Arctic Exposure: Photographs of Canada's North


Norman Hallendy’s Silent Messengers

Ethnogeographer Norman Hallendy has been a passionate observer of the Inuit people of Canada for over fifty years. Through his work for the Federal government in the area of public policy, he became strongly acquainted with the Arctic environs and its people. His official responsibility was to learn about the Inuit in order to improve their living conditions but it was they who impressed upon him the value of their traditional way of life. Travelling to the Arctic since the late 1950s, Hallendy documented the land, people, and their culture in photographs and video. Hallendy’s archives which include nearly 12,000 slides, photographs, and negatives have been donated to the McMichael gallery. For his extensive work on the Inuit, Hallendy has earned international recognition, numerous awards, and the name Apirsuqti, “the inquisitive one” from the Inuit elders of Cape Dorset.


Throughout his research, Hallendy has been particularly interested in the stone structures known as inuksuit (plural of inuksuk). He has written extensively on these man-made structures which he refers to as “silent messengers” identifying and recording the numerous types that have become permanent fixtures on the Arctic landscape. Translated from Inuktitut as “acting in the capacity of a human being”, the location and form of each structure conveyed a message to the passerby. The inuksuk was a symbol that revealed the location of a sacred site or food cache, instructed safe passages through icy waters or over land, and indicated good hunting sites, to name but a few coded messages.


This exhibition also includes a number of photos of the stone figures that Hallendy has identified as innunguaq (singular of innunguait which means “in the likeness of a human”). These structures which resemble the human figure also convey messages. In the past, innunguaq were erected to indicate the Inuit presence to whalers. More recently, they are used to honour the dead or to express gratitude for a loved place.


Jimmy Manning’s Arctic Views

A self-taught Inuk artist and photographer, Jimmy Manning is an active member of the Cape Dorset (Kinngait) art community. Born in Lake Harbour (Kimmirut) but a life-long resident of Cape Dorset (both in Nunavut), Manning began his career in 1972 as a carving buyer with the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative (an organization that offers a variety of services in Cape Dorset, but is mainly known as the outlet for local artists to create and sell their art). For years, Manning worked with the artists of the Co-op and managed the printmaking studio until his retirement in 2009. Today Manning spends his time as store manager of the Co-op and President of the Inuit Art Foundation while focusing on his photography practice.


Manning was inspired by his grandfather, Inuk photographer Peter Pitseolak to take up the art of photography. Manning’s photos focus on the landscape of his home and surrounding areas in the Arctic. When viewed together, his entire body of work reflects a documentary sensibility that captures the distinct life and nuances of the North. This exhibition consists of a selection of works that includes seasonal themes, panoramic views, and close-up details of Arctic form and matter which reveal an underlying aesthetic that demonstrates both Manning’s artistic sensitivity as well as the beauty of Canada’s North.


Richard Harrington’s Inuit People

German-born and Canadian acclaimed photographer Richard Harrington travelled to the North six times between 1947 and 1953. The last five expeditions to the Arctic involved travel by dog teams over large stretches of land and lengthy stays amongst the Inuit whom he photographed in their daily life. The selection of works featured in the exhibition represents images of the Inuit in their traditional environment, capturing their rituals, tools, and unique way of life at a time when they were transitioning from a life on the land to one in settled communities.


On his fourth trip in 1950, Harrington learned about a band of Padlei Inuit, the Padleimiuts. Struggling to reach them over several days by dogsled, guided by one Inuk companion, Harrington was horrified by what he saw when he finally reached their camp. Although aware of the scarce food supply of the Padleimiuts, he did not expect to find a people who were slowly dying of starvation. The photos that Harrington took are poignant images of a strong people struggling to survive as well as a testament to their existence which tragically ended soon after Harrington’s departure.


Robert J. Flaherty’s Inuit

American Robert J. Flaherty began his career as a surveyor and prospector who travelled in Canada’s North in search of iron-ore deposits. During his expeditions, Flaherty used photography and film to document the Inuit. Today, he is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of the art of documentary film, and his most famous work, “Nanook of the North,” (1922) is recognized as the first feature length documentary film in the history of cinema.


Flaherty predicted that the traditional Inuit way of life was being transformed and destroyed by southern cultural and industrial influences. He therefore devoted himself to recording the Inuit whom he befriended and respected. Although his affections and concern for the Inuit were genuine, he nonetheless portrayed them with a dominant western romanticized gaze.


Following the critical success of “Nanook” which was financed by the fur trading company Revillon Frères, Flaherty was commissioned by the company to produce a limited edition of eighteen photogravures (photographic etchings). Eight of the prints are featured in this exhibition and demonstrate Flaherty’s documentary style of photography.


