Art, Photography and Documentary Archives - Peter Sibbald's Blog About Photography and Filmmaking

The Graduation Day Blues

St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada. 2013/10/25. OUA 2013 Finals.
A down-and-dirty observational short documentary about University of Toronto Women’s Novice Crew.


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Congratulations to Our Alice-Nobel Prize in Literature 2013

2013 Nobel Laureate for Literature,  Canadian author Alice Munro

Clinton, Ontario. 2013 Nobel Laureate in literature, Canadian author and “Master of the Short Story” Alice Munro, near her Ontario home.

Shot on assignment for TIME.


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Of Redemption: Remembering Francis Penashue

Penashue Camp, Lake Minnipi, 1996. Francis Penashue lolls on the floor of his tent playing with his grandchildren while his wife Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue prepares a meal of fresh duck and bannock on their home-made wood stove. The Penashues spend several months a year in the bush reclaiming their traditional Innu culture and passing it on to their children and grand-children.

It must have been about this time of the year, 24 years ago, when I met Francis Penashue, although I don’t actually remember our first encounter. I lived briefly with his family—in fact Francis’s father Matthew and partner and their grandson baby George Nuna—in the Mealy Mountains in the interior of Labrador, a place the Innu call Nitassinan, “Our Homeland”. I was intending to stay for only a few days, but became weather-bound for an additional week. It was 10 days that I can only regard as a privilege and that would tie me emotionally to that place and those people, affording me a perspective on the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, and change my life.

Actually I don’t remember Francis in that 1989 camp per se but, I can still have nightmares about the Francis of that era, for he terrified me. Perhaps Francis was not in the camp at that time because he could not escape the poison that held him in its grip in the village. In those days, and for years before and some after, alcohol was his demon and he raged against it and the circumstances that drew him back to it again and again. No one was too young or too strong to escape his wrath, least of all his little kids or his wife, Tshaukuesh, and certainly no young white man with a camera and a big city attitude. I must have embodied everything he hated. For Francis was part of that lost generation of children wrenched from their families and beaten into submission in the residential schools, though in Francis’s case it was not technically a residential school, but the now notorious Mount Cashel orphanage on the island of Newfoundland. “Kill the Indian in the child” was Canada’s official policy in those years.

In the years that followed our first meeting, Francis beat back those demons into some form of recovery. I would stay again with his family in bush camps, but those times, he would be there, the dedicated father, adoring grandfather, sharing with family the traditional knowledge of how to live off the land, knowledge that he had acquired in his earliest years from his elders in the bush camps he was born and raised in. Francis’s sons became hunters and many of their children still know how to live off of and in harmony with the land. For that, Francis must have started to recover pride. Francis and Tshaukuesh’s tent became the heart of those bush encampments. By this time, the little children were no longer afraid of Francis, and there was a constant coming and going of little feet through the tent flap, both to savour Tshaukuesh’s partridge stew and to fill the balsam bow infused air with giggles.

In those latter years I knew him, we didn’t talk much, and he never spoke of the cruelty my kind must have inflicted on his child self, nor what of that he passed on to others. And after having my language forced upon him, why would he have wanted to use it to share such pain with me? Thereafter, Francis chose to speak mostly Innuemun as far as I know. That he rose above such deserved hate of my kind to condescend to sharing not only my company but the presence of my camera was huge for me personally. And so, like his children and grandchildren I learned by watching.

That was 1996, and I think Francis then was still struggling with remorse. I would like to think that—as later pictures and stories would indicate—Francis found some redemption in the role that he earned as elder and, along with Tshaukuesh, leaders of their people. It was a valiant thing he did—no mean feat of sobriety and wholeness in a social milieu then still highly compromised by multigenerational alcoholism. Many of his generation could not win that battle and succumbed to accidents, poisoning, suicide… indeed are succumbing still as are many their children and grandchildren. But Francis was evidence that the government, a succession of my governments—those groups of democratically elected Canadians who cynical legislation, with the blunt force of violence and with the careless failure to protect the people in its charge from mercury, carcinogens and other toxins into their food, water and air…  Canadian governments that are still trying to deprive the First Peoples of their rights, autonomy and  land—that they could not, cannot, “kill the Indian in the child”.

