she dances on northern lights

When I went to Vancouver last week-ish, I met up with my (now) good friend, Maddie. I had only previously met her at a wedding for a minute back in the day, but I was gonna crash on her couch because why not. I’ve been blessed in the past to be able to crash on new friend’s couches while travelling, and I knew that Maddie was originally from the North and we had multiple friends in common.

I got lost – of course – and pulled my massive suitcase into Maddie’s place, laughing as we awkwardly discussed how the trip was going. I’m not sure what broke the ice – it may have been her accent which is as thick as her hair (eeeee) – but once we started laughing and then coughing like old men, we quickly bonded and planned our photo session for the next day. Maddie is a talented dancer in multiple forms, but I really wanted to experiment with two ideas – a Métis Jigging Queen, and a more contemporary expression.

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I’ve always wanted to dance, and I’m still that kid out on the floor until the lights turn on, but once I saw the way Maddie could move – my heart ached even more for my lost dream. In a good way.

Maddie creates.

Maddie lives dance.

There was a fearlessness in her that I could appreciate, but never replicate. She gave me her all, and it was great to work with someone who trusted me to create my art while she did hers – making Indigenous magic happen.

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And because my creeper skills are great, I also contacted Elisha of @mua.nativebarbie after seeing some of her work on Instagram. She did this Coast Salish style on her face that had me thinking she could interpret what I wanted pretty easy. Elisha showed up, at first pretty quiet compared to Maddie and I, but as we went on – telling stories, snickering, coughing, sharing – Elisha started to laugh exactlyyyyyy like us. We’re a great influence.

And she slayedddddd her art.

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We were originally only going to the Métis Jigging creative session, but we had the opportunity to finish up with an oceanside session the day I left. We laughed over misheard words – “he thought your name was sweetPOON” – and I stood still for a second, listening to the Rez accents in a big city, the sweet rush of ocean wind blowing through our hair, and I smiled.

Sometimes you find kin in the most unexpected places.

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*These are just a few samples o fetch images; hella more coming soon 

Credits:  Model: Madelaine McCallum // Hair+Makeup: MUA Native Barbie  // Pink Gown: Chloë Angus Design // Earrings: Savage Rose  // Beaded Belt: Melody // Mukluks: Unknown (will gather name)

 – tenille campbell

Path Breakers

from Caroline Blechert:

Some Path Breaking waves happened this weekend while collaborating on a photoshoot for my Creations for Continuity Neon Jewellery Series.

Through this beautiful collaboration we have all brought an artistic, contemporary lens to the idea of indigenous beauty and identity.

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The concept of Indigenous in these photos really shows how dynamic we are and how we see ourselves, because we are so much more than how we are romantically and traditionally depicted in mainstream.

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We are more than natives wrapped in blankets, or Inuit on the land in fur parkas. Many of us have adapted, much like our ancestors, to their own harsh environments.

Images above by Caroline Blechert

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 from Jaida Grey Eagle:

In collaborating on this series we wanted to play with the light; using light as a statement, using light as a form of pushing the narrative and using the light to break up the stagnation of how we as Indigenous people are viewed in the contemporary world.

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I was not interested in creating images that continue to put us into the stoic, romanticized, and past-tense portrayal. We went in with the thought to create an image that further pushes the narrative of Indigenous beauty.

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Coming together and collaborating together as indigenous women I wanted to create what I’m always looking for.

I’m always in search of images that capture contemporary Indigenous people as how I see us; adaptable, resilient, and thriving people.

I know that others must be searching as well.

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Images above by Jaida Grey Eagle

teacups and beadwork, lace and birch bark

I remember snippets of Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland creeping their way into my childhood. I remember dreaming about falling down a rabbit hole. I remember thinking about how delicious a rabbit tastes. I remember the eating of the cookies and the drinking of the liquids, and the shrinking and the growing. I remember the confusion, and I remember Alice meeting the Mad Hatter. Laughable, slightly off, eccentric. Doesn’t fit in. Doesn’t blend.

Only years later, I recognize a kindred soul.

Looking back at that memorable scene – that Mad Hatter Tea Party – I find myself thinking critically, more and more, on this. An outsider falling into another world and getting frustrated when the rules and structures don’t make sense, trying to implement their sense of propriety on the matters. Sounds familiar, eh.

It was with this little idea that a talented crew and I started dreaming up a creative session, featuring a Métis youth from Duck Lake. I first noticed Danitra thanks to Facebook. Her Grandma is one of my Mom’s high school friends, and she wore this stunning yellow gown for her graduation. I quickly creeped her and asked her Grandma to give Danitra my cell, and we went from there.

With an all-Indigenous team (hair by Shayla Weisbrot of The Salon 467, Duck Lake and makeup by Kacey Beaudry, MUA, Saskatoon), and with the multi-talented Alexandra George (former guest blogger) as our behind-the-scenes photographer and set designer, we managed to create a little bit of magic.

A little bit of Indigenous magic.

