Northern communities are often depicted in terms of the geographical distance that separates them and the isolation they experience as a result.
This weekend, the founders of the inaugural Far North Photo Fest are hoping to bring diverse Arctic cultures from around the globe together under one roof in Yellowknife, by showcasing the work of photographers from across the circumpolar region.
The weekend-long festival will feature a group exhibition of Northern photographers, workshops and a round-table talk led by two internationally acclaimed photographers.
The festival will kick off tonight with the opening of the “Of The North” exhibition at the old Bluenotes store in the city’s Centre Square Mall.
Pat Kane, a local documentary photographer and one of the festival’s founders, called the “Of The North” exhibition the centrepiece of the festival.
“I hope it surprises a lot of people,” said Kane. “It’s not something that people in Yellowknife see all the time.”
“Of The North” is essentially two exhibitions in one according to Kane. Part of the exhibit is dedicated to the stories of 11 documentary photographers from circumpolar countries including Russia, Sweden, Greenland and Finland, in addition to Canada’s three territories, all of whom were selected to share their work by the board.
The Northwest Territories will be represented by the late Rene Fumoleau who passed away early this year. The photos were selected by staff at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre who are familiar with his catalogue.
“This is work that is very personal to him,” said Kane.
The other part of the exhibit features single images of 40 photographers from Canada’s three territories, all of whom submitted their work as part of an open call.
“Visual storytelling is pretty rare outside of tourism and travel photos so seeing actual photos from Northerners, from a Northern perspective will be really unique and interesting.”
On Saturday night Dene Nahjo will be co-hosting a round-table talk at the Top Knight headlined by the festival’s two keynote speakers: Daniella Zalcman and Mauricio Palos.
Zalcman and Palos are award-winning photographers whose work has focused on Indigenous issues in Canada and Central and Southern America respectively.
Zalcman’s Signs Of Your Identity in which she documented the impact of residential schools in communities across Canada has won her numerous awards including the Arnold Newman Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.
Kane said that while neither of the photographers is based in the North, their work touches on issues that are relevant to Northern communities.
“We specifically went to our keynotes from outside the North just to keep that dialogue open. They’re going to presentations on projects they have worked on that are relevant to Northern issues,” said Kane.
“I think it’s important that we create an industry that is collaborative with people in the south. We don’t want to just say we’re the North and we know it all. We need guidance and we need people like Mauricio and Daniella to share our stories and our work.”
Palos, who arrived in Yellowknife from Mexico earlier this week told Yellowknifer he was excited to share his work with a Northern audience. Much of Palos work explores the impact of colonialism on Indigenous communities throughout Central and Southern America, dating back to the Cold War.
“Territories of the south are still going through colonization today,” said Palos. “I’m hoping that these stories will show how these issues are connected.”
After the talk is finished there will be a dance party DJed by Temple Volant and Puppy DJ.
Over the course of the weekend there will be a series of workshops offered catering to a wide range of skill levels.
They will run from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday on the second floor of the Centre Square Mall.
“There’s something for everybody,” said Kane.
Of particular interest to local photographers will be the portfolio one-on-ones, where each participant will get the chance to show their work to established photographers including the keynote speakers Zalcman and Palos.
“We just want to show people that it’s OK to show your work and get feedback.”
The “Of The North” exhibition will remain open during mall hours until Nov. 20.