“As you are falling, your sense of orientation may start to play additional tricks on you. The horizon quivers in a maze of collapsing lines and you may lose any sense of above and below, of before and after, of yourself and your boundaries”

—Hito Steyerl, In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective

Looking Down From Up Gallery 44 x Inuit Art Quarterly

SEPTEMBER 2019

Looking Down From Up



For this third Chapter of A maze of collapsing lines, Gallery 44 struck a partnership with Inuit Art Quarterly to propose a dialogue concerning topics of image culture, the digital dissemination of photography, and contemporary Inuit photographic practice. This dialogue immediately directed us toward disparity in Internet access between urban and remote communities, and more specifically, how Northern communities are disproportionately affected by low broadband and sparse infrastructure.



Internet service providers have been reluctant to develop communications infrastructure in remote regions, as smaller populations do not render as much profit as higher-density areas, meaning customers in small communities pay much higher premiums for slower internet. This is particularly damaging as broadband connectivity is a crucial tool for education, health and safety where fewer physical resources are available onsite. The Internet, of course, is very much a western colonial project. The foundation of its connectivity was laid in the form of fibre-optic cables along colonial trade routes, privileging prosperous cities in the Global North. This infrastructure enables mass-surveillance and data extraction while relying on exploitative labour practices for technology production. Thus, the inherent paradox between the colonial legacy of the Internet and the entrenchment of its benefits to (and simultaneous overlooking of) Inuit communities further complicates this inquiry. And so, as a starting point for this essay, we the authors have questioned: how do these inequitable conditions affect the development and dissemination of digital photography in the North, and how do we, as southern Canadians working in photo-culture, consider these images? 



To elucidate these questions, this chapter features the work of four contemporary Inuit photographers, some of whom use aerial imagery and engage with map-making practices, and all of whom utilize photography as a means of communication while operating out of Northern communities with low broadband. Looking at the aerial and drone photography practices of Eldred Allen (Rigolet, Nunatsiavut) and Robert Kautuk (Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River), Nunavut) we begin with the notion of verticality as a means to interrogate hierarchical models of infrastructure distribution and the apparatuses of surveillance. From there, we move into an exploration of the nuanced landscape photographs of Mary Gordon, (Kuujjauq, Nunavik) and Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko (Ausuittuq (Grise Fjord), Nunavut) to highlight self-determination in Inuit image-making and visual research. Gallery 44 is indebted to the artists for sharing their work in this context, and to Inuit Art Quarterly for their rigorous research and dedication to publishing artistic work in this field.



Each artist’s work is presented alongside a link to both their IAQ Profile and an artist interview conducted by John Geoghegan, IAQ Senior Editor published on the IAQ Online.



Eldred Allen, in partnership with his wife Kristy Sheppard, runs Bird’s Eye Inc., an Inuit owned and operated business producing photography, photogrammetry, 3D scans, and videos, all using drone technology. Photogrammetry is the process of making surveys and maps through the use of photographs to render three-dimensional images. Allen employs photogrammetric software to stitch together hundreds of aerial images and create three-dimensional point clouds of various sites in his home community of Rigolet on the coast of Labrador, the southernmost Inuit community in the world.



The artist archives 3D scans of historical sites to provide virtual access to members of his community who may be unable to visit them in-person, and for future posterity. Noting the lack of stock images of Rigolet currently available online, Allen effectively does the work of putting his location on the map; there is only a single walkable path and one panoramic image available of Rigolet on Google Maps/Street View. Allen captured and uploaded both.


Allen’s interest in photography is born of his work as a technical map-maker; realizing that drones essentially operate as flying cameras, he began to shift his practice to include aerial and land-based photographs and videos. When he first started taking pictures, Allen learned photographic methods from the Internet, watching videos and tutorials, and by observing the work of landscape photographers in his region. While Allen’s career is embedded and reliant upon infrastructures of online communication⁠—both in his use of social media and sharing platforms, as well as his use of drone technology and associated software⁠—he maintains this digital practice and distributes his photos and videos in a very low broadband environment. He describes,



a very small clip, about 57MB in size, which would take me two hours or more to upload. Most times it’s longer, a lot of times it’ll fail and you have got to try to restart.



