Photography

Enclosing Some Snapshots

PAUL SEESEQUASIS

James Brady’s life (1908–1968) is intrinsically linked to the history and politics of Métis communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Known primarily as a political activist, along with his lifelong comrade Malcolm Norris, there was another side to Brady that is less known—his penchant for taking photographs.

Covering four decades, it is questionable whether Brady ever considered these photographs to be a “record” but, intentionally or not, that is what they now are. From the Métis Settlements of Alberta in the 1930s, through the turbulent 1940s, and into the 1950s and 1960s, these images frame both individual and community Métis and Cree life in Alberta and Saskatchewan. They are also photographic evidence of Brady’s deep attachment and commitment to the dignity and rights of Métis peoples at a time of impoverishment and denial of rights by provincial and federal governments.

In selecting these photographs from hundreds, my desire is to give the viewer a grasp of the extent of Brady’s travels, his activism and his relationships, both political and personal, with the many Métis and Cree communities he visited. For the exhibition’s title, Enclosing Some Snapshots, I am indebted to Métis scholar and artist Dr. Sherry Farrell-Racette who also saw the value in these images and wrote about them in “‘Enclosing Some Snapshots’: James Patrick Brady, Photography, and Political Activism” in the journal History of Photography.

Brady was not a trained photographer, but I believe this exhibition does justice to his “eye” and his ability to convey the dignity and resilience of Métis and Cree life and people, through even the most trying of times. There is a beauty here that is reflected back to the viewer and captures Brady’s passion over the course of four decades.

—Paul Seesequasis, Curator

These images are part of the first ever exhibition of James Brady’s photographs, which are held at the Glenbow Museum collections in Calgary. The exhibition was scheduled to launch in March 2020, but was delayed due to COVID-19. Supporting text was provided by the Glenbow Museum. The exhibition was curated by Paul Seesequasis.


1930s

The 1930s were formative years for James Brady. During this decade he joined the new Métis Association of Alberta along with fellow political leader and activist, Malcolm Norris, which began a lifelong friendship and commitment to socialist politics. Brady was fully immersed in organizing and advocating for the Métis Settlements in Alberta—activities in which he quickly learned of the duplicity and disregard of various levels of government toward the rights of the Métis. Brady’s photos of this period capture this political activity as well as family gatherings, even parties.


1940s

As was his wont, Brady wore many hats during this decade: unpaid community organizer, paid supervisor, negotiator and, finally, soldier. Brady moved to northern Saskatchewan (along with Malcolm Norris), where he travelled to many communities. By now Brady’s name was well known in the Métis and Cree communities he visited. In 1943 Brady joined the army, after initially being denied due to his Communist affiliations. He served in Holland, where he was injured twice.


1950s

After the Second World War, Brady was briefly in Alberta before moving back to northern Saskatchewan. He took on various supervisory jobs, working with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) government and, no doubt, his cynicism toward the provincial and federal governments increased greatly. Always a bush man, Brady also began to spend more time in the woods, often as a prospector and surveying guide. While his idealism was wavering, his photographic eye became more focused; it is in this decade and the 1960s that his skills with the camera and the art of portraiture matured.


1960s

Brady was a fixture in communities like Cumberland House and La Ronge, Saskatchewan. His reputation, on several levels, had become almost legendary in “NDN* country.” It is also at this time that his “snapshots” can be regarded as framing community history, such as candid portraiture of the women and men of settlements like Cumberland House. These images are a lasting photographic testament to Métis and Cree dignity and resilience that persisted, despite decades of impoverishment and racist government policies. In 1968, Brady, along with his friend Absolum Halkett, disappeared in the Foster Lake region of Saskatchewan. They were never found.

*“NDN” is self-referential slang widely used and understood in Indigenous communities; the term is a declaration of pride and solidarity among Indigenous people.

Tags
No items found.

PAUL SEESEQUASIS

Paul Seesequasis is a nîpisîhkopâwiyiniw (Willow Cree) writer, curator and journalist currently residing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. For three years he has curated the Indigenous Archival Photo Project, an online and physical exhibition of archival Indigenous photographs, that explores history, identity and the process of visual reclamation. His photo book, Blanket Toss under Midnight Sun, was published by Penguin Canada in spring 2019. His writings have appeared in the Globe and Mail, the Walrus, Brick and Granta magazines, among others. He has curated numerous photography exhibitions.


SUGGESTIONS FOR YOU

Photography
CONNIE KUHNS

I AM HERE

The self-focussed approach of social media is channelled into the vintage correspondence of "Wish You Were Here."

Photography
CHRISTINE HAGEMOEN

Latency

Photos of Vancouver Chinatown taken in 1956 by a mystery photographer and developed 50 years later.

Photography

Summer Snapshots

One summer I began taking pictures of people on the street surreptitiously, by holding the camera at my waist and aiming it at passersby when they were about six feet away.