Looking Into the Past

June 2017

As a photographer Candace Cochrane has always been fascinated by not only the stories told in photographs, but by the stories and tales that are crafted from looking at pictures of days gone by. A picture of an older relative from years ago, a photo of a building that is no longer there, a snapshot of a way of life that has become increasingly rare: all generate stories and connect the past to the present in ways that words alone can never do.

Cochrane has always wanted to see her photography of Labrador Inuit brought back to the communities where she first captured the images over 30 years ago. Traveling along the Labrador North Coast, in what is now Nunatsiavut, at first as a student and then again years later with the Labrador School Board, Cochrane was struck by the beauty of the land, the kindness of the people. In turn she has developed deep respect for the Labrador Inuit way of life.

She had the chance in 2006 to bring her photography back to Nunatsiavut and give people in the communities a glance into their past. She really saw the impact that her photography had on people.

“The pictures are old, but not so old that you don’t know anybody in them,” says Cochrane. “The reflections and stories that these pictures can generate are tremendous. Especially with the communities changing so fast; we often don’t have time to think about where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

Now, Cochrane is working with Tradition & Transition researcher, Andrea Procter of Memorial University’s Department of Gender Studies to create a book of pictures and stories based on Cochrane’s photography. Her work include photos from the years 1969, 1970, 1985 and 1986.

“The exciting thing for me about this project is the interest people have in these photos,” explains Procter, “When the photos were brought to Nain for the Nunatsiavut 10th anniversary, you saw people come over and look at them and just laugh over the pictures, laughing over the experiences they remember. There’s just so much emotion that comes out looking at these photos. I think that is what makes me really interested in doing this because it’s a project I think he communities will jump on.”

The pair are hoping to assemble a core group of community members in Hopedale and Nain, where the bulk of the pictures originate, to help guide them as they begin to assemble the pictures, nearly 300 in total. Cochrane and Procter will be speaking to community members to learn more about the people and places in the photos.

“We were trying to figure out what to ultimately call this book or what it’s really about,” says Cochrane. “The pictures can seem very random, but when you put them up on a wall and begin to look at them all at once you get the sense of community and family. Hopefully the text in the book will be able to weave that story together, to tie these pictures together and give a portrait of community in a period of time.”

The pictures tell many stories Cochrane says, but she hopes that community members will be able to help pull the stories that they want to see from the images, and find the connections that mean the most to them.

“We don’t want this to be a top down or an outside in project,” says Cochrane with conviction. Instead, she wants to make sure that community members are involved with the important decision making, and the choosing of pictures and stories to include in the book, she wants this to be a community effort with their voices leading the way.

After successful community meetings in February that saw dozens come out in Nain and Hopedale to discuss the photos, Procter and Cochrane will be returning for a second round of community discussions in June to do follow ups and speak with more people.