Sunday, May 19, 2013

Gwich’in life preserved in photos

Gwich'in life preserved in photos

"...It's a testament to the permanence of film, moments of Gwich'in life preserved long after their creator is gone.

James Jerome was a photographer who spent most of his short life documenting remote communities in Canada's North. Jerome was caught in a tragic house fire when he was 30. He didn't survive but his images did, if only barely.

Now 14 of them are on display at Arts Underground, showcasing life in Gwich'in fish camps along the Mackenzie River with an intimacy and understanding impossible for photographers from Outside.


James spent his childhood on the land with his family, and went the Grollier Hall residential school in Inuvik.

He got his first camera when he was 12. After high school, he trained to be a welder, allowing him to travel across the country for work. Crisscrossing the country also allowed James to collect better cameras and equipment than what was available in the North in the '60s and '70s.

As his aptitude for apertures and shutter speeds improved, Jerome began to focus more and more on making photography his life's work. He worked as a photographer for the Native Press newspaper, and later as a freelancer documenting life North of 60.

But tragedy struck when James was killed in a house fire in Inuvik in 1979. His photographs were almost destroyed as well, and many were badly damaged by smoke, heat and water.


His partner Elizabeth Jansen Hadlari and his son Thomas Hadlari were able to rescue 9,000 of James's negatives and donated them to the N.W.T. Archives. There, archive specialists were able to stabilize the collection and preserve the images for years to come.


Charlie and members of the Yukon Archives first saw the photos when they were presented in the N.W.T. by that territory's archives. So the Yukon Archives partnered with the Friends of the Yukon Archives to bring the collection to Whitehorse and showcase it to a broader audience.

Fish Camps Through a Gwich'in Lens is a travelling exhibit and is presented by the Yukon Archives with help from the N.W.T. Archives and the Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute. It runs at Arts Underground until July 31.