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Yellowknife: Home of the World’s Only Truly Northern Photo Festival

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January 9, 2019

While local residents — and a healthy dose of global publications — know how much photo and media talent exists in the North, there lacked any significant event to celebrate it.

Until now.

In 2018, six media professionals from Yellowknife came together with a vision to build a festival that would elevate the work of visual storytellers in Northern Canada and across the Arctic.

In December, that vision came to life as 55 photographers from 11 Arctic regions in the circumpolar North arrived in the NWT capital for the inaugural Far North Photo Festival.

The focal point of the festival was a pop-up gallery that came to life in Yellowknife’s Centre Square Mall.  It included 150 extraordinary photos and attracted more than 800 happy attendees over three days.

Titled Of the North, the exhibit, featured two distinct curations: one featuring artists from across the circumpolar world exposing the diversity of their work, and a second featuring visuals submitted from photogs in northern Canada reflecting their concept of “home.”

“It was a resounding success,” says Pat Kane – the new festival’s president and a renowned northern photographer himself. “We really couldn’t have asked for a better reaction to our attempt to piece together a snapshot of our North.”

The exhibit was accompanied by workshops, mentorship, and networking events throughout the weekend.

The opening night mixer drew more than 160 people. “It set the tone for the weekend,” says Kane. “The crowd was incredibly engaged by the work and the community.”

Leading the mentorship program were Daniella Zalcman and Mauricio Palos – two photographers with a history of telling important stories through vivid photographs in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. They were the keynote speakers and participated on a panel focusing on storytelling as a catalyst for social change.

The outside talent offered another benefit for the nascent festival. “We know they’re going to be incredible ambassadors to the creative world now that they’ve experienced our scene firsthand,” says Kane. “That’s a big deal for opening up new doors for emerging artists up here.”

Seven other workshops gave 130 students and photographers the chance to learn valuable new skills and consider they could turn photography into an economic opportunity for themselves.

Among many others, the NWT Arts Program served as a sponsor to get this year’s festival off-the-ground. “Public exhibition opportunities are essential to success in any artistic field,” says Johanna Tiemessen, NWT Arts Program Manager for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment. “This event was a true testament to the strength of our artistic community and the desire international artists have to collaborate with our northern artists. We are excited to support and invest in this vision.”   

 “The help was so important in making this year happen,” says Kane. “We proved the concept this year, and now we’re going to focus on building more partnerships, expanding our community footprint, and putting on programming that does justice to the incredible work being done across the Arctic.”

The NWT Arts Program helps local artists translate their creativity into professional success. To access their services or find out where to buy NWT art, visit NWTArts.ca.