However, social media platforms also serve as effective tools to disseminate his images; in August 2019 Allen tweeted photos of a Minke whale cresting in Rigolet Harbour which garnered national attention, and coverage on CBC Newfoundland Labrador.



Robert Kautuk credits his earliest interest in photography to the lack of entertainment options in his home community of Kangiqtugaapik. In his youth, Kautuk shot images on disposable cameras and sent them away by mail for processing. Now he employs drone technology to extend this life-long practice of image-making, producing aerial photographs that offer unique, rarely seen views into northern life. Kautuk’s vivid, and perhaps most well-known image, After Cutting Up Two Walruses, Igulik (2016) conveys his distinctive compositional perspective: a boat tethered to an ice floe signals the presence of three men atop its surface, just barely discernible amidst the scattered parts of two recently hunted and dismembered walruses. The overhead view discloses the depth of the floe below the water’s surface, the break between ice and water marked by trails of saturated red blood.



Kautuk also contributed to the Clyde River Knowledge Atlas, a community-led cyber-atlas project, mapping the knowledge of Inuit Elders over the landscape. This interactive map incorporates image, sound, and video to illustrate place-naming, administrative boundaries, weather and ice patterns, and wildlife conservation. The atlas also maps the initial location of Clyde River (the English name given to Kangiqtugaapik), as demarcated by the Canadian government. Foregrounding Inuit self-determination in research, the project maps land and resource use as a means to document, preserve, and celebrate traditional knowledge as a living resource in the community. Kautuk contributed photographic and audio assets to the project, including pronunciations of Inuit place names. Notably, the cyber-atlas serves as a meaningful counterpoint to the banal and static satellite images provided by dominant colonial internet entities.



Kautuk’s current work includes a series of photographs of the Northern Lights. He describes his process as a thrilling balance between the time consuming technical set-up and the spontaneity of responding to the lights as they appear. Like many other photographers working in the North, Kautuk downgrades the resolution of his images to make them transferable via low bandwidth, and often uses Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram to disseminate compressed versions of his work.



Mary Gordon’s photographs also feature an aerial view, but from a more human scale. Fascinated by the minute details of the ground beneath her feet, Gordon’s close-up, overhead shots taken on an iPhone provide a foil for the macro-scale vertical perspectives of Allen and Kautuk.



Gordon’s images offer nuanced portraits of the land as she witnesses it: intimate views of the fish, berries, and fauna that live beneath her feet. When removed from its surrounding context, a hole bored in the ice may read as a satellite image, or a portal to another world. Similarly, an image of berries gathered in a bucket atop leafy ground cover may trick the eye through strategies of an evocative colour abstract⁠—using colour, texture, and depth as a means to transmit imagined sensations of touch, scent, and taste. Gordon captures images of her environment by removing or reducing distance, creating a singular and highly personal view infused with her first-person connection to the land. The materiality of this relationship, translated in the contrasting textures, the saturation of colours, the composition of the pictorial frame, functions to communicate Gordon’s embodied knowledge of her surroundings.



When asked if she has exhibited her work in an artistic context, Gordon explains the purpose of her practice as inherently personal: “No, I haven’t. I just take photos for fun, or for the beauty I see. I just do it for me.”



The artist regularly shares photographs on Facebook, which is how her work was brought to our attention for this project (by way of IAQ’s Editor-at-Large, Taqralik Partridge who asked Gordon’s permission to share images with us from her personal profile). When asked if there is anything she wants her photos to impart to viewers in the South, Gordon explains that she wishes to share aspects of everyday life in Kuujjauq, specifically “how we fish, how we eat our food, the tradition of food.”3 The tenderness and personal nature with which she approaches these images reveals a practice based in visual research authored through and for the first-person Inuk experience. 



Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko resides in her home community of Ausuittuq, Nunavut; located on the southern shore of Ellesmere Island, it is the one of the northernmost settlements in North America. Originally settled under the Norwegian name Grise Fiord, in the 1950s, the present-day community was established through a Canadian government-sponsored settlement project to secure national sovereignty in the Arctic. This federal initiative saw the forced migration of Inuit families from Inukjuak, QC to an unfamiliar environment marked by severe daylight conditions, climate, and poor hunting and fishing conditions. Ausuittuq is described by the authors of the Qikiqtani Truth Commission as follows:



The terrain and environment, while visually striking, are incredibly harsh. The sea is frozen for ten months of the year, with break-up occurring in mid-August. The surrounding mountains provide limited support for wildlife, and overland travel is restricted to valleys and waterways winding between the mountains. From May to August, the sun never sets, and from October to mid-February, it never rises. [Ausuittuq] is considered one of the coldest communities in the world, with an average yearly temperature of -16 degrees Celsius.4



Audlaluk-Watsko’s father, Larry Audlaluk was an early resident  of the settlement, one of 87 relocated Inuit sometimes referred to as “High Arctic Exiles.” He was also the first person to give his daughter a camera. 



Audlaluk-Watsko began shooting film on a 35 mm camera at age seven or eight and developing photographs around age fourteen or fifteen. She began shooting digital approximately 15 years ago, finding the capabilities of digital photography mesmerizing. However, uploading her photographs to web-based platforms in a low broadband environment is an expensive and time-consuming pursuit. She also notes the difficulties of using photo-sharing platforms like Facebook to disseminate her work. Facebook maintains strict content guidelines and will often censor images that depict blood, fur, or animal hide. This kind of censorship is particularly frustrating for artists using photography as a means to share and communicate cultural practice. Audlaluk-Watsko’s work proves testament to her resilience in the High Arctic; despite challenging conditions and limited infrastructure, Audlaluk-Watsko sustains a productive career that illustrates the daily life of a contemporary Inuk. 



Conclusion

All four artists leverage their limited access to communication infrastructures in order to preserve histories and document daily life in their communities. Both Allen and Kautuk re-contextualize corporate map-making and land-surveying technologies to serve and represent their own northern Inuit communities. Employing drones, devices implicitly tied to a military history of violence and surveillance, and using them instead for the purposes of archeology and education serves as a productive reframing of an otherwise hostile tool. Similarly, Audlaluk-Watsko and Gordon make use of increasingly democratic camera technologies to illustrate their daily lives as contemporary Inuit, providing first-hand, self-determined accounts of life in the North. Together, Allen, Audlaluk-Watsko, Gordon and Kautuk offer new viewpoints through which to consider place and community, skillfully harnessing and adapting digital and visual technologies to collapse great distances so as to share their perspectives of the North, today.



1 Allen, Edred, Interview by John Geoghegan, Inuit Art Quarterly Online, 2019.

2 Gordon, Mary, Interview by John Geoghegan, Inuit Art Quarterly Online, 2019.

3 Ibid.

4 Qikiqtani Inuit Association, “Qikiqtani Truth Commission, Community Histories 1950-1976: Grise Fiord,” Inhabit Media Inc., 2013.

Rigolet, Nunatsiavut

Eldred Allen



Allen employs photogrammetric software to stitch together hundreds of aerial images and create three-dimensional point clouds of various sites in his home community of Rigolet on the coast of Labrador, the southernmost Inuit community in the world.

Eldred Allen



Allen employs photogrammetric software to stitch together hundreds of aerial images and create three-dimensional point clouds of various sites in his home community of Rigolet on the coast of Labrador, the southernmost Inuit community in the world.

Kangiqtugaapik, Nunavut

Robert Kautuk




Kautuk employs drone technology to extend his life-long practice of image-making, producing aerial photographs that offer unique, rarely seen views into northern life.

Robert Kautuk




Kautuk employs drone technology to extend his life-long practice of image-making, producing aerial photographs that offer unique, rarely seen views into northern life.

Kuujjuaq, Nunavik

Mary Gordon



Gordon captures images of her environment by removing or reducing distance, creating a singular and highly personal view infused with her first-person connection to the land.

Mary Gordon



Gordon captures images of her environment by removing or reducing distance, creating a singular and highly personal view infused with her first-person connection to the land.

Ausuittuq, Nunavut

Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko



Audlaluk-Watsko’s work proves testament to her resilience in the High Arctic; despite challenging conditions and limited infrastructure, Audlaluk-Watsko sustains a productive career that illustrates the daily life of a contemporary Inuk.

Laisa Audlaluk-Watsko



Audlaluk-Watsko’s work proves testament to her resilience in the High Arctic; despite challenging conditions and limited infrastructure, Audlaluk-Watsko sustains a productive career that illustrates the daily life of a contemporary Inuk.