Earlier this morning CBC Radio journalist and producer Marie Wadden, who has written books about Francis Penashue’s journey, wrote of his final one, that it was Lou Gehrig’s disease that put an end to his life. Release from the tyranny of that disease is, I  guess, some sort of blessing. Last evening Francis was removed from the hospital and brought out to spend his final minutes laying in the fragrance of spruce bows of a white canvas tent, cozy with wood fire—home—surrounded by a circle of 200 loving family and friends. To me, that is evidence enough of his redemption, and that redemption is possible, proof to all of us of the importance of sticking to our moral compasses, of keeping trying. One can only hope to have the strength and bravery to do such work, and when our times come, to be so lucky.

To Tshaukuesh, Peter, Max, Bart, Jack, Gervais, Robert, Freddie, Angela and Kanani, and your children and grandchildren, I am so sorry for your loss.



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Adventures in iPhoneography – A Series: Part 1 — The Ground Rules

A.    Transparency re. Gear etc.

1.    Not that I expect anyone to offer them, but just to be clear, I will not accept freebees. I have been, and will continue to be, purchasing whatever apps or hardware I mention unless they are freely available to everyone, e.g. as a free app through an Apple App Store Account.

2.     I will not accept gratuity or payment to shill for manufacturers and code-authors.

3.     I will not  inflate, conflate, or hype my discoveries, nor squelch my criticism.

4.     From time to time I may query a company or developer from a support-need perspective, and I will share with readers the upshot of that as well.

5.     If something changes and a company or developer loans me hardware or software/apps, or sends me something to beta-test, I’ll let readers know right up front before I start writing about it.

6.     Loaning me gear, apps or web space will be no guarantee that I will mention/review it in this blog or elsewhere in the social-media-sphere, nor conversely will it afford the loaner any protection from honest critique or opinion. As I have said elsewhere I have no spare time to waste on something redundant with a competing device or app that already is giving me what need.


There are always rules....

There are always rules….

B.    Image Integrity

1.     Whereas I’m starting to notice that a number of well-known photographers have begun to insert photographs (including some very well known images) that were originally made with conventional film or digital cameras into smartphoneography contexts such as Instagram and Web.Stagram, any of my own images used in this series will be true iPhoneographs (SmartPhoneographs) made only with smart phones.

2.     To that end, any image tagged or otherwise identified with terms like #iphoneonly or #smartphoneonly, will indeed have been captured and edited only with a smart phone.

3.     Photojournalistic Veracity:

Truth is a slippery subject and ever slipperier for photographs in the digital era. I do not believe that absolute truth is possible in photojournalism any more than absolute truth or objectivity attainable in journalism in general. Truth is however aspirational and in a journalistic context an aspiration that is not only highly desirable, but essential. In that context it is incumbent upon those representing their work (be it text, photographs, video, or even smartphoneographs) as journalistic that they aim to represent a situation or a moment with as much accuracy—as much veracity—as possible, to report with as much objectivity as is humanly possible and to provide balanced representation where possible, duly noting its shortcomings. To that end:

a.    Notwithstanding my background as a photojournalist and photo documentarian, as it seems to be a part of the culture of iPhoneography that I am venturing into to mess with filters and aesthetic effects, and as I want to keep as open a mind as possible, I will give myself the license to play with these things, potentially altering the straight images. No such images will be represented as being photojournalistic.

b.    To wit, where an image is being represented as photojournalistic or purely documentary or in such a context, I will not indulge in the use of filters or aesthetic effects beyond that which would be considered as acceptable digital darkroom technique (eg. cropping, minor dodging and burning, neutral colour balance) in a photojournalistic context. In this context also all textual elements will be factually accurate, to the best of my knowledge.

C.     Additions or Alterations to these rules

Any additions or alterations to this set of rules will be posted in a timely fashion as this series progresses as well as in dated updates right here in this “ground rules” post.

