Emily General and what my elders taught me

This project “A Necessary Fiction: A Conversation with Nicholas de Grandmaison “is the culmination of 35 years of work. When I started out, around 1980 I faced, what appeared to be an impossible quest, to change the way we ignore urban-based indigenous people and the way, we engage with historical photographs and paintings of indigenous people. When I had my car accident in 1979, I made a vow that if I walked out of the hospital, I would dedicate my life to making a meaningful contribution. When I walked out of the hospital, I had no idea how challenging it would be to keep my vow.

Over the decades I have often been asked: what kind of photographer are you? I never had a good answer because there was no existing category that truly felt comfortable. I realized that I had to indigenize photography and the archive, first. And this is where memories of the teachings I learned from my elders, began coming into play. I was now a long way from the Longhouse and a long away from the plans I had made for my family. I was moving farther and farther into the hinterlands, but my elders provided me with just enough to sustain me for the journey.

I am now facing the reality of turning 60 years of age next year and for the first time in my career I feel I can answer the question: I am a storyteller. The exhibition I have been preparing for, and sharing my new work on Facebook, is in a way, my coming out party. With this in mind I am adding a new image tonight. Much of my storytelling ability came from my elder and great-aunt Emily General and her portrait was made when Ali Kazimi suggested we return to Emily’s home for his documentary about my work and our Indian to Indian conversation “ Shooting Indians: A Journey with Jeff Thomas.”

I will always be grateful to Ali, for pushing me out of my cocoon, because I would never have made this portrait. For my new exhibition, I imagined what it would be like to bring together, a group of very strong women and introduce them, and sit back and enjoy their conversation. When I look back on my life experiences, there is no question that having strong women in my life, has now brought me to this place and time. This is how I want to open my exhibition.

Plate 736, Introductions, 2015, pigment print on archival paper, 30” x 80”

Left: Nichols de Grandmaison, Sisynaki, Blackfoot, 1938. Courtesy of the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery/2012.7

Centre: Jeff Thomas, Emily General, 1985, Six Nations Reserve, N43 01.876 W80 05.175

Right: Edward S. Curtis, Two Zuni girls standing in front of pueblo buildings, c. 1903. Courtesy of the Library Congress/LC-USZ62-112234, longitude and latitude not available


This post is part of a series about the image panels selected to be exhibited in “A Necessary Fiction: My Conversation with Nicholas de Grandmaison” taking place at the University of Lethbridge Alberta Art Gallery from September 17 to October 29, 2015.

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