Jennie Williams, a photographer from Nain, to display works at The Rooms
October 5, 2016
Jennie Williams is a Labrador Inuit photographer based out of Nain, Labrador. A collection of her work detailing the lives of Inuit living in both Northern Labrador and St. John’s will be on display at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery on Saturday, October 8th from 4PM-10PM, as a part of iNuit blanche, and will remain on display throughout Fall 2016. She will be giving an artist talk in her exhibition beginning at 4pm on October 8th. For more information visit www.inuitblanche.com.
Q How did you first become involved in photography?
A I was always into art growing up and spent a lot of my time doing anything artistic. When I was in my early 20's I got my first digital camera, I was hooked right away and I fell in love with taking photos. At that age I remember trying to figure out what I wanted to do as my career in life and all I kept thinking is that I wanted to become a photographer. As the years went on my love for photography grew even more and my cameras and gear got better and better along with my skills as a photographer. I think the best way to learn how to be a good photographer is to practice a lot using manual settings on the camera and learn how to use the light to create beautiful images.
Q What is it about photography that you enjoy?
A I enjoy capturing wonderful and priceless moments in time, something that can be looked back on for many years to come. A memory that can last forever and ever. I like capturing that for myself and also for other people so they can have that memory to enjoy and share for many more years down the road.
Q What inspires you to take a picture?
A There are a lot of things that can inspire me to take a photo, it can be people, scenery, animals or just about anything. Whenever I am inside, outside walking around, or anywhere at all, I will see things and think about how it would make a nice photo or when the light shines a certain way on something I just have to go and grab my camera to get a photo. It could be a feeling that I get that I want to capture in a photo, like the calming feeling of seeing and smelling chimney smoke so slowly coming out of the houses everywhere on a sunny, fresh snowy day with not a bit of wind and it's so quiet and peaceful. It could be capturing the excitement of going off on skidoo with a crowd of people and breathing in the fresh air and being surrounded by mountains and fresh snow and nothing but beautiful wilderness as far as the eye can see. I am inspired by people being happy, doing things they love to do and enjoying life. When I take a photo I try and capture feelings.
Q A lot of your pictures are of your home, or of Inuit living in St. John’s, why did you choose this theme?
A For my recent exhibit at The Rooms, I chose to show the lives of Labrador Inuit living in the North (Nain) and also Labrador Inuit living in the city (St.John's). Both are very different and unique in their own ways, I wanted to show there is beauty and happiness in each place. I have lived in both places for many years and I know that longing feeling of missing living in Labrador and also know the good feeling about living in St.John's. Both are great places and I wanted to share that.
Q What can people learn from your photography?
A People from other places usually don't know a lot about what it is really like living in Northern Labrador and when they see my photos I can tell them about it and teach them what it is like. When people see my photos I always get plenty of questions and I love to share. I love to talk about the traditions and unique way of life, by showing them my photos I can give them a little glimpse of the beauty of life in Labrador.
Q What was it about the Nalujuit that made you want to devote a whole series to them?
A The first time I experienced Nalujuk Night in Nain I was enthralled and fascinated by the whole tradition immediately and thought it was so amazing. I loved seeing this tradition still going so strong in the community and the excitement that people of all ages had throughout the night. I have spent the past 6 years taking photos every year on Nalujuk Night (January 6th) and trying to find as much information about the tradition as I could, doing interviews and gathering anything I could find written about it. I have been working on a photo book which will include the history from what I know of, songs that are sung during the night, quotes from people of different ages about Nalujuk Night and many black and white photos that I have taken over the years.
Q There's a long history of people from away coming to Nunatsiavut and taking photos of the people, scenery, and animals; how is it different now that more and more Labrador Inuit like yourself are documenting life in Nunatsiavut?
A It is different because when people live in the communities, they really know the way of life and they really know the specific feelings you experience while living there. I feel like when someone is living there you can see it from their point of view, and it is more real. Nunatsiavut is such a beautiful place and is so unique and seems so far away from bigger towns and cities. A small town life with people enjoying the simple things and loving the land. This year I am working on a project where I would like to pick five people who have a passion for photography, like I always have, and I want to apply for funding to get good DSLR cameras and teach them how to use the cameras in manual settings and show them how and why I like to take photos. I want to get them to chose one Elder each, then I will help them create interview questions for each Elder and we would go into their homes, bring them a little treat, have some tea and a chat and ask the Elders some questions about their lives and take photos of them doing things they like to do. It could be cleaning a seal skin, sewing something, drawing a picture, carving, cooking, playing an instrument, anything at all that they chose to do. I will teach each of the five people how to document these things through photos and a short interview and we will then create photo books for each Elder and when they are complete bring them a copy to keep and a copy for the photographer. Then I am hoping there will be even more people inspired to document traditions with photography and the lives of people around them in Nunatsiavut and maybe later down the road they will also be able to teach even more people to do the same.
Q The photography of Uncle Jim Andersen from Makkovik, has recently been collected and digitized. Some of his work will be shown as well in The Rooms; it documents life in Makkovik over several decades. When people look back at the body of your work which documents the lives of Labrador Inuit, 20 years from now, what do you want them to see?
A Uncle Jim is one of my biggest inspirations, and we were good buddies. When we first met I had my camera around my neck and we both spoke about our love of photography and became instant friends. We had regular long wonderful phone calls and I used to send him his favourite pens to write with and he used to send me lovely letters in the mail. He always encouraged me and was so sweet and kind to me. So if I can be anything like he was, it would be an amazing accomplishment. I do want people to have the same feelings that they will have when they now look at his photos, seeing their family members or friends long ago or places that are special to them, or a way of life that they loved. It makes me very happy to capture memories for others and I hope mine can be enjoyed many, many years down the road just like Uncle Jim's photos are.
Q You quit your job recently to pursue photography full time, can you tell me what inspired you to do that? How has it been so far pursuing photography full time?
A When I was working in a different job full-time I had no time to do photography and I missed it so much. There were so many projects and ideas I would have, but no time to do them. So far, pursuing photography full-time has been amazing because I have been working on this new exhibit at The Rooms, and the experience has been absolutely wonderful. I know it is the beginning of something great for me, it just inspires me to keep going with it, and go to even further. I owe a debt of gratitude to a wonderful, beautiful and smart lady who is an inspiration to many of us Labrador artists and one of the nicest people I have ever met: Heather Igloliorte. She is such a positive force for all Labrador artists. She encourages us to create and do what we love. I am looking forward to the many other exciting projects that I have planned for the future, and now actually will have time to do them.