Putting a name to the face



Archived photo project coming to life, beginning in Igloolik

After 50 years of silence, Nunavut’s pictorial past is coming to life.

Sheba Awa recently completed the first phase of Project Naming: a five-month door-to-door identification plan giving names to faces in 58 historical photos.

Awa brought a laptop computer with digitized images to people’s homes in Igloolik. The black-and-white photos of hunters clad in caribou skins and mothers smoking pipes were taken by noted photographer Richard Harrington in the Igloolik area between 1950 and 1952.

The naming project was spearheaded by Nunavut Sivuniksavut and the National Archives of Canada last year. Nunavut’s department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth provided the $25,000 required to pay Awa and to purchase the necessary computer and software. The photos were hand-picked by National Archives staff.

Murray Angus, an instructor at Nunavut Sivuniksavut, is applying for more money this month to expand the project. Photos from the Kugluktuk area have already been scanned to disk.

He’s hoping to secure funding for summer and fall field-workers in the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions. Angus was in Iqaluit on April 22 to present the identified photos to a small group of people.

“There is a limited window of opportunity we’re working with. Today’s elders won’t be around forever and they are the last ones able to identify the people in the photos,” Angus said. “This is a wonderful example of how technology can bridge the gap between generations.”

The National Archives, which has the original 58 pictures, has another 50,000 unidentified photos needing names and locations. Photos from Igloolik were selected because they belong to a collection from a known area.

Awa, who lives in Igloolik, was never an NS student. The 24-year-old was chosen for the one-person project because of her research skills, Angus said. Awa could not be reached for comment this week, but Angus offered a glowing report of the young archivist’s work.

“Sheba found it very gratifying. She learned about her relatives and had a very positive response from the elders,” he said. “There was a lot of enthusiasm.”

In field notes faxed to Angus, Awa included comments made by elders.

“It’s nice to see these photos when we were young and healthy and not so wrinkly as were are now. Life was better than it is now,” said Felix Alaralak.

Another elder lamented the changing landscape and encroaching development.

Peter Irniq, the Commissioner of Nunavut, applauded Awa’s efforts and what they mean for future generations.

“This is important to give young people a past to give them strength in the future,” Irniq said.

Jack Anawak, the minister of Nunavut’s culture department, vowed to continue support for the project.

Photo archival projects in Nunavut are not new.

What’s different about Project Naming is the volume of archived material, and the door-to-door approach used to gather names.

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