In this interview with IAQ Senior Editor John Geoghegan, Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko, an artist from Grise Fiord, NU, talks about what she hopes to express through her photography on a personal and cultural level.
John Geoghegan: I want to start by asking you how you got started with photography.
Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko: I took pictures growing up, since my father bought me one of those 35 mm cameras when I was ten or eleven, and by fourteen, fifteen, I was getting them developed. I’ve always been in awe of pictures—once I saw how not just people but also landscapes started to show up in my hands, I told myself, “I am going to do more,” and it was one thing after another.
JG: At what point did you make the switch from the 35 mm to digital photography
LAW: I went from the 35 mm to the other cameras I had growing up, which I bought as they came when I made my own dollar. After about seven or eight years I bought a digital camera without really knowing the capabilities, or what to compare it with. I just read about how to use it on my own as I went, and next thing I knew—wow! So for the last ten or fifteen years I have been using digital.
Now I’m using a Canon 5D Mark II. And then of course I have my iPhone when I’m travelling or going out quickly. I never leave my phone, I don’t miss any opportunity. If I’m having a moment outside with someone or if there is a whale or walrus popping up somewhere, I always have one camera or another.
JG: Have you ever published your photographs or shown them in an art context
LAW: My photos have been used in local calendars or for school events. If there is a meeting I’ll be over with my camera and taking pictures, and they ask me if they can use my photos. This year we had the 2019 calendar at the hamlet that Economic Development offered, so everyone has a calendar of my photos.
JG: You share your photos on Facebook as well. How has that changed how you think about photography?
LAW: My photos are like expressions for me. Whether I’m taking pictures outdoors or of my kids, one picture can express the day for me. Just showing a picture of my cousin who just passed away is an expression for me, and I share it with family and friends.
Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko Untitled (2017) COURTESY THE ARTIST
JG: Has it been a challenge to upload your work sometimes, with the internet up in Grise Fiord?
LAW: Yes. My Canon 5D Mark II is aging, but when it first came out it was 21 megapixels, so every time I wanted to load something, it would take all day with the old internet we have. We are limited to 30 GB or so a month, so even when I could load my pictures I learned quickly that the broadband was always limiting and next thing I know I’m buying top-ups for hundreds of dollars. So it’s been a challenge trying to upload the quality ones. I would find two or three to upload from my Canon, and the rest of my really good ones I haven’t posted. I just keep them or share them in other ways, like doing slideshows during family gatherings. If I go down south to Ottawa, that’s the time to upload, because it’s high-speed there. Otherwise, I put the high-quality ones on my memory cards.
JG: Do you think about yourself as an artist, and about showing your work as fine art?
LAW: I think so. There are cruise ships that come in annually, and they’re becoming more frequent. And some photographers come to shore and attend our community events—events, for example, where I help organize traditional clothing showings. They want to take pictures of our show, and often they share the images with us, and that’s where I learn, “oh wow, this person has a better camera,” or “this one is a Nikon,” “this one is a Sony,” and I start comparing, like, “maybe I could try that.” And the next thing I know, I’m in their magazine or book, so I start to think about how else I can share things? Like when I shared some photos in the booths in our community, people said, “those are really good shots, do you ever think about sending them anywhere to a magazine or something?” and I had never thought of it until someone asked me. So I started thinking that maybe we can but we don’t have any source. That’s the thing. So sometimes I think maybe my photography is my “warm-up” art, because it helps me express my day or my feelings.
JG: Is there anything you want people to know about your art, or about your culture and where your art is coming from?
LAW: There has been a lot of objection here and there, for example, with Facebook not letting Inuit sell traditional boots or mitts because they are made from skin or fur. I of course was offended by that idea. I want to express my culture, but I have to be careful that there’s not too much blood in what I share. The sensitivity on social media has affected us, so if I take pictures in the community of someone catching a whale or someone butchering food, sometimes I make it black and white so the red doesn’t show. But I still want to say, “this is my family, and this is what we are going to eat for the rest of the week,” you know?
Inuit are a small minority in Canada, but we still live in our culture richly. We have modern day homes, but we also have our own lifestyle. I go out hunting and skinning and butchering and it’s a part of how we live naturally, but come Monday to Friday, I still have to come home and make an income so my kids eat nutritious food and go to school. And even with our 9-5 jobs, on weekends we still take the opportunity to go out and catch a seal if we can so that we can feed not just ourselves, but also our working dogs. We live in two worlds. I would like to express through social media that this is still our culture, and this is who we still are, and that we take pride in it—please accept us.
Learn more about Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko at her IAQ Profile.
This interview is part of our Emerging Arctic Photographers Spotlight, in collaboration with Gallery 44's online exhibit Looking Down From Up.