Photographic exhibit showcases challenges of habitat for both humans and wildlife
Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter | firstname.lastname@example.org
A trigger warning might be necessary for “HABITUATE, ACCLIMATE,” the newest travelling exhibit to appear at Habitat for the Arts.
Half of the display depicts a wolf that has been “euthanized,” the euphemism used when an animal is killed because it has become a danger after growing accustomed to human food.
That’s the end result of habituation, and it isn’t a pleasant reality.
Photographer Nahanni McKay, who was a Parks Canada campground attendant at Two Jack Lake in 2016, said that everybody knew about the ongoing systemic problem with the wolfpacks that summer. Campers were repeatedly warned about clean campsites. One mother wolf had become habituated to human food, and its actions eventually crossed the threshold of being too bold.
However, the shot that Parks personnel took wasn’t a clean hit, and the wolf retreated out of range. Several days passed before it was located still alive. McKay was there with her camera for the moment.
She describes the experience as traumatizing and emotionally problematic in other ways too.
“I felt anger,” she said, offering how she turned on her artistic self to channel her response into something positive. “I wanted to do something about it, or for it, or just to release my energy and my thoughts on the whole process of how we at Parks, especially the minimal jobs campground attendants handled it.”
“I just did the project, and the response from it was really good, I want to say,” she added. “It’s just other people feel the same way, and it feels like it’s taboo that we’re not supposed to be, ‘Oh, Parks Canada is doing so great for wildlife or whatever.’ In reality, it’s like, everyone can be doing better for it.”
Her photographic series called “Loop 14” shows the animal’s last breaths. She pointed her camera into the wolf’s eyes. She looked deeply into its thick fur, closer than any human could if there wasn’t mortality involved. She showed it sprawled out on the snow, legs splayed out as if it was a rug in front of a trophy hunter’s fireplace.
To her, it was an important way of honouring the animal.
“There’s a spirit in the forest, I want to say. The wolf was that spirit at that time,” she said.
The images are in stark contrast to the human activity in the second half of the show.
The exhibit was co-created by Liam Kavanagh-Bradette, whose photographic essays take a view to the far north where human habitation is an excellent example of a resource-intensive venture. His “Arctic Sea Lift” series turns a lens to how the Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping company spends the summer shipping everything from building materials to food, from vehicles to fuel to communities that have come to rely on these extraordinary measures in order to continue their survival.
At the same time, he also photographed the industries of those communities and how they have had an impact on the environment.
The work began earlier in his life when his mother was a teacher in the north.
“I had the opportunity to go up, which is how I realized that was how the communities were surviving… how they were aligned with these shipments,” he said.
“A lot of my work focuses on where the economy, environment and humans intersect.”
The scarcity of supplies means that basic groceries have become exorbitantly expensive. A jug of milk can cost upwards of $15.
“It’s really complicated. Diapers, lettuce, all of that… it’s just insane. It’s tricky because a lot of the people who live in these communities up north aren’t necessarily from those areas.”
He offered the story of a community called Hall Beach on a northeastern peninsula of Nunavut, which exists because of government work related to the DEW Line.
“These were communities where people would spend summers at. They wouldn’t live there year-round. Because of Canadian government policy, these have become permanent settlements. They’re not necessarily sustainable. The world that we live in nowadays, people are not reliant on these groceries and these conveniences… these aspects of modern life.”
His work shows images including one of a team unloading a shipment of boxes of disposable diapers. Another depicts a short row of new vehicles atop a ship, an iceberg not too far off in the distance.
“HABITUATE, ACCLIMATE” is part of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts’ Travelling Exhibition program. It will remain on display at the Habitat for the Arts until Monday, Aug. 15.