Using creative photography to empower Indigenous communities

In October 2008, Red Works Photography was founded, with the aim of promoting and empowering positive contemporary Indigenous culture in North America. Its founder, Nadya Kwandibens, is Anishinaabe/Ojibwe from the Animakee Wa Zhing First Nation in Ontario. Concrete Indians is one of three ongoing series being produced by Red Works.

Nadya, who has travelled North America, working with other indigenous cultures, firmly believes that the medium of photography is so effective and powerful in promoting her aims.

“Red Works sessions are always photographed in colour but in addition to regular sessions, I have three ongoing series – Concrete Indians, Red Works Outtakes, and the most recently launched series emergence – which are all in colour except for Concrete Indians portraits," Kwandibens said. "When I initially started editing this series I wanted the portraits to stand out from the vibrancy of my other work and to use black/white in a way that challenges historic uses of the aesthetic format, that deemed Indigenous as peoples of the past, by precensing and juxtaposing Indigenous peoples amongst contemporary, urban, spaces.”

When asked about the concept of the Concrete Indians series and the importance of portraying indigenous people positively within an urban setting, Nadya noted; “Concrete Indians is an open-call portraiture series […] which focuses on reflections of decolonization and contemporary Indigenous identity. Many portraits are of people in full or partial traditional regalia at major recognizable intersections, others are portraits that convey unity and solidarity; all are assertions of the strength of Indigenous culture and identity through acts of resistance, mainly the act of reclaiming space(s).”

This photo series blends the culture of various Indigenous people, with an ever-growing presence that is changing the world around them. As Nadya states, Indigenous culture is alive and thriving. It is so important to acknowledge these cultures as part of, and integrated with, our society. Their strength and endurance is visible and encouraging to all.

Nadya explained that one of her favourite moments on her journey, “…took place in Vancouver, BC, during the photoshoot with ten Indigenous women who are all lawyers now, some of whom were studying to become lawyers at the time. I think we all understood and felt the power of that photoshoot and the resulting portraits have resonated with hundreds of people when I posted one of the portraits online. It’s important to spotlight the diverse range of occupations that we as Indigenous people hold space in, and it was particularly empowering to show the strength of Indigenous women in a field typically thought of as male-dominated.”

And though her journey is not done, the work achieved so far speaks volumes for Nadya’s character as an activist and photographer.

To learn more about Red Works Photography, or simply check out Nadya’s photographs from either one of her powerful series, click here


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