Twenty-five years ago, Toronto-based Six Nations photographer Greg Staats picked up a camera as a way to create an archive.
“I was taught Mohawk in 1962 but I didn’t have anyone to speak to,” Staats said. “Without language, you’re missing the world view. What I mean by world view is where things come from, where you fit in the world. So I picked up the camera because I wanted to make documents and make an archive based on my own emotional life and energy.”
Staats’ 25 years of archiving is currently on display at the Woodland Cultural Centre in an exhibit called Greg Staats – A Retrospective, on now until Oct. 7.
“For any artist that does a retrospective, it’s an opportunity to survey your own work and really have a sense that you’re following a continuum,” he said.
The exhibit follows a chronology, starting with a small display of Staats’ own family archive featuring old photographs, videos and mementos of his family history.
“I think on Six Nations, in terms of these photographs, there’s such an emphasis on objects and touching objects, so a lot of these family photographs become talking points,” he said. “(The family archive) is sort of an informal way of starting a conversation about family history.”
Staats’ photography career began with images of landscapes and he later moved on to capture photographs embodying nationhood, community and family, as well as himself and his own memories.
During the late 1990s, his work began to focus on acceptance and loss, which led into his most recent work focusing on the idea of condolence.
“I grew up and my mother was in her late 40s, so I was constantly going to funerals,” Staats said. “The only time I saw people being honest and expressing themselves were at funerals. I thought, ‘there is a communication here, but it’s unspoken.’ That drew me into condolence.”
All of Staats’ work is inspired by his Six Nations background, including photographs dealing with language, loss of land and mourning.
“Growing up on the reserve and not being taught in the schools, this is how I compensated,” he said. “I said ‘okay, let’s start looking at what I didn’t learn.’”
One series of portraits in the exhibit were taken over a period of five years as Staats travelled across Canada. He used Polaroid positive negative film to capture images of the First Nations people he encountered.
“They were documents of the meeting of these people and I learned about the varied life experience of First Nations people across the country,” he said.
Greg Staats – A Retrospective runs in conjunction with Planet IndigenUS, on now at Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford and Harbourfront Centre in Toronto until Aug. 19.
Visit www.woodland-centre.on.ca for more information.