I’m sure many Indigenous people can relate, I have a yearning to connect with my decolonized self. This is what I hope is my boldest point when I write an “Artist Statement”. I used to be a lost soul and when I found that photography can be an expression of unspeakable words, then I felt as though I found my true self.

During our Syilx Salmon Feast & Ceremony* in Okanagan Falls, BC, I had the honour of being invited to shoot the events. It’s always in my heart to document as much of the Syilx ways as possible so I absolutely jumped at the opportunity not knowing how much it would change me. This was my first Salmon Feast & Ceremony. My kids always went to the ceremonies with their Aunt, Uncle and cousins many times before. My kids knew all of the songs, protocols, and spent the entire time supporting the ceremony leaders and Elders. I was so proud of them. 

Without speaking about the actual ceremony too much, I think I can express the meaning of it for me. One Elder spoke over us, “When the Salmon come through here they never come back the same as they were the year before, that is the same for us, what will you leave here today?”

I prayed on that, and I left anything that didn’t serve my life in walking a good path. From that day forward, I have been inspired to only work towards decolonization of my spirit and making sure that my children grow up in the same spirit and teachings of our Grandmothers. My work has become profoundly influenced by this ceremony. When times get tough, all I do is slip back into the memories of hearing my songs on that warm September afternoon where the breeze blew so perfectly carrying the words down the river. That was one of the most peaceful moments in my life and all I want is for our upcoming generations to have moments peace just like that with their own songs, prayers, and ceremonies.

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I will be continuing to document what in the past has been so poorly documented, and that is the images of our families sharing love, traditions, ceremonies, and artistic pieces that speak to the memories of our before.

I’ll leave you with a photo I call “Never Forgotten,” in memory of my daughter Kolet (pictured below) and my grandparents and family members that attended residential school.

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“Never Forgotten” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

I cannot be undone

My prayer songs will forever be sung

And out of this land I have come

Into the Earth I shall return

My stories and knowledge

Will not be unlearned

I come from strength, pride, and resiliency.

I will not be forgotten willingly.

Hakatah Wuujo Asonalah.

Helen Knott; “Fractured Identity; I Come from Something”

 – kelsie marchand 


* The Salmon Feast honours the sacredness of the river at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ (Okanagan Falls), which is a culturally significant site for the Syilx (Okanagan) People, and an important traditional fishing camp, gathering place and trading site. (www.syilx.org)
** All poetry by Helen Knott shared with permission by author

Kelsie is a Syilx woman from the Okanagan Territory in BC, where she was raised. She and her husband, Mario, share 5 children together and are raising their family on the on the Unceded territory of the Kwantlen people. The work Kelsie does is deep rooted in the responsibility to reclaim the culture that was so carefully preserved by her Ancestors. Like so many other Indigenous people her ability to express that responsibility is best said through art, it is a way that her true self recognizes. Find her at FB, on her insta: @SyilxImages or her website. 

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Sisters

My two little sisters are a blessing and a curse. I have memories of their births, though some of the details get a little confused. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night and getting carried out to our old chevy pick up truck but I don’t know if my other sister was there. We never went for rides in the middle of the night, only for Christmas Eve Mass, so an outing such as this was not forgotten. The other memory I have is driving to the hospital with my dad and our cat Dax, again I don’t know if my other sister was there. This memory I think is the most important because it shows how unimportant the birth of a sister was to my child mind. We had arrived at the hospital and my mom was lying in bed. She might have been holding my new-born baby sister, or perhaps it was my dad. Then my mom had opened up a drawer, took out a box of smarties and gave me the box of treats. I was so happy about those smarties, nothing else mattered, and that is all I can remember. As a mother I can reflect on my mom’s choices during that night in the hospital so long ago, and I now understand  that I was most certainly being bribed.

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They were so cute back in the ’80s.

Our birth order certainly shaped our personalities; we were your typical trio. As the first born I always had to set an example for my little sisters, and consequently am a little tightly wound up. The middle child, Lynette, had to negotiate within the complicated power relations of our family, and is always wheeling and dealing. The youngest, Bernette, watched her older sisters make mistakes, and now has the “I’ll show them all” attitude. (I still don’t know why my parents went with the “ette”s. I could have been a really good Annette)

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Lynette preparing for our youngest sister’s wedding.

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Bernette giving me the “WTF Amanda?” look.

My sons love hearing me tell stories about my sisters and I growing up, especially the ones where there is fighting involved. I try telling them about how we played with my-little-ponies or pretended to be mermaids in the ditches near the railway tracks, but they prefer to hear about the sister fights. They like to know that we were bad kids too. Like, what kind of young girl in a fit of anger would decide to throw an empty porcelain sheep-shaped Avon perfume bottle at her sister’s head? And what kind of girls would tie up their youngest sister to a chair and then shut off the lights and leave her in the basement? Yeah, my sons love hearing about that one.

