Laugh with me

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

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

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

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

-Amanda Laliberte

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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

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

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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Making Bannock

I’ve got a history with my dad. Last year he had his larynx removed due to cancer and this is our first visit since the surgery. He is quieter and can’t speak as much. Most people won’t remember my dad like this but since his laryngeal cancer diagnosis, he has changed. He can still be an ill-tempered old man, but at least he is now a quiet ill-tempered old man. I do my best to move on and involve my kids in their mosóm’s life. We see him at least once a year and now when he visits us in Alert Bay the boys get to tell their friends about their cyborg mosóm with his tracheoesophageal prothesis. Side note: its a great way to scare the hell out of kids and teach them to never smoke.

I asked my dad if we could make some bannock, but not the crispy fry bread style that we eat here on the West Coast. I wanted the kind that I grew up eating, the dry biscuit cooked in the oven and called by a multitude of names: bannock, la galet, baanak, pahkwesikan. I could go on about how the introduction of flour and sugar into our ancestors diets was a colonial act of cultural genocide… Or I could explore how bannock isn’t the healthiest option for our people now or ever… But not this time, right now I want to share how myself, my boys and my dad connected today while making bannock.

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I ask my dad what we need while he is digging into his pant pockets, pulling out some neatly folded five dollar bills. I don’t understand why he is bringing out his money so I just start collecting what I think we need, white flour, sugar, baking soda, lard, milk and my camera. I glance over and on the counter he is carefully unfolding a piece of paper that was wrapped up with his bills. It is his bannock and fry bread recipes. Whaaaat? He carries around his bannock recipes like he carries his money. Since he carries it with his money, does that mean I can share it with others? I don’t bother asking because I know the answer is NO WAY.

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I grab my camera and start documenting the bannock making session. My dad wasn’t pleased with me taking the photos so immediately he places his hand to cover the hole in his throat and in a raspy voice tells me NO and points at the flour and mixing bowl. I temporarily put my camera down. I mix the flour, baking powder, salt in a large bowl. First lesson: Melt the lard and margarine. If my dad wasn’t pointing with his lips as to what I was to do next, I personally would have used butter over the margarine. But it is his recipe, so I must keep doing as I am told but with few words just head shaking, nods and lip pointing.

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He points to the milk and I measure it out but as I am about to pour it into a bowl, he shakes his head then tells me that it must be at room temperature. Second lesson: Warm the milk with sugar on the stovetop. Aha moment. This must explain why my bannock is so hard and flat. While things are melting and warming up on the stovetop, I grab my camera and start taking pictures. He gives me a look, I put down the camera, and start pouring in the margarine and Tender Flake. Mix. Then I add the warm milk and sugar. I mix.

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Now this is the part I always mess up; I always over mix my bannock. I look to my father for guidance because I don’t want to f*ck up this bannock and I want my sons and husband to be proud of the woman in their life who knows how to make good bannock. (yeah, what is up with us and our pride around bannock making skills?) I tell him that I always over knead the dough and he points and nods as I mix. He tells me to place it on a floured surface then roll it and knead it, which I do. Lesson three: Be gentle but not too gentle with your bannock. Having the warm liquids in the mixture, makes a huge difference with the texture of the bannock, it feels stretchier and not so tough.

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I manage to convince him to take over because I want to see how he shapes his bannock. With my dusty hands I pick up my camera and take a few photos of my dad patting down and shaping it into something vaguely rectangle-like. Once he is done he motions his chin towards the cookie sheet and asks me for aluminum foil. He places the foil on the cookie sheet while I take more photos.

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Then he places the bannock onto the foiled cookie sheet, pokes it  with a fork and places it into the oven. Quietly I clean up the kitchen while he sips his coffee that is spiked with Sambuca. He says it is his sweetener. Minutes later, my eldest son comes in to ask about the smell and looks inside the oven to have a glimpse of what is baking inside the oven. The house smells good which is a sign that the bannock must be done soon.

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Dad comes into the kitchen and opens the oven, flips the bannock and checks the bottom to make sure that it is done. He nods. The bannock is ready.

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-Amanda Laliberte

Maltby Lake

Every so often, I pull a bit of a disappearing act and venture far away from the city to connect with nature as a source of inspiration and healing. As I leave the confines of the city and enter the peaceful, calmness of nature, It’s amazing how quickly I begin to transform my thoughts and perceptions._DSC0142 (1)

For awhile, Matlby Lake was my little hideout where I’d strand myself for days – sitting on the dock, observing the beautiful sate of balance and harmony around me. Inspired by my surroundings, I started to contemplate the ways in which I could create a sense of balance and harmony in my own life.

Like nature, I wanted to learn how to camly flow with the overpowering gusts of wind, rather than letting it completely sweep me away. And so, learning how to calm my mind was the first step – which is DEFINETELY not as easy as it sounds. Like many urban city slickers, the distraction of my electronic divices and pull of wanting to be constantly productive gets the most of my attention these days._DSC0022After a few weeks of practice, I finally started to feel a sense of strength in my connection with self and nature. Now, as I breath in deeply, I imagine soaking in the goodness that surrounds me while breathing out and letting go of the negative within. When I study the balance and harmony of nature, It’s as if I’m uncovering a deeper understanding of myself and the traditional ways and practices of my ancestors.

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happy canada day

Images of the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School.

(before it was torn down last year)

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I haven’t shown any of these images publicly prior to this blog post. Even though these rooms were empty, the residue of the past was still present. If these walls could talk they’d have a lot to share with us. I wasn’t quite sure how to show these in a respectful way because these photos are not meant to be liked and shared around on social media. I feel that Tea & Bannock is the safest place to do so. Plus with the Canada Day celebrations happening across the country on July 1st, I want people to remember that this country was founded on indigenous lands. Don’t forget that.

-Amanda Laliberte