A. A. Chesterfield’s Ungava Portraits

A native of Kent, England, Albert Alexander Chesterfield grew up in Quebec. Soon after his schooling, he found work at various Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) posts in northern Canada. As an HBC clerk, Chesterfield oversaw the daily activities of the store and was able to interact professionally and socially with the Aboriginal people, both First Nations and Inuit, who came to trade furs. Between 1902 and 1904, Chesterfield managed two posts, the first at Great Whale River and the other just south of it at Fort George on the east coast of Hudson Bay in the district of Ungava. During this time, Chesterfield took over 200 photographs, a number of which were of the Cree and the Inuit.


This exhibition presents five portraits that were made from glass negatives in the Chesterfield Collection at Queen’s University Archives. It features the Inuit who agreed to be documented by the amateur photographer in formal portraits. Chesterfield’s unidealized approach reveals an honest depiction of despair and poverty, but also strength of spirit. Chesterfield wanted to capture the unknown northern people who he understood to be threatened by the presence of the southerners whose foreign way of life was gradually affecting and even destroying the Inuit culture.


The Portraits of Major Lachlan T. Burwash

Canadian Major Lachlan T. Burwash was the son of a prominent Methodist theologian and educator, Nathanael Burwash. He attended the University of Toronto, and from 1899 until 1912, he worked for the government of the Yukon Territory as an inspector of mines and a mining engineer. In 1921, Burwash was hired by the Department of the Interior, Northwest Territories and Yukon Branch to investigate the economic and living conditions of the Inuit. In his report of 1925, Burwash included a large number of photographs as well as essays on the status of the Inuit in the Canadian Arctic. The professional quality portraits featured in this exhibition represent some of his work.


Dr. Leslie David Livingstone’s Arctic Archives

Dr. Leslie David Livingstone studied at Queen’s University, first with the expectation of becoming a mining engineer and later with aspirations to become a doctor. He continued his medical training in Ottawa and spent many years in the Arctic practicing medicine.


During his travels to the Arctic in the 1920s and 1930s, Dr. Livingstone collected hundreds of photographs that reflect a comprehensive portrait of life in the North. Spanning the different seasons, these photographs document the day-to-day life of a people who were able to adapt to the extreme and challenging Arctic environment. The photographs represent candid images of a real people captured in the moment, in traditional and modern clothing, interacting with each other and with outsiders, and reflecting a lifestyle and culture in transition.


Greely Arctic Expedition

The Lady Franklin Bay Expedition (formally known as the International Polar Expedition) set out in 1881 to the Canadian Arctic to gather scientific and meteorological data as part of the First International Polar Year. This American-led expedition was under the command of Lieutenant Adolphus Washington Greely. Due to unforeseeable climate and navigational difficulties, many relief supply vessels failed to reach Greely and his crew on several attempts. Finally in 1884, a relief expedition commanded by Lieutenant Commander Winfield Scott Schley succeeded in its rescue effort.


The photographs displayed here were taken by unidentified photographers who accompanied the rescue mission. They document the Inuit people whom the travellers encountered during their voyage to the North. One photo shows Greely on the deck of one of the relief ships, the Thetis. The accompanying publication of 1887, authored by Schley is a detailed written account of the relief expedition which includes illustration plates of landscape sites along the travel routes as well as images of Inuit and the crew.


Donovan Wylie’s North Warning System

British Magnum photographer Donovan Wylie approached the Arctic as part of his explorations into vision as power in the relationship between military architecture and the surrounding landscape it controls. In his series, North Warning System, Wylie documents a radar station positioned in the Arctic landscape to enforce military observation over the North through electronic surveillance. First installed in the 1950s during the Cold War, the station has become increasingly visible and active in light of rising international interest in the Arctic’s natural resources. Through a number of successive photos, Wylie encircles the radar, mirroring its own rotational sweep over the expanse of land and sea.


Masthead Images Left to Right: Jimmy Manning (b.1951), Special Place, July, 2012, digital chromogenic print, Courtesy of the Artist;

Richard Harrington (1911–2005), Padlei, NV, 1950, platinum / palladium  print on watercolour pape, © Estate of Richard Harrington / Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery, L2014.33.20; Norman Hallendy, born 1932, Inuksuapik - a beautiful inuksuk, Saatturittuq, southwest Baffin 1995
colour image from 35mm slide, Gift of Norman Hallendy, 2009, McMichael Canadian Art Collection Archives, ARC-NH2009.F1.5.19

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