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Me and my sisters.

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I see a resemblance between my boys and my sisters when they were kids.

Being the eldest I still feel responsible for my sisters. Sometimes I wonder if my eldest son feels this for his younger brother or not? He is growing up in a very different kind of family than the one that my sisters and I had to deal with. I am providing my boys with a safe and loving environment where they don’t need to protect each other in the home. Growing up I had to watch out for my sisters all the time – the drinking brought out the worst in the adults. My mom did her best to protect us but she wasn’t always there.

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Thanksgive’r tableau.

As adults, we still act like those little girls when we get together. We love to laugh at each other. We break off into pairs, and whisper about the other sister behind her back. We talk about ex boyfriends and poke at old wounds that only we know are there. No one can hurt us like we can. My middle sister recently found out that her partner of 10 years was cheating on her. Her grief is heartbreaking but soon enough she will be back out there wheeling and dealing. Her pain is short term and nothing like the scars that us sisters have inflicted on each other. Those scars are there for us to pick at and to remind us that we are always sisters. This year my youngest sister married her partner with whom she’s been with forever, and now they are finally talking about starting a family, just for me, so I can be an aunty. Hahaha. Perhaps they will start another generation of sisters.

 

Over these years we’ve pushed and pulled each other but we know that we are sisters. We are family and we will always stand by each others sides, no matter what.

-xox your big sis, Amanda Laliberte

 

seven years

It is a special day of reflection for myself and my husband. Another year has passed and we have survived another year together. You have no idea how difficult it really is being married to me, or being married to my handsome and smart husband for that matter. Seven years ago we were married in front of a quince tree where later I learned that my father put down tobacco and said a prayer for us on our wedding day. My parents marriage ended when I was in grade 7. My mother fled from my father while he was working up in Northern Saskatchewan. She left him for many good reasons but the most important one was to protect my sisters and I. And there we were, twenty years later, my mother, my father and my two younger sisters together to celebrate the union between my husband and I with our 16 month old son by our side. Both of our families and friends were there to witness us, well pretty much growing up.

Around this time last year I shared a post about how my husband and I met. You can read more here https://teaandbannock.com/2016/06/06/kisakihitin-you-are-loved-by-me/

Honestly, I don’t write very much about him on social media or on here because of his profession and out of respect because he is a private man. I still take a lot of photos of him though because I’ve been doing so for nearly 12 years. The thought makes me blush. As a young girl I knew who I was going to marry one day and it happened, even after years of making out with guys from around the world (yessss…. I have an international record and only two of them were indigenous), heartbreaks and just dating baaaad dudes. Oh and I must mention the English lad named Mike Hunt. No joke.

My husband and I are still learning how to be together. I wanted to share with everyone a few questions that I gave my husband for you the readers to get to know me a bit more. And it is a chance for me to see how well he knows me.

Which of my achievements am I most proud of?

  – I am worried about answering this question, as I feel that my response may be used to judge me at some future point. But I think that it may be our two sons, because they are pretty amazing and I am proud of them too.

Later in my adult life, I had an epiphany. Which comic book character from my youth did I realize strongly influenced my style?

  Veronica. Totally Veronica. I know this one.

What is my least favourite housework task?

  Hmmmm… taking out the garbage? or is it dishes? or is it vacuuming? or it is perhaps washing the floors?

What type of music do I secretly like?

  – Terrible late nineties house.

Which song do I sing when we argue?

  – Witney Houston’s “I will always love you”.

What was yelled at us by total strangers while we where out on our first date at Jericho Beach? Is this too personal sweetheart?

  – No, its not too personal. It was: “Hey look, there are some indians making out in the bushes!”

How did I spend my summers as a child?

  – Uhhhh… going to Batoche? 

*Note: this is the ONLY question that he didn’t answer correct. Yes, every year we went to the Back to Batoche Days but my fondest memories are of spending time with my mom’s family in Melfort and camping & fishing with my dad’s family in Northern Saskatchewan.

What kind of footwear was I wearing at our wedding during our first dance?

  – Moccasins.

When shouldn’t you talk to me?

  – Anytime in the morning, before you have had a coffee.

Which of your shirts do I dislike?

  – You dislike one of my shirts?

What kind of food makes me drool? Note: I considered leaving you and Elijah because neither of you like it but quickly realized it meant more for me.

  – Dried moose meat.

Why do I take so much time to get ready?

  – Because you have a double XX chromosome.

What song can always make me dance, especially when no one’s around?

  – I have no idea. I obviously am not around when you are dancing to it.

What’s a personality trait I dislike about myself, and I share with a parent?

