As part of Capture Photography Festival this month, North Vancouver photographer Alana Paterson will have images from her photo series “Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation Basketball” on display at The Polygon Gallery (exhibition opens Saturday April 13) as well as the Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain station. We had the opportunity to ask her some questions about this empowering series.
Jeff Hamada: I know you grew up skateboarding, but you strike me as someone who played lots of sports, did you?
Alana Paterson: I was definitely an active kid. I was mostly into less structured things though, I never really got into team sports. I did karate for years and years (I’m a blue belt technically lol), I was on the swim team, I liked scuba diving and skiing but yes, skateboarding was the one that took the cake. By the time I was in high school there was a clear line drawn between the skateboarders and the sports team kids and I knew which side of the line I was on. That was in the late 90’s though, I don’t think that division exists in the same capacity anymore. The girls on the team would show up to practice with skateboards all the time.
JH: What did you want to be when you grew up?
AP: Once I told my mom I wanted to have a road side stand like the people on salt spring island…so my ambitions were not super high apparently.
JH: Can you remember the first photo you took that you were really proud of?
AP: Hm thats a tough thing cause I think I’m proud of one but then a couple years later I take a way better one and then I’m like nahh now I’m feeling proud that was just kid stuff back then.
JH: Are you still mostly shooting with your F100? Do you shoot film for things like The New York Times stories?
AP: I still shoot with f100’s all the time. This show at the Polygon was shot on one. I haven’t got to shoot film for NYT yet though, the stories usually have a pretty tight turn around time so, so far it hasn’t really been possible.
JH: In what ways has your approach to photography changed over the years?
AP: It definitely has, at some point I found myself taking photos for the algorithm… this was actually before the algorithm existed but you know what I mean. I was not making meaningful work and I stepped back and was like… if this is photography to you, then you’re not going to be a photographer much longer. So I re-evaluated who I was taking photos for and started looking at people’s work I admired and who were getting jobs I wanted and moved forward from there.
JH: Tell me about this Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation Basketball project, what does the series mean to you?
AP: This was originally a project that Justine Sobell, the sports co-ordinator for the Squamish Nation, asked me if I would want to come down and shoot. She had seen the project I did on female hockey players and thought it might be a good fit. She was looking for a way to keep her super awesome team of U13 girls basketball players engaged and excited. As young girls start to hit puberty they drop out of sports at a rate 6 times higher than boys. Keeping them going can be challenging but REALLY beneficial if they do. Justine thought showing them back to themselves as athletes was a great way to try and do that. We never really had any ultimate destination for the project just that we wanted to do it. Kate Henderson from Capture saw a preview of it on my instagram and asked if I would want to submit the project for the Stadium Skytrain panels and that worked out and then Polygon saw that and wanted to get involved and it all just kind of snowballed.
JH: When you’re photographing the subjects are you talking with any of them about things like representation?
AP: Justine and I talked about that at our initial meetings as well as with the coach, Wilson, who is an amazing guy. With the girls we just talked about what it means to be in front of a camera and how they would want to be portrayed. We decided on neutral expressions to look bad ass.
JH: How does it feel to know these images will not only be shown in The Polygon Gallery but also in the Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain station?
AP: Pretty wild! The girls are excited. But it also kind of makes me nervous. I never imagined these photos would end up in either of these places and being non-indigenous I had to think long and hard about whether I was making space or taking space. Initially Translink accepted two projects for stadium skytrain station, the hockey girls and the Junior all native basketball team. The hockey girls felt like a safer choice because there was no complicated national discussion surrounding them. But then I thought well thats pretty lame, you’re going to show the (predominantly) white hockey players again because discussing indigenous identity makes you uncomfortable… so I talked to the team and their coach and they were really excited about it and I spoke with a number of first nations artist and photographers about the work and they seemed to think there was a positive space for the work to exist so we went for it. Deep down it was this work I wanted to show and I’m glad we made that choice.
JH: What’s the most recent thing photography has taught you about yourself?
AP: That I can work and operate on fatigue and even still take decent photos. Ha!
JH: What’s next for you?
AP: Not sure actually, sort of wandering around looking for the next bolt of lightening to hit… or be invited to like this last one. Just going where the assignments take me at the moment. Those are fun. Like short term little practice projects in between the larger ones.