On Thursday I attended the Indigenous Self-Representation in Photography talk at the National Gallery of Canada. The speakers were Dayna Danger and Sophie Guignard. Danger is a two-spirit Métis-Anishinaabe artist and Guignard is a PhD candidate in Art History. It was a fascinating talk in two parts, a tour of currently displayed Indigenous photographs, the selected images picked by Danger. The second part started with Guignard giving an overview of her research into Indigenous self-representation in photography, through the study of art catalogs and publications. The event was capped off with a discussion between the two speakers.
The talk was revelatory, I was introduced to many Indigenous photo artists. I am planning on updating the History of Photography course I teach at Algonquin College. I want to incorporating more international and Indigenous photographers. This talk was a great primer into Indigenous photography. The speakers had a vast knowledge of the subject. They also picked a selection of catalogs and books from the Gallery’s archives which I have added to our purchase list at the Algonquin Library.
The talk also got me thinking about my own MA project. Danger’s talk on the individual images and her peeling back the layers of the work was eye opening. As an artist herself it was interesting to hear her perspective on the work and the lingo of a contemporary artist. Some of the ideas and issues she discussed were new to me, others were explained so succinctly they clicked with me. The ideas of visual sovereignty/owenership, visual signifiers, and the gaze.
The subject’s gaze in a photograph is something I had never considered using to engage or provoke the audience. This technique is something I want to incorporate into the work. Having the subjects project a strong gaze to engage the viewers to make them see the similarities in us all, regardless of race or culture. The issue of visual sovereignty/ownership is interesting too. What am I giving back to the subject and who owns the image. Also what context should the image be see in, who, where and what is the audience? Danger decoded some of the visual signifiers in the images she discussed, this is a layer that I never considered. Should the visual signifiers in the work I am producing be explained, or should there be ones that only speak to certain migrant groups?
Guignard’s discussion on her methodology and her process allowed me to but into context my own process and methods. It was an affirmation that what I am doing is correct. I am at the point in my research that there is too much info and I need to focus. Through talking about her research she helped put me back on track. Guignard also had an interesting point about photography as relational text or object. That if you examine a photo you can unfold the space, time, meaning of the images and where they were taken. I want my work to act as relational objects.
Two of my concerns about my project and photography have been silenced, at least for a bit, thanks to this talk. One, what will the project add to the conversation? Two, is photography as a medium the avenue to explore such topics, is it still a relevant medium?
One of the Indigenous photographers that I really enjoyed was Shelley Niro.