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Respect your elders.

I grew up hearing this phrase. Sometimes I think it meant, “Do what I say because I’m older and that makes me the boss!” But recently I witnessed a wonderful example of what this phrase really intends.

I had the immense honour of being asked to create a portrait for each of the 24 elders of the Kwantlen First Nation.

Just hearing the term elder brings to mind wisdom, experience, value. And to honour the elders with a set of portraits communicates such value.

Setting up our photo gear in their meeting hall, we looked carefully at the many portraits of elders on display, some of them no longer with us. The images spoke to us of pride and history.

Once we had the lighting ready, we met our first elder. Friendly conversation helped them to relax and we learned so much. Some of them had lived on the reserve in Fort Langley since birth, others lived nearby and some came from the eastern Fraser Valley. They spoke proudly of their historical family names and connections to pioneers. The Kwantlen First Nation has about 250 members.

Every one of the elders we met was busy, active and inspiring. We met a carver, fisherman and a chef. We were surprised how many of the elders are actively involved in teaching about their culture in schools. Their joy and passion shone through.

Here are a few of the images from our shoot.

elder statesman of the Kwantlen First Nation
“Grandma” as she is known by all among the Kwantlen, is the widow of the former chief and the mother of the current chief. She has a gentle calmness and a look of authority. She is the matriarch of the band.
A proud teacher of young people, Natch teaches drumming and other aspects of the culture.
first nation fisherman
A commercial fisherman, this elder shared stories of his fishing experiences on the Fraser and the coast.
teacher of aboriginal culture
Karen brought a suitcase filled with artifacts that she uses when she teaches in the schools. Known for her sense of humour, children love learning with her.
Wes is a master carver and jewelry-maker, creating art small enough to fit on your finger or as large as a totem pole.
First Nation drummer
A drummer and member of the band council.
First Nations elder.
A chef, this joyful elder was excited to be heading to Montreal and New York for a visit with her family.
respect your elders
Standing tall as a member of the Kwantlen First nation.
A retired employee of the District of Langley, this elder shared stories of his ancestors in the area.

About the Photography

I was thankful that my friend Mel offered to work with me on this shoot. While I concentrated on details like exposure and composition, Mel engaged our subjects which is so important to helping them relax. During the shoot, he helped direct their attention and made adjustments to the lighting when necessary. Teamwork in action.

The lighting came from three off camera flashes. A strobe in a 3×2 ft soft box was the main source while a speed light balanced that light by lightening the shadows. A third light was used as a hair light. The backdrop was a large sheet of black fabric and it remained black as long as our lights did not spill onto it.

After receiving 4-5 images of each elder, the response from the band office was “The photos are beautiful! This is going to be so hard to pick!” It’s a response I’m always happy to hear.


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