Jessica Sakeskanip contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing a Portrait session with a twist-- I didn't hesitate and we got working. She pulled together this amazing group of artists to create these beautiful images.
We wanted to portray a specific but meaningful part of her, her cultural identity as a First Nations. Being myself of mostly eastern European descent I knew that I would need to take the student role-- no amount of research will ever allow a person to fully understand another's culture. That in my opinion is the difference between 'book smarts' and that intuitive knowing and pride that comes when we have a firm identity on who we are and where our ancestors come from. I was curious on how she felt about a photographer and other parts of the team not sharing the same culture.
Jessica Sakeskanip said, "I feel it's even more culturally significant. Here was a large group of people, come to quash and silence my culture to smithereens, yet now, here is a person of that people come to bring that culture back to life. It speaks volumes about what our combined cultures are like-- TODAY. We need so much to focus on that now. History is history, it does shape us, but we need to know who we are now through it all. And who we are is intertwined and powerful together. Just like the meaning of my last name, Sakeskanip. The Eagle clan and Bear clan holding to each other, gracing one another with more strength. For a very long time I was afraid to show this side of myself, but through this collaboration I was able to speak through that hidden side. Sam enabled that, and the images we produced show that proud little voice. Through Sam's understanding of what I really wanted, she was able to help in its power and deliverance."
I asked Angela Nicholson, the designer behind the shoot, what her inspiration was and she said, "The primary inspiration for these headpieces was the model, Jessica-- the rest came from a complex web of art, politics and history. I have worked with Jessica before and was very impacted by her gentleness and genuine kindness. Jessica's desire to honor her ancestors immediately awoke my own. We both identify as Canadian Aboriginal women. In Jessica's request, I recognized its importance and its potential. Normally, I shy away from making any headdresses that resembles historical Aboriginal fashions. There is no 'market' for them. The political backlash of such art has always affected me deeply, leaving me aching for a solution to an epic problem. How do I share my dying culture? How do I keep it alive? Here in fact, Jessica and Sam were presenting me with an opportunity not only to work within the traditional styles but to freely apply my own imagination to them. For the first time ever, I could design without the judging presence of people who would not understand. These pieces came out of me in a matter of hours. The creative flow was strong, governed by something that needed to speak. What came from me was the fusion of both worlds that Jessica and I live in."
And I asked how Gina Kang, our brilliant makeup artist got ready for the shoot and her thoughts about the outcome. She said, "To get inspired I did lots of research and looked through various sources. Sometimes I am inspired by artists' work, scenery; it can be anything really. I wanted to be as authentic as possible to the culture and knew I needed to ask a lot of questions. I loved working on this project and it was a fantastic learning experience for me. I would love to do a project like this again."
Portrait photography is a way we can celebrate who we are, share with others how we identify ourselves and create a space to learn about our culture and other cultures, to find ways to respect and understand our differences-- and similarities.
I thank the people I work with every day for the infinite number of lessons I have had. Every story is so unique and full of wisdom.