Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.
These lines, from a poem by Mary Oliver, are part of the inspiration East Arm resident Kristen Gilbertson Olesen took to document 30 years of life on the Hoarfrost River. On Saturday, she debuted those photos as part of a collection called Beyond Taltheilei to a crowded room at the Yellowknife Public Library.
The images, taken from aircraft, dogsleds and on foot, was a preview to a forthcoming book she is working on.
With a camera in hand since high school, Gilbertson Olesen said photography has been both a pastime and a passion for her.
Thirty years ago she moved with her partner from the U.S. to the Hoarfrost River. Once there, she documented the plant and animal life, her own family’s experience and the vast natural expanse at the northeast shore of McLeod Bay. But before the digital age, this was a pastime that required patience.
“I continued taking photos but was frustrated by the wait,” she said. “Waiting for Dave to go to town or me to go to town once a roll was done, having it sent out. So months went by before it would return to the east end of Great Slave Lake.”
With the purchase of her first digital camera in 2006, she was able to shoot more without waiting for rolls of film to be transported away and photos to come back.
Photography was ever-present in her life as she raised her family.
“We raised our sled dogs, built our house, raised and home-schooled our two daughters and guided dog team trips,” she said. “We worked at flying and cooking jobs away from home, Dave was the pilot, I was the camp cook … During that time photos were being taken and film was being developed as we were creating our home, but it was just the low hum in the background of our life.”
Gilbertson Olesen recalled several ‘baptisms’ the family had experienced during their time living in this remote part of Great Slave Lake, including a baptism by fire in which the family lost their homestead in a blaze that ravaged vast portions of the territory in 2014.