I first came across the photography of Nadya Kwandibens when I was scouting for artists for Red Ink Magazine (left). The issue was going to focus on the loose idea that a Native pop cultural movement was occurring, and we wanted to infuse the issue with visuals that would capture the energy behind this idea. Nadya's work was a perfect match. It was bright. It was contemporary. And it was distinctively 'Indian.'
Over the years, her work has matured. Her recent portraits are calm, inviting. In the images below you will see her patience for capturing the perfect moment: anticipating movements, hitting the beat, snapping at the right second.
Kwandibens is Ojibwe/Anishinaabe from the North West Angle #37 First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. She owns a photography company called Red Works Studio. But if you're looking for a physical 'studio' space, you'll have to first nail down Nadya. Her studio as it is now is all around her, everywhere she travels. And she travels a good deal - for photo-shoot tours, event coverage and concert photography.
The fact that she has been consistently shooting amazing photographs for the past 5 years that I've known her tells me that she's one of the most important First Nations/Native American photographers working today. So, keep your eyes on this one.
When and why did you get into photography?
I started shooting 11 years ago during enrollment in college for Film Production; I never completed studies there, but the photography courses stuck with me. It was a hobby for about 6 years; I photographed my travels and random daily life observations. I became serious about it though in the Summer of 2006 when I had my first portraiture session while living in Arizona. I was nervous, and looking back on it now I wish I had taken my time, rather than shooting as quickly as I did.
Timing is everything; photography has taught me a lot in the past 5 years since that first session. I'm both honoured and humbled knowing that the portraits make people feel proud to be Indigenous. That's been my focus from the very beginning after writing my Artist/ Vision Statement 6 years ago. It feels good knowing that through art, alongside many other amazing Indigenous artists, I'm doing my part to empower and inspire others. I like to think of my photography and craft as holding up a mirror and showing everyone how beautiful our People are.
What do you like to photograph?
The improvised one-on-one portrait, preferably outdoors in available natural light. I love when the person or group feels comfortable and is able to relax and be themselves in front of a lens. A lot of people think I work with models, I rarely do, so shooting in familiar places is important to help people feel relaxed. Portraiture is mainly about relating to and connecting with people, and the rest is improvisation: watching how light and shadows play on a subject, then creatively applying one's vision through technical skill in any situation. I love the challenge of shooting improv. It keeps me on my toes.
And I love the energy of a good concert, especially if the stage lighting is good and I'm in a good spot to shoot from. It's a challenge because you have to really watch for changes in light, and how a performer moves and works the stage. I anticipate where a performer will be on stage by carefully watching how they move, and by shooting with both eyes open. And another trick I always keep in mind when shooting live music/concerts, especially guitarists, is to anticipate and be ready for those seconds when the song is ending to capture the musician/ crowd reaction.
What is your favorite quote or life motto?
I've memorized my Artist Statment and constantly draw from it for re-inspiration: "We, as Indigenous people, are often portrayed in history books as Nations once great; in museums as Nations frozen stoic; in the media as Nations forever troubled. These images can be despairing; however, my goal seeks to steer the positive course. If our history is a shadow, let this moment serve as light. We are musicians, lawyers, doctors, mothers and sons. We are activists, scholars, dreamers, fathers and daughters. Let us claim ourselves now and see that we are, and will always be great, thriving, balanced civilizations capable of carrying ourselves into that bright new day."
You can find Nadya at her main website by clicking here. You can also find Red Works Studio on Facebook and YouTube, and you can also follow her on Twitter.