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Picturing a People: George Johnston, Tlingit Photographer

Picturing a People: George Johnston, Tlingit Photographer

At the age of 16, George Johnston left the Yukon community of Teslin and trekked hundreds of miles overland to coastal Alaska in search of the history of his people. Johnston met with elders, learning as much as he could about the Tlingit religion and the songs and dances of his people.

A few years later, Johnston did something else that was quite extraordinary: after ordering a camera from a mail-order catalogue, he taught himself to use it and to develop and print his own photographs. The images he recorded--of special moments and everyday occasions--became a beacon to the young and a testament to the golden times of the Tlingit people.

Johnston's photos lovingly portray a sense of history and a zest for life. His work as a photographer in the period from 1920 to 1945 has long been recognized in the Native community, predating a generation of Indian and Inuit photographers. Today, as his photographs gain international recognition, the National Film Board of Canada has released a documentary directed by Carol Geddes, a clan relative of Johnston's. Picturing a People: George Johnston, Tlingit Photographer is a unique portrait of a man who was himself a creator of portraits and a keeper of his culture. Johnston cared deeply about the traditions of the Tlingit people, and he recorded a critical period in the history of the Tlingit nation. As Geddes says, his legacy was 'to help us dream the future as much as to remember the past.'

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