And I think it was from the stories and community that this session carried. Nothing I do comes without stories. Shayla tied sweetgrass from my various journey’s into Danitra’s hair as we sat around her kitchen table, sipping coffee. Kacey and her pile of makeup stood in front of the house where we would run around with our cousins, laughing as my cousin Alex jumped on the wooden table to start decorating the set. We integrated a beaded teabag from Catherine Blackburn (former guest blogger). We rocked earrings from Savage Rose, and decorated the set with beadwork from Beads, Rhymes, Life. We were borrowed a beautiful birch bark basket from Silver Wolf Trading Post. We ate local donuts and fry bread from the Beardy’s Gas Station. Alex created a faded and wrinkled Royal Proclamation, as well as planted teapots full of succulents. She put together a bouquet of wild, dried flowers and found feathers. I used sage gifted to me by the Women’s Shelter from Walpole Island, On. My late Grandma’s camera was snuck in there, as was a crystal sugar cube dish, reminiscent of the one that we used to sneak candy out of at my late Grandparent’s house. We decorated a hat with my daughter’s Métis sash and a hawk feather from a friend. We were on our land, land that my mom was raised on. My Aunt and Uncle laughed and teased us, helping us with the roses, the moving of tables, and entertaining the neighbours as they stopped in to see what we were doing. Oh, I love small communities.

And as the sun set, and the session ended, we laughed together.

“Do you feel good about this?” I asked Danitra, shooting the last image.

“I feel amazing. I couldn’t have imagined this.”

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 – tenille campbell

women gathering/women creating

I’m very lucky and fortunate to have made so many positive connections through my photography.

I was honoured to team up with Tania Larson Studios, Kamamak Cosmetics and Dickson Designs to create some magic of our products on some of most gorgeous Indigenous women from the Northwest Territories. I traveled to three communities to complete this collection and made sure most of the Northern cultures were represented.

Working on a collection like this one is something I hold so close to my heart. I believe it’s important to make sure we encourage each other as women whether we are entrepreneurs, mothers, aspiring models, designers, or acquaintances. I wanted to make sure that all the women I photograph feel empowered, comfortable and supported.

A huge heartfelt thank you to our models – Britney Nadli, Tanis Niditchie, Dehga Scott, Ariel Hardisty Charlene Chapple and Charlene Menacho. I admire your confidence, bravery and class throughout our time shooting together.

 – shawna mcleod

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“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back” – unknown

Let’s Play – Inspiration then Collaboration

Every now and then, I do Creative Sessions. These are strictly Just For Me. I don’t do them for customers, I don’t do them for commercial gigs. These are my personal learning opportunities, where I want to try new ideas, fail at them (most likely), and edit the images in  ways not traditional to my overall look. These sessions keep me inspired, keep my soul happy, and make me try harder.

But I also like to work with other artists in my shoots. I’m a huge fan of collaborations with other like-minded people whose work reflects my style of shooting. I have worked with other photographers, make-up artists, beaders, jewelry artists, clothing designers, hairstylist, and clothing companies. I have worked with people where I act all professional in the session, then go home and giggle about what just happened, because I can’t believe I got to meet them.

Yeah, I’m not cool. We all know this.

But how do I start working with others? How to I get them on board?

I try to start with a mood board. I use Pinterest. It’s free, it’s loaded with inspiration, and it’s easy to add other people to the board as well.

A mood board will help me cultivate the look I’m going for. Colours that attract me, theme I’m aiming towards. Moody. Vintage. Industrial. Edgy. Bare. And so on. The mood board helps me shift through and pull in features that will speak to me – do I want a heavy eye and nude lip? Do I want a statement piece of jewelry or do I want the shoes to have the glory?

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Spring 2016 – Moody Pastels

Once I figure that out what I want, I generally contact people I want to work with or have worked with in the past. I am lucky enough that I have a solid body of work behind me – people know what they’re getting with me, but creative sessions allow a group of us to play, to try new ideas.

Kacey Beaudry is a Saskatoon-based Indigenous Make-Up Artist that I currently like to work with. She and I share a sense of humour, she is always cooking something, and the room is filled with laughter, the sharing of ideas and storytelling as we get our model ready. And for me, this is important. I have to trust and like the energy in the room before a shoot.

I showed her an earlier version of this board, and she was hesitant. Which meant a nice way of saying “hell no, Tenille,” so I revamped and updated it. We discussed details of the makeup – colour, accents, lips, eyes, and when it came down to it, I let her do her. She is the expert here, not me. I gave her all the details I could, and now I had to trust her to interpret it as she would. The makeup has to reflect her abilities and design as well, as collaborations are a two-way street.

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So once the hair and makeup were done, and outfits chosen, off my model and I went. I first met Jo when I photographed her headshot for the Circle of Voices youth program at the GTNT. It turns out we have people in common, and her image was at the back of my mind when I started planning. She had impressed me with her confidence in front of the camera, as well as her personal attitude – she was open and friendly and it left an impression.

