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Photographers focus on art of connecting across generations and cultures at arts centre

Days of Augusta and shíshálh photography remain on display until October 7
Photographers Jordan Louie and Robert Keziere stand among images showing aspects of Indigenous culture 50 years ago, and today.

Newly launched exhibitions at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt reach across generations and cultures, past and present, and ways of remembering. 

At an opening reception on Sept. 8, photographer Robert Keziere inaugurated a showcase of his seminal series The Days of Augusta. In 1973, Keziere documented the life of Augusta Evans, an Elder of the Shuswap Nation, through hundreds of black and white photographs. Accompanied by Augusta’s words transcribed by editor Jean Speare, Keziere’s images appeared in the book The Days of Augusta. The volume was ultimately released in three editions and led the way for published oral literature in Canada. 

“It’s a kind of reflection that history is not in the past,” said Arts Council executive director Sadira Rodrigues in remarks acknowledging the impact of Keziere’s work. “It’s an evolving, living, shifting thing. This really gives us a sense of the cycles of time, and of history, and of family.” 

A complementary exhibition, featuring contemporary photography by Jordan Louie of the shíshálh Nation, depicts custom and protocol as the living embodiment of culture.  

“I call myself an opportunistic photographer,” said Louie, whose work is dominated by close-up imagery of faces during events like this year’s arrival of paddlers on shíshálh territory during the Intertribal Canoe Journey. “I like making my camera do things it’s not supposed to be able to do.” 

Louie’s work is co-presented by the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives. Early this summer, when the museum invited community members to submit suggestions for exhibits, Louie stepped forward. But the sheer breadth of his photographic output would have burst the designated display case: he has amassed hundreds of thousands of pictures. Instead, museum curator Matthew Lovegrove contacted the Sunshine Coast Arts Council to propose their first-ever collaboration. 

The exhibition’s unique genesis also provided Louie with an opportunity to connect with Keziere, who was formerly chief photographer at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The two met at Keziere’s home in Gibsons, and Keziere supervised the print-making of Louie’s digital images. 

“My conversations with Robert were phenomenal,” said Louie. “The care and attention he takes in his pictures and his book, and the assistance that he’s given me, have been eye-opening.” 

There is surprising synergy between Augusta’s sometimes wistful accounts of her long lifetime — during which Shuswap and Métis people like her were marginalized — and Louie’s dynamic portrayals of vital shíshálh culture in moments of strength and ceremonial intimacy. 

Augusta died in 1978 at the age of 90. Her great-granddaughter Marnie Haines Howell attended the exhibition opening in Sechelt. “My great-granny and our family would be so proud of this display,” said said, “and I just can’t thank Robert enough for doing this year after year and keeping her alive.” 

Original audio recordings made by Keziere and Days of Augusta editor Jean Speare allow visitors to hear the Elder’s own voice as she plays her harmonica, sings communion hymns in the Shuswap language, and recollects youthful impressions of Queen Victoria.  

In one of her transcribed monologues, which are presented as poems, Augusta observes, “It’s good not to forget what you have learned.” 

Days of Augusta and shíshálh photography remain on display at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre until Oct. 7. A film screening of the 1976 documentary by Ann Wheeler about Augusta Evans takes place on Sept. 30. The event will include a dialogue on “Land Learning: Reflections on responsibility, relationality, and being in place,” moderated by Kamala Todd.