Rigolet, Nunatsivut, NL–born photographer Eldred Allen’s solo show, Resemblance, featured 30 black-and-white portraits of Rigolet’s community Elders.
For Allen, the exhibition, which ran at The Rooms in St. John’s, NL, from October 26, 2021 to April 24, 2022, was an important personal experience and a way to showcase the significant role Elders play in their communities. Reflecting back, Allen notes that “The Elders in the town are the important people, they are the foundations of the families. But life is so fragile, so uncertain. Since I started my project, a few of these individuals have passed away. Some I had approached but was never able to photograph due to quarantine. This project shares these Elders with people who might not be able to see them every day, but it’s also captured them in a way that they aren’t used to seeing themselves.”
For this artist project Allen chose ten portraits as a distillation of the original Resemblence series and wrote about his experiences with each Elder during their sessions.
John Michelin (2021)
When I planned my Elder portrait project I had no experience in portraiture and I had only been doing photography for less than a year. Given this fact, I was nervous of both photographing people and whether I had the technical skills to achieve good results. So I decided to start my project with familiar and friendly faces, my grandparents. I got to photograph my grandfather, John Michelin, and I’m so glad he was involved as I have a beautiful picture of him, which is made more special now that he has passed away.
Greta Michelin (2021)
My grandmother Greta Michelin was one of my first subjects along with my grandfather. I was comfortable asking her to be involved as I knew she’d say yes and then I knew I’d have my grandfather’s participation as well; two birds with one stone. Her home was also familiar so setting up my lights and camera was easier in a known space. Her participation gave me the confidence to continue the project.
Bert Allen (2021)
Every community has their most revered and respected Elders, and Uncle Bert was one of those in Rigolet. He was known as Uncle Bert to everyone, whether you were related to him or not. I photographed him in his home in 2019, he was not feeling the best but agreed to have his portrait taken for which I was very thankful. I set up and captured my images as quickly as possible to respect his time. When planning the Resemblance project, Uncle Bert was one of the main Elders I wanted to capture and I’m thankful for his participation as he has since passed away.
Garland Baikie (2021)
Garland is another of those pillar members of the community, someone with a wealth of knowledge. His portrait is one of my favourites as I am captivated by the expression of his eyes. When I view his portrait it’s as if I can see and feel his life experiences.
Henry John Palliser (2021)
Henry John Palliser
Henry John initially didn’t want to have his portrait taken but he said he was pressured by his children after they had seen other portraits I had shared online. Hearing this made me feel I was on the right path as community members were seeing the value in having such important people captured. Even though Henry John didn’t want to be involved, his portrait is wonderful. I always try to be as quick as possible for those uncomfortable and the entire portrait session lasts no longer than three minutes.
Oswald Allen (2021)
Oswald (Oz) Allen
Oz and his wife Joice’s portraits are two of my favourites because they were opposites when it came to being involved. I photographed Oz alone one day as he said Joice would not be participating. I shared Oz’s portrait online and the following day Oz contacted me and stated Joice would now come down for a portrait.
Joice Allen (2021)
Joice had no desire to have her portrait taken. Upon arriving, she was very clear she didn’t want to be involved, but her husband Oz sat and had his portrait taken again and Joice reluctantly, without removing her coat, sat for her portrait with an unhappy expression. When they were about to leave Joice stopped and asked to see her portrait, she said, “I wasn’t even smiling,” and she returned to have her portrait done again. The final result is one of my favourites because it demonstrates that having a connection with your subjects can make them feel at ease and this translates into the final portrait.
Marion Shiwak (2021)
Marion was the fourth person I captured when I started my project. Her portrait is memorable as it reminds me of the warmth and inviting nature of not only Elders, but our small communities in general. I photographed Marion in her home. Even though she wasn’t someone I would normally see or visit she welcomed me in and once I had her portrait captured she asked me to stay and have a slice of pie. Further into the project I set up a small studio space to make my portrait captures more efficient but Marion’s portrait makes me miss the intimacy of my first captures in peoples own homes.
Sam Palliser (2021)
I actually photographed Sam in Marion Shiwak’s home while I was capturing her portrait. Sam dropped in for a visit and it was easy to have him sit for a portrait as well. Sam’s final portrait has his personality shining through, he is very open and fun. To set my subjects at ease I tell them they can do whatever they want, even do a fashion type pose. This final portrait shows Sam smiling after he had quickly struck a pose with his arm behind his head looking elegant, the portrait captures him very well.
Marie McLean (2021)
Marie is my wife’s grandmother and like so many people, she can't bear to have her picture taken. When I asked her to be involved I could hear the hesitation in her voice but eventually, she reluctantly agreed. This portrait is memorable as it taught me the value of access for a photographer. Access meaning you have a connection and the subjects trust you, I don’t think she would have agreed for an unfamiliar photographer. It reminds me of a quote from famed war photographer, Robert Capa: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough…”.
Eldred Allen is a Inuk photographer from Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, NL, who has garnered attention for his expansive and stunningly lit scenes of landscape and wildlife in his community. This self-taught photographer's artistic journey began in 2018 with the purchase of his first camera, with his work showcased in nearly a dozen exhibitions throughout Canada in the past five years. Allen is represented by Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto,ON, and La Guilde Art Gallery in Montreal, QC.
This series was made possible with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts.