When he started journalism school, Pat Kane wanted to tell stories with words. But a first-year photography class uncovered an aptitude for revealing tales through pictures.
Now, Kane’s nominated for a National Magazine Award for his photo essay On the line, which appeared in Canadian Geographic’s October 2013 issue. We asked Kane to tell us about his nomination and his experience capturing the fur trade in the remote settlement of Colville Lake, N.W.T.
What does being nominated mean to you?
I’ve never really thought of awards as being that important. It’s good to be able to say you're an award-winning photographer, but it’s less about that for me than having the work itself recognized.
Where did the idea to tell the story of Colville Lake trappers come from?
A lot of my friends work for the government, which manages the fur trade. One of them invited me to check it out. It was such a process to get there—a 90-minute flight north of Yellowknife, then a 12-hour snowmobile ride. I thought if I’m going to this much effort, I’m going to turn this into a story.
What is Colville Lake like?
Visually it was great. With the smoke billowing out of log cabins, it looked like a Christmas movie.
When I got there, it was prime time for the fur trade. People were cleaning furs and selling them. It was perfect because I wanted to capture how the community is dependant on the fur trade. I know there’s a lot of anti-fur animal activism and I respect that, but it was good to see the other side of the story.
Did it change your opinion of the fur trade?
It was an eyeopener to see how people benefit socially and economically from something that isn’t popular elsewhere. Getting out on the land is important to their culture. I gained a lot of respect for them.
Trappers don’t care what people in Vancouver or Paris think. They just need to pay for gas and food. Their priority isn’t making people feel good—it’s survival.
Any tips for photographers shooting in the North?
You have to be more open to talking and listening to people. If you don’t, people won’t open up. As much as possible, I try to use house-stays, which you arrange through the local hamlet office. These are small communities, so everyone knows you’re a stranger, but with a house-stay, you become part of the community much faster.
My ideas tend to evolve naturally, but as a freelancer, I have to be aware of opportunities. My passion is storytelling and photojournalism. I love magazine work, so if I’m being flown around for a commercial client, I’ll try to add a couple days to the trip to work on a photo essay. Going to some of these places is a unique opportunity, so I try to make the best of it.
Click on the above image to see a slideshow of Pat Kane's photography. Note: some images may disturb some readers.