Indigenous photographer shines

On Sept. 30, during the second annual day for Truth and Reconciliation, a portrait project several years in the making will be put on display at The Vault Cultural Collective.

Ramsey Kunkel, an indigenous photographer currently residing in Strathmore, will be displaying 15 images with The Vault for his Alberta Portrait Project.

“I’ve been doing it for about five years now … and I finally reached a point and part of the project that I feel I have enough to show,” said Kunkel, who explained the project was inspired following the passing of his father as a desire to reflect upon his life, as well as Kunkel’s experiences growing up.

“Thinking about all the important experiences growing up and the people who influenced me and how I came to be a photographer, I wanted to capture that,” said Kunkel. “I stated thinking how I would want to capture all the people who I grew up around, looking at thinking out whether they were neighbours or people who I saw on TV or during my travels to other parts of the province.”

Kunkel reflected on his journey so far in a positive light, explaining connections between the project photographs would be made by a viewer expressing knowledge and kinship to somebody they recognized in one of Kunkel’s images.

As the focus group for the project is Albertans, Kunkel said he was interested to see people make connections through his images.

“I started photographing all these people and from folks who came in to see these different photographs, a large percentage knew somebody and had a story to tell about one of the people in the photographs,” said Kunkel. “It’s such a small focus group within Alberta’s boundaries and so there is a good chance that somebody is going to know somebody. It has been an awesome journey.”

Kunkel added the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge to continuing the project and dramatically slowed his ability to schedule and organize photoshoots.

Over the course of the project, he said he is excited to have had the opportunity to meet so many people and learn about their stories.

“It has been an interesting story because you meet all these amazing people with all these amazing stories and some you really connect to or some you learn have only been a small part of your life,” said Kunkel. “I hope that this project is going to continue as a lifetime project and the scope is going to be bigger. It’s going to be a couple more years until I think I’m going to have an entire collection big enough to do something on a larger scale.”

Kunkel will be at The Vault on Sept. 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to discuss his work with visitors and for folks to drop in and check out the project.

John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times