Probable Next Post: Part 2: Quest for a camera app


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CBC in Crisis? Well certainly under clear and present threat… AND in Need of a Deserving Shout Out

I am no expert on public broadcasting, but like many Canadian citizens  disgruntled with the gradual erosion of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s offerings over the past decade or more  (with its increasing repetitiveness in programming and scaled-back budgets for foreign bureaus and investigative journalism), as a regular CBC listener certainly for me this has felt like a “crisis” for some time. But notwithstanding that arguably hyperbolic designation, LeadNow,  Friends of Public Broadcasting and have been scrambling to bring an important PUBLIC NOTICE to Canadians this past week or so which cannot be disputed: that the CBC is under clear and present threat of imminent takeover by the PMO through a hidden clause in one of the Harper government’s latest (if before he was elected scorned) omnibus bills, Bill C-60, their most recent omnibus budget bill.

This is a critical issue. Consider many of the—hmmm, how shall I put this—less than Canadian manoeuvres of the Harper government continuing to be catalogued on blogs such as Tracking Harper as this man systematically dismantles our ‘just society’ and makes Canada the laughing stock of people of good conscience across the globe:  on a quick, random check, most of those stories were at least reported, if not broken or indeed further investigated by Canada’s public broadcaster. How many of those important stories would Canadians have any inkling of had the CBC already been under the direct control of the government? Or to put the shoe on the other foot: what would we know of the Liberal government sponsorship scandal or the corruption surrounding Montreal politics and on and on?

Regardless of which party one votes for—for indeed every political party in every province and territory has been put under CBC’s microscope at some point— if it is not the first and foremost job of journalism, and in particular public broadcast journalism, to hold power to account, what relevance if any could the CBC hold once this bill is fully implemented?

OR aaahhhhh… is that Harper’s secret strategy: not so much an agenda to take over control over who is hired and what is said by each and every host and news anchor  of the CBC which might overwhelm even his allegedly superior micro-management capabilities, but to fast-track the apparent irrelevance of the CBC in its core role so that even this country’s business, academic and culture communities turn away in disgust? Harper has made no secret of his disdain for the public broadcaster since before he was elected, not to mention at least the latter two of those constituencies. (And with bloopers like CASL, Bill C-28, his recent bludgeon bill—which on its surface presented the wholesome and honourable aspiration of eliminating SPAM and egregious telemarketers—even thoughtful members of Canada’s  business and legal communities must be wondering about a government that would write legislation that (in)advertantly also outlaws future outreach to new clients/customers, including by businesses yet to be created, and possibly even curtails any new B2B e-communications. ) But I digress.

Today’s post is prompted by rather excellent radio of CBC’s The Current this morning in which journalist and guest host Anthony Germain managed in a mere 90 minutes or less to provide interesting and balanced coverage about:

  • the story of former Harper cabinet minister and former Innu Nation President Peter Penashue (and my friend) and his potential (or not) re-election in Monday’s by-election
  • the issues of safe water supply, environment and the power of the people versus over-bearing government in China, and the implications of water shortages for world peace…
  • in this sad old world of ours, the meaning and mission of Art and film


The mere association of these stories in one show can only provoke the kinds of interconnectedness of ideas that this small offering of a blog strives to do on many of the same subjects.

Congratulations Anthony Germain, Anna Maria Tremonti and team. Also a shout-out to CBC Q‘s Jian Ghomeshi’s for 2013/05/10 CBC pride-filled prologue today about CBC content (which further spurred this blogpost) and his rant last Friday  2013/05/03 underscoring my peeve about the recent dismissal of we “citizens” (who consider that the intrinsic privilege of our nationality bears far more responsibility than merely voting or paying taxes) as “taxpayers” or “voters”.



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Driving Directions for The PM to visit Chief Theresa Spence

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

A number of non-Native folk have contacted me looking for directions to Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike encampment on Victoria Island, and so it occurs to me that perhaps the reason you may have not been over to visit Chief Spence is because you couldn’t find your way.

After all it has been over 3 weeks since she began her strike and she must be getting rather hungry by now to at least have some news from you.

As we enter what may yet prove to be the coldest January in a number of years, I also wanted to remind you to please dress warmly. There’s no sense resuming Parliament with a cold after you return to work from your Christmas recess on January 28, three weeks after the kids have gone back to school . You might even want to replace that 100X beaver felt cowboy hat with a beaver fur one. I realize those cowboy hats are warm, but they’re missing those cosy fur ear flaps that are so much more practical in this weather. Besides you’d probably look even more dashing in fur than felt. I’ll bet you could borrow one from one of your mounties; they’re issued with great fur hats, or at least they used to be, before the federal budget cuts.

