Cheyenne Rain LeGrande ᑭᒥᐊᐧᐣ, Nehiyaw Isko-Kona, 2018, digital photograph. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Nimama (Connie LeGrande).

Those Who Came Before Me

by Cheyenne Rain LeGrande ᑭᒥᐊᐧᐣ, TD Assistant Curator, Capture Photography Festival


When I think about image culture, I think about my ancestors. I think about how they have always brought images through storytelling. When I think about the state of image culture here and now, I think about my access to technology. I think about how I still tell stories, but it has shifted. It has reversed. I tell stories through images.

For me, and many others, we tell stories by speaking through an image. An image is not simply an image. I present images through performance, video, sound, and photography. What is interesting in thinking about those who came before me is that they went through so much fucking shit, and here I am now, in a generation where I can express and feel what those before me have felt and been through. It’s a very interesting space to find myself. Technology and ways of expressing have evolved so quickly. Those before me did not have access to these means of expression. Nanaskomitin for the privilege of being here in this moment. I’ve learned there is not one singular way to express an image. That’s the beautiful thing. I am thankful to have access to the technologies my ancestors did not. I am thankful to have the opportunity to tell the stories of those who came before me. I am thankful for the strength they have passed down to allow me to do the work I do. Not only am I strong enough to feel and express, but I also have access to many ways in which I can do that. That to me is a representation of the “current state of image culture.”

An example of this would be my piece Nehiyaw Isko-Iskotew. This work was created in Bigstone Cree Nation, Wabasca. To honour those who came before me, and those who brought us images through storytelling, I’d like to tell y’all a story:

A burgundy log house sits quietly amongst trees. A small two-bedroom wooden hug. The air is frosty and Kona (snow) falls from the sky. Beyond the trees you can see the horses. Inside the home resides a sweet little Kokum sipping wild mint tea and watching Wheel of Fortune. She stays in that small wooden hug ninety percent of her life. Her Nosims never really understood why she only felt safe there; it seems to get worse with age. But as her Nosims grew up she learned it was an effect of colonization. She is afraid to be out in the world, and sometimes her Nosims understands the need to hide from this world. In her backyard there are two women. A mother and daughter. Kokum’s Nitanis and Nosims stand in her backyard. There is a ring of fallen branches Nosims’s uncle has collected from the forest. Iskotew (fire) connects with the branches and they begin to breathe the same grey air. Nitanis sits in a camping chair, near the ring of Iskotew. Her long braids keeping her warm. Inside the ring of Iskotew stands Nosims, her bare feet touching Kona. As Nitanis, Nosims, Iskotew, and Kona come together as one, they are now ready to begin. Kokum peeks from the back window to see what Nitanis and Nosims are up to. Curiosity has caught her. She slowly steps out onto her back deck to peek and watch her Nitanis and Nosims.

Nosims begins to slowly apply red to her body as Nitanis softly sings. They move together in the space, through voice and body. There are many that move together with them. Nosims applies one red line on each limb until her body is fully covered in red. Her feet become one with Kona, and all feeling has left. With her body fully covered in red, Nosims picks up a white sheer fabric, takes in a large inhale of air, and begins to aggressively try to rub the redness off her body, the racism off her body, the pain off her body, the history off her body, the trauma off her body, the blood off her body. With an exhale, Nosims becomes engulfed by the white stained red. She moves in the circle of Iskotew to the rhythm of Nosims’s voice. Iskotew begins to lose its heat so Nosims makes sure to kneel down to each Iskotew that is left to thank them for their presence. She stands and begins to let the air flow through her body and now the branches only breathe grey air. She continues to move to Nosims’s beautiful voice. After Nosims feels she has healed not only herself but those before her, she raises her hands to the sky, and the white stained red slides off her body. Kokum and Natanis watch Nosims as she walks slowly towards the forest. One step after one step until she has reached the trees. Nosims continues to walk until she is no longer there.

All of this being watched and recorded by a device that stands on three legs.

This text is part of Capture Photography Festival’s 2020 catalogue which you can read online here or order a copy here.

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