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Picturing a People: George Johnston, Tlingit Photographer

Directed by Carol Geddes
Canada, 1997 (documentary, 50 minutes, colour / black and white, English / Tlingit)
Picturing a People: George Johnston, Tlingit Photographer
Photo © National Film Board of Canada
Video (National Film Board of Canada)

Film Description:
"At the age of 16, George Johnston left the Yukon community of Teslin and trekked hundreds of miles overland to coastal Alaska in search of the history of his people. Johnston met with elders, learning as much as he could about the Tlingit religion and the songs and dances of his people. A few years later, Johnston did something else that was quite extraordinary: after ordering a camera from a mail-order catalogue, he taught himself to use it and to develop and print his own photographs. The images he recorded—of special moments and everyday occasions—became a beacon to the young and a testament to the golden times of the Tlingit people. Johnston's photos lovingly portray a sense of history and a zest for life. His work as a photographer in the period from 1920 to 1945 has long been recognized in the Indigenous community, predating a generation of Indigenous and Inuit photographers. [...] Johnston cared deeply about the traditions of the Tlingit people, and he recorded a critical period in the history of the Tlingit nation. As Geddes says, his legacy was 'to help us dream the future as much as to remember the past.'"
-- National Film Board of Canada (source)

Film Credits (partial):
Written by: Carol Geddes
Produced by: Sally Bochner, George Hargrave, Don Haig
Principal Cast: Keith Wolf Smarch, Mark Porter
Narrator: Carol Geddes
Participants: Sam Johnston, Rose Johnston, Pearl Keenan, Dolly Porter, Harry Morris
Cinematography: James Jeffrey, Joan Hutton
Film Editing: Annie Ilkow
Music: Charles Morrow
Production Company: Nutaaq Média, Fox Point Productions, National Film Board of Canada / Office national du film du Canada
(sources)

Quote by the Director

"When this film [Picturing a People: George Johnston, Tlingit Photographer] came out, I found that people were coming up to me and telling me that this film helped them, and this was so important to me because it helped especially the younger people understand their history. It helped them understand what happened. It helped them understand why so many of our people were on their knees, and why it is that we're still having so much trouble in the Yukon."
-- Carol Geddes (source)

Quotes about Picturing a People: George Johnston, Tlingit Photographer

"Many of the photos [in Picturing a People: George Johnston, Tlingit Photographer] show events unusual to southern eyes: ferrying a grave fence, by canoe, down the lake to a burial site; children 'playing funeral' during the measles epidemics of the 1940s. But most of the works are less startling, and of happier, more relaxed times showing townsfolk or clan relatives posing in regular work clothes, as if they'd just taken a break from their chores when [George] Johnston happened by."
-- Peter Steven (source)

"Picturing a People is primarily a study of [George] Johnston's life and his work. It combines interviews with his family and friends with dramatizations of his life growing up to accent his exquisite photographs. Although many of his photographs are posed, they never seem contrived or staged, undoubtedly because of the subjects' ease and familiarity with the photographer and their mutual appreciation for the local landscape."
-- Thomas F. Thornton (source)

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