Also it’s pretty cold for the Chief’s supporters over on the island, and so it might be a thoughtful gesture to bring along some food, firewood, warm clothing or extra blankets as they would be well appreciated by the fire-keepers who are keeping round-the-clock watch over Chief Spence and her sacred fire. And if you really want to be politic, you might bring along a little tobacco for an offering.

Oh yes and fresh water… I imagine the drinking water from the taps at 24 Sussex is much cleaner than anything any ordinary Canadian will have access to going forward once international and domestic corporate interests have their way with those thousands of navigable lakes and rivers removed from protection last month by the provisions of your omnibus bill, C-45.  Perhaps Canadians could run a water pipeline from the facility providing clean water to 24 Sussex into the general drinking water supply. In the long run that could save  tax payers oodles of health care dollars by sparing us al from being forced to consume the imminently contaminated local water… well at least until you abolish universal healthcare. After that I guess it won’t matter as it will be up to the sickened and dying Canadian population to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to get on an level playing field with the Chinese who, by then, will own many of our former resources and Native reserve lands.


But I digress. I know you must be chomping at the bit for those directions so you can go see Chief Spence right away, so here they are:

Please give these directions to your driver, once your are settled comfortably in the back of your limo.

1. Start out going southwest on Sussex Dr / Promenade Sussex toward Alexander St / Rue Alexander.

2. Sussex Dr / Promenade Sussex becomes MacKenzie Ave / Avenue MacKenzie.

3. Turn right onto Rideau St / Rue Rideau / HWY-17B / RR-34. Continue to follow RR-34 W.

RR-34 W is 0.4 kilometers past Murray St Le Chateau Rideau Centre is on the right If you are on Promenade Colonel by and reach Daly Ave you’ve gone about 0.1 kilometers too far

4. Stay straight to go onto Wellington St / Promenade de l’Outaouais, past the Prime Minister’s Office.

5. Turn right onto Booth St / Rue Booth.

Booth St is just past Lett St If you are on Promenade de l’Outaouais and reach Broad St you’ve gone about 0.1 kilometers too far

6. Turn right onto Middle St / Rue Middle.

Middle St is 0.2 kilometers past Place Vimy If you are on Pont des Chaudières and reach Rue Eddy you’ve gone about 0.3 kilometers too far into Quebec. Fortunately Quebec is still not a foreign country yet, though if the PM keeps attacking the arts and artists, he may just alienate that province enough to separate in which case, driver, in the future you might want to remind the PM to bring his passport on his excursions.


Proceed to the Chief’s encampment at the East end of that road. 

Total Travel Estimate: 5.15 kilometres – about 10 minutes

Alternately the PM could use his new military-grade GPS that Charlie the Chinchilla gave to him for Christmas:

Middle St, Ottawa, ON K1R  45.421620, -75.711155 (Address is approximate)


P.S. If you’re still not sure how navigability and environmental protection of Canada’s waterways are related, perhaps it is because you were too busy limiting debate surrounding bill C-45 to have time to read the open letter that EcoJustice sent you in November. You can still access the legal backgrounder they prepared for you here and if you’re resolved to leave your Blackberry unplugged over the Christmas recess, your personal secretary can download and print a nicely formatted hard copy from here. Heck, you might even be able to get a good start on it in the limo on the way over.

 Oh… and Mr. Prime Minister,  please don’t forget that beaver fur hat.

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An odd but much appreciated interview

On the occasion of my opening at Bau-Xi Photo Gallery:


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“touching something that is untouchable”

In the same vein as my last post, and from a work done at great legal risk by the documentary makers, the following quotations:

“Monsanto, where creative chemistry works wonders for you.”

“I have never seen a situation where one company could have so much overwhelming influence at the highest levels of regulatory decision making, as an example of Monsanto with its GM food policy and the government.”

“More powerful than bombs; it’s more powerful than God”.

“We’re touching something that is untouchable.”

The World According to Monsanto


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