Portrait of a Photojournalist: Pat Kane Shares Life Through an Indigenous Lens
“I want to tell stories about people and connection to their identity and language and culture and social issues and journalism,” explains Pat Kane, a photographer and photojournalist based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. He’s Algonquin Anishnaabe from the Timiskaming First Nation where his mom, a well-known Algonquin painter, grew up. He lived in a very artistic home and the visual arts were a big part of his life. His strong connection to his nation where his family has lived and still live has led him to the North, a place of spirituality and beauty.
The North excited him because it’s a place so few people see and he found the Dene way of life to be similar to that of his people. He grew up in Sioux Sainte Marie and did his undergraduate studies in London, Ontario. He went onto Humber College in Toronto to do print journalism, and photojournalism. He wanted to be a writer or reporter but when he took a photography class, he fell in love.
His first job out of school was doing sports photography, taking photos of hockey and horse events. He learned to use his camera, get shots quickly and create art in high pressure situations. Later, he got a job in Yellowknife at Up Here magazine. Kane wanted his work to have meaning, to be outdoors with people, tell Indigenous cultural stories and reconnect with family. He wanted to learn more about himself and do unique, interesting photography that wasn’t mainstream.
After seven years with the magazine he found he was creating content for a white, southern audience that had an interest in travel where he really wanted to tell stories that mattered to communities. That’s when he suggested going freelance to the magazine, so he could document the missing components his regular work was leaving out.
To keep revenue steady, Kane does commercial photography, images for the government, assignment work for newspapers and magazines and even family portraits. He also works on larger grants through the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and National Geographic and even some NGOs. Every year, he tries to find at least one project that is six months or longer in duration so he can spend time picking at a larger story. He gets out in the field a few times a week and keeps himself busy.
His advice for Indigenous students thinking about leaving their home community is to consider staying. While he knows there is value in travelling, getting perspective on cultural differences, meeting new people and trying new food, he knows there are so many good stories to be told that need someone who knows the people and the language to provide that inside perspective. He thinks if there’s something really on a person’s heart to do they should do it,
“I think we have this idea that when we come from a small community…that it's not a worthwhile place to tell stories about or from, and that we need to go and travel the world to tell amazing stories. I don't think that's true at all… if you love where you are, look for the value in your home, and what the stories are that that many people would be interested in and you become that storyteller for that area. You're the best advocate for it,” he suggests.
“Think about if all the people who are passionate and who care and want to make change, if those are the people that are always leaving. Your community will be proud of you and happy that you're off doing something, but you have so much to give if you stay as well,” he concludes.
The biggest obstacle Kane faced was a lack of mentorship and not having anyone to look up to or people who wanted to help him. Some more established people saw him as competition. He had to teach himself a lot of things from a technical and cultural perspective and the experience left him wishing he had someone to brainstorm with and help him troubleshoot things.
That initial isolation in his career when he needed community is why he gives back by mentoring new photographers without charge, especially in his area. “Where we live in the north, it's small, it's remote. It's just hard to do without that support. I wish I had that when I was a younger shooter. But it's all panning out,” Kane reflects.
If he could give a message to a younger version of himself, it would be not to rush. After working as a photographer for over twenty years, he can only now feel himself hitting his stride and it’s taken that long to get to a point where his work is being recognized internationally. He’s proud of his portfolio and the outlets he writes for and he’s in a position to help the younger generation.
What he notices about the current times for photography is that there is a lot of competition and it takes time to build a career. Kane sees patience as a virtue and time helps hone skill. “Keep going. Before you know it, things will just start falling into place for you,” he encourages.
To manage his mental health and physical well-being, Kane avoids putting pressure on himself to take photos every day, setting boundaries with his camera work. Otherwise he listens to music, goes for walks, tries to live a healthy lifestyle and eats well. He spends time with friends, goes out on the land and water, goes camping and lives life without needing to document it all the time, just being part of nature.
When he needs inspiration, Kane looks to the work of others including his mom’s paintings. She was a landscape photographer who also did vignettes of people. The body of work he grew up with brings inspiration as does scrolling through instagram and staying engaged with the photography community.
“When you flip through and see your own work alongside everybody else's it’s really, really awesome,” he beams.
He wanted to tell stories about people, connection to their identity and language and culture, social issues and journalism and with a camera in hand, that’s what Pat Kane does. Capturing the world as he sees it with his photography, he shares art and life through an Indigenous lens. Creating meaningful portraits of his community and bringing forward the issues that matter, he’s developed a style and a presence that’s lasted longer than a snapshot.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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