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‘Of the North, in the North’ photo festival pitched for Yellowknife

From Dead North to Folk on the Rocks, Yellowknife is chock-full of flocked-to festivals showcasing the North’s unique and flourishing music and film scene.

But with the planned launch of a new arts festival in the city, organizers behind the Far North Photo Festival ask, what about photography?

That’s why Yellowknife-based documentary photographers Pat Kane and Amanda Annand –president and vice-president, respectively, of the newly-formed Far North Photo Society – are pitching their plan to host a “photography festival of the North, in the North.”

Pat Kane stands in front of a selection of his photos recently featured at an exhibit in London, UK. Dylan Short/NNSL photo
Yellowknife-based documentary photographer Pat Kane, one of several creative forces behind the planned Far North Photo Festival, says he hopes the event will nurture Northern talent while exposing residents to the work of often overlooked photographers. NNSL file photo

“We want to host a photo festival as a way of really giving Northern stories and Northern voices more of a platform,” Annand told Yellowknifer in a recent interview.

Annand and other board members presented their plan for the photography festival, tentatively set for a weekend in November, to city council on March 25, outlining aims to “bring the photographic community and the general public together for a weekend of photo exhibits, presentations, workshops and mentorship from industry professionals.”

The society is applying for a grant from the city to help cover the $23,000 it has budgeted to get the festival up and running this fall.

Organizers hope to feature over 150 images showcasing Northern and Indigenous photographers or “scenes that are really relevant to the North” through a number of exhibitions held at different venues throughout the city, said Annand.

The festival will be open to the work of visual storytellers across Northern Canada and the Circumpolar North, not just photographers from the NWT.

Kane, an acclaimed photographer who has told visual stories in Canada’s far North for years, told Yellowknifer the idea for the festival came from a need for “more diversity and regional representation in Canadian photojournalism and photography.”

Kane and Annand both noticed many southern photographers were being commissioned to cover stories in the North, leaving photographers living and working in the North often overlooked and overshadowed. Letting Northern artists, who have a better understanding of their communities, tell their stories and bring their unique perspectives to the forefront of the industry, was an important consideration and catalyst in coming up with the festival, stated Kane in an email to Yellowknifer.

Annand said the Far North Photo Festival is about shifting that spotlight onto Northern photographers who “have their own stories to tell but maybe aren’t sure how to get them out there.”

To help bridge that gap, organizers are planning to ”provide a platform for Northern photographers to share, seek guidance and showcase their work” not just to Yellowknifers, but to potential clients and industry professionals, according to materials presented to council.

Informative workshops from area photographers, along with a small trade show, are planned. Panel discussions are also in the works. The society hopes to bring in “keynote mentors” to guide photographers as they learn the ins and outs of the industry, from technical tips to advice on networking and building professional relationships.

The society, stated Kane, is looking at other fundraising sources aside from the pending city grant. Organizers are reaching out to the GNWT, private sponsors and like-minded nurturers of Northern talent to chip in, he stated.

The hope is to ultimately turn Yellowknife into a photography hub on par with major Canadian and international hotspots. Based on tourism statistics and an enduring interest in the still-mystical North, Annand believes the society is well placed to pull it off.

Kane, who now calls the North home after moving to the territory years ago, stated the planned festival will also give board members a chance to give back to the city and the NWT.

“We’ve all been given great opportunities here and have been welcomed into many communities. We feel it’s time to help others here and build their skills and ability to share their stories,” stated Kane.

Inuvik-based photographer Weronika Murray, along with filmmaker and photographer Amos Scott are on board as directors for the Far North Photo Festival. Pablo Saravanja, a mainstay in the city's arts scene, is also a director.

Kane added the festival will help show Yellowknife that photography is more than just “nice artwork.”

“It also empowers visual storytellers and encourages young people to want to reclaim their stories.”