Historical images touring North to gather stories

by Avery Zingel- October 8, 2018

After decades stored away in an Alberta ranch, historical images captured by photographer Geraldine Moodie in the Qatiktalik region between 1903 and 1909 are touring the North.

Calgary’s Glenbow Museum is visiting communities so that people can add their stories and impressions to the rare photographs, said Joanne Schmidt, Indigenous Studies curator with the Glenbow.

“We have Geraldine and Douglas’s diaries. We know what they thought, but we don’t know what the people thought. It’s really important to get the Inuit perspective on that,” she said.

The Glenbow exhibit is travelling to Pangnirtung, Rankin Inlet, Baker Lake, Chesterfield Inlet and Churchill until Oct. 15.

Moodie was Western Canada’s first female professional photographer. She accompanied Douglas Moodie, her husband and a Mountie, producing more than 1,000 images with detailed notes.

Douglas Moodie was stationed in the Arctic to collect duties from foreign whalers and to establish a Canadian police presence in Fullerton Harbour, north of Chesterfield Inlet, between 1903 and 1905.

Geraldine Moodie constructed a studio at the Northwest Mounted Police detachment. She also made use of a handheld camera to capture outdoor landscapes and Arctic life, and trained her husband in photography.

The Glenbow’s collection is an amalgamation of detailed diary entries, letters and images captured by the Moodies and donated by their grandchildren in 2015.

Ivalik Inuit in Fullerton Harbour, where Geraldine and Douglas Moodie were stationed between 1904 and 1905. Photo courtesy of Glenbow Museum.
Ivalik Inuit in Fullerton Harbour, where Geraldine and Douglas Moodie were stationed between 1904 and 1905. Photo courtesy of Glenbow Museum.

Though Geraldine Moodie’s notes are extensive, the Glenbow is hoping the tour will produce more information about the people in the photos.

Any information collected will be added to the Glenbow Archives database, but as part of the tour, photo books and digital images are being left behind.

Of the 100 or so images in the books and 400 digital images the Glenbow is leaving behind, many are from Fullerton Harbour, but there are also snapshots from Churchill, Man., Quebec, Hudson’s Bay and Labrador, said Schmidt.

Geraldine Moodie captured many portraits in her studio and produced descriptive diary entries that today can be used to connect the people in the photographs to their descendants.

The photographs, however, cannot be presented without “critical narratives” that acknowledge the historical colonization of Inuit lands, writes Inuk artist and curator Jade Nasogaluak Carpenter in Canadian Art magazine.

As explorers and missionaries travelled North, Inuit faced the introduction of disease from European explorers and whalers and assimilation by missionaries, they said.

Many explorers relied heavily on Inuit to survive.

Some of the entries from Geraldine Moodie describe this reliance on Inuit knowledge, survival skills and traditional clothing.

The entries from both Moodies position Inuit as willing participants in the creation of clothing for explorers and the provision of sustenance.

The Glenbow was unaware of the extent of the collection, but the entries give information about locations and names of people in the photographs though some of them are Anglicized, she said.

Over the years, some of the glass plates broke but the Moodies never disposed of the pieces, which the museum was able to reconstruct into complete images, said Schmidt.

Douglas Moodie often used the handheld camera to capture his work as a Mountie. His diary entries were often brief and outline the practical daily operations of his job.

The images themselves can be a prompt for stories and memories, said Schmidt.

Some dropping in to view the photos have spent hours poring over the images, she said.

At a recent showing in Iqaluit, an image of Nivissannaq, popularly known as Shoofly, was recognized by one attendee who is her descendant.

Shoofly, a respected Inuk from Chesterfield Inlet was in a relationship with Capt. George Comer, an American whaling captain who spent 14 winters in Cape Fullerton in the early 1900s.

When Comer left the Arctic, he brought Nivissannaq’s amauti back to the United States with him. It now sits in the Museum of Natural History in New York.

An Inuit camp in Fullerton Harbour in October of 1903 as captured by the Moodies. Photo courtesy of Glenbow Museum.
An Inuit camp in Fullerton Harbour in October of 1903 as captured by the Moodies. Photo courtesy of Glenbow Museum.

Nivissannaq, other Inuit and some Cree peoples are captured in the photographs, some of which are being toured for the first time, said Schmidt.

The historical images belong in the public domain, she said.

“I think it’s extremely important to share them and to understand that it’s not the person who took the picture who owns the image,” she said.

“It’s the people whose picture was taken,” said Schmidt, adding that many people captured in early photographs had little authorship or control over the final destination of those images.

The Moodies made attempts to share copies of the images with the subjects. In some of Geraldine Moodie’s images, the subjects are holding copies of the images in their hands.

Sharing historical images with museums for public consumption can help reconnect descendants with images and histories of their ancestors depicted in the photographs, she said.

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