  – Anything that your mother does that annoys you.

Am I related to Louise Riel?

  – Sure, why not.

Are you related to Louis Riel?

  – Again, for sure.

When we hug what do our kids and dogs do?

  – Try to get in the middle and break up our hug.

What made me fall in love with you?

  – Uhhh…hmmm… my cowboy boots? or my sweet personality? No, it was totally the cowboy boots.

You did good my  husband. xox

-Amanda Laliberte

Ink and Stories – Cora DeVos, Guest Blogger

I look back on the past 7 years of being in business and there has been many sessions that have stayed close to my heart and I’m sure they always will be a part of me. Photography has taken me on a journey and I have learned so much about myself, that I don’t think I would have come to realize if it weren’t for my craft.

I love taking photographs of women, it brings me such joy to have someone show up for their session and be so timid and afraid to be in front of the camera and through the session to watch her blossom into a super model and feel so beautiful and KNOW that she’s looking good.

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I want that feeling for every woman. I want every woman to look in the mirror and see the beauty that their loved ones see, forgetting about the awful words that we often tell ourselves and just letting your true beautiful self, shine through. We really do need to stop being so mean to ourselves and learn to love ourselves as freely as we give our love to our family and friends. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, make the most of today and get in front of the camera with your loved ones and for your loved ones.

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One of the most amazing opportunities that I’ve had as a photographer was to be part of The Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project and be the main photographer for the upcoming “Reawakening Our Ancestors Line” book. This project was spear headed by my best friend, Hovak Johnston. I couldn’t be more proud of Hovak. The strength that this woman holds is amazing and I love that she has blossomed into this strong and determined Inuk woman who wasn’t afraid of being told “no” and was willing to push forward for something that she felt so compelled to do for our people.

Tattooing was a tradition that was almost lost in our culture due to missionaries forbidding it and residential schools, Inuit were no longer continuing this tradition.

The week that we spent in Kugluktuk, Nunavut was a constant wave of emotions. You could feel the excitement coming from the Inuit women that were receiving their traditional tattoos. At times we cried together, laughed together, and when the tattooing was done – it seemed like the lines were meant to be there.

Hovak and I wrapped up the weekend with her tattooing me with the poking method. I chose a design that to me represents my little family. I could not imagine a better way to finish up our time in Kugluktuk than receiving this very special gift, from a very special friend.

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Novak Johnston of The Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project 

These were my thoughts after receiving my tattoo…

My family lived in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. My mom is Inuit and my dad is white. Mom used to speak to us in Inuinnaqtun when I was young, until one day an elder asked her why she was teaching us the language, we were “only half.” From then on, Mom never taught us any more of the language.

The words of “only half” have always haunted me in so many ways.

You see, my skin color is dark enough that I’m judged by it when going into stores, or when people meet me. Many assume that I should fit into all the stereotypes that they’ve come to believe before I even open my mouth.

But being that I’m “only half” and I was mostly raised in the south, I’ve never been “Inuk enough” for the north. When I go back to Nunavut, I’m constantly reminded by family and friends that I’m “so kublunak” (white man). Whether it’s how I dress, the fact that I don’t know our language (as if it was by choice) or that I don’t like muqtuq (whale blubber).

It’s hard, because all my life my two “halves” never have seemed to fit into a whole. I’ve always been proud to say that I’m Inuk (hence my photography name) and I’m always excited to talk to people about the amazing parts our culture, when it comes down to it… we are a TOUGH people! Take a look at our games and the climate we’ve survived in, you’ve got to be tough!

Now with my tattoo, I feel like it brings me closer to my culture than I have ever been before. When I look down at my tattoo and see it there, I know that I belong and I am proud to say that I AM INUK.

My whole is not half-Inuk and half-white; my whole is this person that I’ve become – a strong and caring person, someone always there for my husband, children, family and friends.

I am whole.

 – Cora DeVos, Little Inuk Photography


Bio: Little Inuk Photography is owned and operated by Cora DeVos in Fort St John, BC. Little Inuk Photography opened for business seven years ago the in small town of Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan. Cora has found her passion in women’s portraiture.

Little Inuk Photography ~ Capturing beautiful images of beautiful people

Stay in Touch:

Web: Little Inuk Photography FB: Little Inuk Photography  Insta: @littleinukphotography Twitter: @littleinukphoto

 

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

Nature’s Reminders

As the season shifts and the leaves turn golden yellow, I am reminded of nature’s innate sense of balance. For me, Autumn season evokes a time for transition and a time for letting go.

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The simplicity of watching trees slowly and gracefully shed their leaves somehow never fails to fascinate me. They remind me to reflect on what remains in my own life, and what I have stubbornly held onto. It is time to let them go.

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