This session was about movement. My model, Jo, is a pow-wow dancer so she brought along her shawl and was game for some images. She spun and danced, and I shot in a multiple of ways.

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Now, the thing is, I don’t know if I love it.

But I’m glad I tried it.

I have ideas for another way to shoot something like this, and now I also have a model who is willing to work with me again, who trusts me to honour both her regalia, and her image as an Indigenous woman.

Another thing I was shooting for was details. I was trying for a tight shot with hair and shoulders and eyes, as I generally shoot further back, not wanting to get into the client’s space.

And again, still not exactly what I was aiming for. I feel so good about these images, don’t get me wrong, but I really wanted to push myself into her space and I kept pulling back to a comfortable distance. It was really interesting to see myself revert back to what I was used to, even in a session created to expand my horizons.

But in the end, I showed the back of the camera to Jo and she smiled, laughed and loved what she saw. I sent images to Kacey right away and she sends me back all these heart smiley faces. I send a snap to Tara of Beads, Rhymes, Life showing her how we used the earrings she made, and she was pumped. The learning is part of it, yes, but it’s also about the community you’re creating around your work.

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 – tenille campbell

 

Just Make Out a Little

Just make out a little. Trust me.

We’re all giggling, and trying not to, as my friends Jack and his partner James, snuggle in. Jack is, by nature, not an overtly PDA kind of guy. It’s only because he trusts me, and knows me, that’s he’s willing to be part of this.

Keep moving those hands. Keep touching. So good!

More laughter. It’s an odd feeling watching people make out. I can’t imagine what they feel like, with my flash and the click of the camera, with my helpful/not so helpful suggestions coming out. It’s the first official studio day for my new art series, #KissingIndigenous. I’m gathering my adventurous friends after a Facebook post asking them to make-out in front of my lens.

I’ve spent the last few years working almost strictly with Indigenous people as I grew my business. I’m Dene, I’m from the North, and it’s those stories and people that I want to photograph. And it’s been amazing. A lot of fun. A lot of laughter, and joy, and happiness.

And as I present these images of real, honest-to-Creator, authentic Indigenous People, I am well aware of how visual stereotypes still run rampant in mainstream culture. I see it every Halloween when the Squaw and Warrior and Indian Princess costumes come out.

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Google Search. Sigh. 

I see it every summer when Coachella and other festivals start to emerge and some hipster thinks their headdress is so “on fleek”. I see it when small town communities and huge corporations refuse to accept the fact that their Indian mascots are racist. I see it when Indigenous roles in blockbuster movies only feature Indigenous people as traditional, contact-era Indians.

Where’s my rapping, street-smart Indigenous Queen? Because she’s here.

Where’s my powerhouse Indigenous lawyer? Because he’s here.

Where’s my naturopath Medical Doctor? Because she’s here.

Where’s my world traveller, living in backpacks and instagram shots? Because he’s here.

We have the artists, the actors, the storytellers, the accountants, the café owners, the chefs, the hockey players, the basketball players, the CEO’s, the tech geniuses. We have everyone under the sun, doing the same jobs and cultivating their life experiences, but absolutely next-to-zero current representation in mainstream media.

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Pinterest Search. Sigh. 

So it’s frustrating. It’s aggravating. Visual representation, when left to outsiders, means we are being perceived through someone else’s eyes and experience. We are viewed as other. And I am well aware of when I shoot my Cree friends kissing, my Metis bro kissing, my Dene cousin putting on lip gloss and leaning in, that I am taking those outdated visuals and smashing them.

I’m reclaiming our visual identity.

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More importantly, I am reclaiming our sexual and sensual identity.

There is so much baggage and shit that comes with being an Indigenous woman. And this isn’t the place to step into that, but I’m aware of that. I’m aware that a woman is supposed to be discreet. To hide her sexuality. Because if you don’t hide it, you’re “asking for it.”

I’m well aware that a man is allowed to be promiscuous, in fact, is expected to sleep around, and he is not shamed for it. But if a woman does, those tongues start talking and those friendly laughter turns turn cruel, because what kind of woman sleeps around.

Well, fuck that.

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I want to photograph Indigenous men and women and people who hold their selves to a different standard. Who look and see their partners, and respect and honour them.

Honour.

What a concept.

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And we’re starting. It’s a start. It’s something small, just a touch of sexuality. Just a touch of sensual. And it makes us laugh, and blush, and hopefully smile. It reminds of us of our first kisses and crushes. Of sitting around on old couches and holding hands, waiting for them to make the first move. Of asking Setsune (Grandma) about his family and making sure he wasn’t your cousin. Eeeee.

And it’s a start that inspires others, as seen by this work with Aura (Haudenosaunee and Métis woman), a talented multi-media artist. She contacted me and asked if she could floralize my work, and I was like hellllsss yeah.

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by Aura

A celebration of the friendship and romance between Indigenous couples, and a project that creates new friendships between Indigenous artists.

So much yes.

 

 – tenille campbell