Iksokapi Profile: Nadya Kwandibens and Red Works Photography
“Any art that evokes emotion is always a good thing and photography is no different.” – Nadya
I’m Ojibwe/ Anishinaabe from the Northwest Angle #37 First Nation located in northern Ontario, but recently moved to the Okanagan in BC, specifically Westbank. Red Works is a dynamic touring photography company I started back in 2008 after shooting professionally for a year or so. The images I photograph focus on positive contemporary portraits of the Indigenous community in Canada and the U.S.
How has the process been of turning a passion into a business?
It’s definitely a challenge starting out. There were times when tour planning was not going well and I struggled financially, especially during the down times of the year when bookings are slow, but it’s important keep a positive frame of mind and stay motivated.
What does photography mean to you?
Photography has taught me so much about myself and those around me. I get to spend time with people or go to events and give workshops all over the place; and it also has provided me and others a means to express our creativity. So, for me, photography is about connection, community, and creativity.
I first picked up a camera 14 years ago while enrolled in a film production program. The introductory courses I took there really piqued my interest. I never completed the entire film program but the passion for photography stayed with me as a hobby for years until I started to take it more seriously.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
The main source of inspiration comes out of the need that exists today to capture and show the positive side of who we are as contemporary Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, and not in the distant past as Indians living in teepees or riding horseback on the prairie in full buckskin, leather, and headdresses. And not as the drunken Indian or the angry, protesting Indian. I’m speaking bluntly here because these stereotypes are dangerous in that it can and does perpetuate racism. It’s time to eradicate the stereotypical representations of our people.
That’s a tough one to answer because I’ve seen and travelled so much the past 6 years. I have to go with a image I photographed during a concert by Tanya Tagaq for the spiritual power and energy I felt in her performance. This was during the 2007 Sweet Water Music Festival in Midland/ Victoria Harbour, Ontario. (http://www.redworks.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/tanyatagaq2.jpg)
What makes the good picture stand out from the average?
Any art that evokes emotion is always a good thing and photography is no different. I get messages a lot from people who’ve said that Red Works photography makes them feel so proud to be Indigenous and that’s all I can ever ask of my art.
I love black and white photography but I always shoot in colour so it’s never a question of one being better than the other. With digital photography it’s always best to shoot in colour anyway especially if you’re working with your images in post because you have more colour data to work with. Shooting film though is different as there are already different types of black/white film you can use. I shoot digital, and converting digital images to black/white is my favourite kind of editing. There are nuances in the overall tonality that you can bring out, the highlights, the shadows, mid-tones. I love it.
Your portfolio includes an impressive list of people, how has that experience been?
It’s been an amazing experience. There have been a number of people who’ve been fans of Red Works for a long time and many of them are famous well-known actors, musicians and so on, so when they say “it’s good to meet the famous Nadya,” I always get taken aback by that. I get shy and think to myself: Whaaaat? I’m not famous. I don’t feel famous. *hahaa* I recently did a review of my archives and after touring for 6 years it really dawned on me just how many people I’ve photographed, hundreds and hundreds of photoshoots. It feels good to be doing what I love for a living, and at the same time I’m helping others to feel good about themselves too. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the whole experience and give thanks for it all.
Yes being a photographer that prefers shooting in available natural light, it can be really tricky finding good light. I’ve been really lucky during photoshoot tours though, the weather is never too horrible to shoot in. Even when it is there’s always something that be done; it’s easy to move the session indoors and find something to bounce light around. Someone teased me, I can’t remember who, but said I’m like that TV character, McGyver. I can use anything to setup a good photoshoot: blankets, logs, white bed sheets, paper clips, branches, you name it.
Just keep shootin’, anything and everything. When I first started out I taught myself to watch the different qualities of light throughout the day, and how light bounces off different surfaces and colours. Once you start doing that it’s hard to turn that awareness off. The same thing goes for watching out for outdoor backdrops and locations, all the different colours and textures.
And if you want to be really good at portraiture photography, try and take up a bit of theatre training; improvisational theatre can teach you a lot, and I realized really quick that my theatre experience, especially improv has made working with people so easy. Improv theatre also teaches you to be in the moment, completely present in the moment, and essentially, that’s what photography is.
What three things cant you live without?
My camera, coffee and my MacBook.
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(Photos provided by Nadya Kwandibens and Red Works Photography)
For more information check out links below:
Red Works Photography