Stories and pictures go together like tea and bannock.
At least, that’s the philosophy of the online collective of Indigenous women photographers who’ve banded together to share the words behind their artistry on the new website, Tea & Bannock.
The network of seven core photographers was founded by Tenille Campbell of Sweetmoon Photography in Saskatoon, who reached out to a small constellation of other Indigenous women behind cameras to come out with a blog that “tells stories” and “shares light.”
“Our image in the media is portrayed in such a different way from how we perceive ourselves, so this is the chance for us to showcase who we really are, not only as First Nations, but modern-day people living just like everyone else.”
With no set guidelines on what contributors can share, the posts range from stories of photo shoots to hometowns and inspirations, stories about language and past projects, travel diaries, profiles on mentors, and pieces on the land, cultural traditions and news.
The mix of backstory and polished final product, reflection and fact blurs the supposed line between the personal and political, opening up what McLeod calls a safe space for the group to share with the world and learn from one another.
“As a collective, we can create a positive impact on the photography world,” she says. “It’s a safe place for us to go to share our stories, to shed a light on Indigenous peoples and be that voice, and to share our inspirations and just come together from all over Canada. Sharing where we come from, who we are — that’s basically what it’s about.”
Shawna McLeod shares where she's from in her photo series on Fort Providence, online on Tea & Bannock
For Blechert, Tea & Bannock is a place where Indigenous women can represent themselves, honestly and accurately.
“Our image in the media is portrayed in such a different way from how we perceive ourselves, so this is the chance for us to showcase who we really are, not only as First Nations, but modern-day people living just like everyone else,” she says.
Shining a light on the North
Since joining, McLeod has shared stories and photo essays profiling her hometown of Fort Providence and its Elders, the community of Tulita and the legend of Yamoria, Inuit and Dene games, and an interview with fellow photographer Shayla Snowshoe of Fort McPherson.
“I like to shine a light on the North and the northern people, the culture, the traditions, and I like to carry that on as a photographer,” she says. “I feel like it’s important to share; that we have a story up here worth sharing.”
A fire feeding ceremony, some of the people and traditions of the North that Shawna McLeod likes to profile
Blechert, on the other hand, considers herself the “comic relief” of the site. While she mostly limits her posts to light and “goofy” tales of travel and adventure, she is enjoying writing about the experience of growing as an amateur photographer with the help of her mentors.
Pushing personal boundaries
Both McLeod and Blechert were nervous and flattered to be invited into the project, which — for different reasons — pushed them out of their comfort zones.
“When I was asked to be part of the blog, I was really nervous because I said I don’t know how good my writing is going to be,” McLeod says. “I’m one of those photographers who shares an image but doesn’t really write what’s behind the image, but if I wanted to be a good photographer I had to take this opportunity to challenge myself to write.”
In Blechert’s case, the world of photography was — and is — still new. While she has been engaged with photography as a way to market her work, as an artist primarily known for her jewelry making, being placed among a group of professional photographers was a first.
“It’s been really challenging,” Blechert says. “It’s pushed me to learn more about my camera and also learn more about writing...But I’m really grateful to be part of it.”
Caroline Blechert works with friends and mentors to do photography for her jewelry business, Creations for Continuity
Apart from instilling new levels of confidence, being part of Tea & Bannock has also opened up opportunities and relationships for the women involved, whether those be new clientele, mentors or friends.
“Now I have a bigger audience,” McLeod says. “It’s been amazing. Everyday I’m discovering somebody new for inspiration, advice; it’s even created friendships. So it’s been awesome, nothing but positive vibes. It’s been really good for me.
“I’m getting out of my comfort zone, and that’s always good.”