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Untold storytelling

By Amy Kenny

Photos by GBP Creative

When Brianne Bremner got the email from the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition (YAPC), asking for her company, GBP Creative, to shoot a portrait series, she didn’t hesitate. 

“This is one of those jobs, where as soon as we got the email, without looking at the schedule, we were like ‘yep, we will make it work,’” says Brianne, GBP’s creative director. 

That’s because the series was aimed at highlighting the untold experiences of seven Yukoners, each of whom had a story to tell—about the stigma around social assistance, what it’s like living in precarious housing, attending youth detention, managing post-traumatic stress, and more. 

“It’s absolutely just something we believe in,” says Brianne of herself and her husband and GBP photographer, Gary Bremner. “Anytime we can help share the stories of people who have experienced things like homelessness or poverty or food insecurity or all these things. Anytime we can give voice to that and let the general population know what others are dealing with, we think that’s really important.”  

The funding for the project came through the Yukon 125 Fund, which was given out this year to applicants whose projects “commemorate the anniversary of the Yukon becoming a territory, and honour Yukon’s communities, heritage and culture,” according to the Yukon Government website. 

Keitha Clark is the project coordinator with YAPC. She says YAPC applied to the fund to ensure stories were being told that might not otherwise have been reflected in the Yukon 125 celebrations.

“We wanted to encourage a diverse range of experiences and perspectives to highlight and think about as you reflect on the last 125 years, and look forward to what we want the Yukon to be for the next 125,” she says. 

The images, which are part of an exhibition opening at the Yukon Arts Centre on Oct. 6, show their subjects smiling. Looking strong. That was important, says Brianne.

“Especially with projects like this, when you’re dealing with potentially heavy material, it’s almost like the photo becomes a bit of a celebration for them,” says Brianne. “We didn’t want these photos to be sad or dreary … we want the photos to represent their resilience and their beauty.”

Clark says they achieved this by approaching the series collaboratively. It wasn’t about YAPC and GBP collecting stories and photos, and putting them out to the public. Everyone photographed was involved throughout the process. Gary and Brianne met with each person and just chatted for an hour before Gary got out his camera. Collaborators were able to look at the photos as Gary took them. One lady wanted to be photographed in shadow because, though she wanted to participate, she still felt there was stigma around her experience of social assistance. 

It was a balance, Gary says, of understanding that everyone wanted to share, and also respecting where they were at in terms of comfort levels around how they shared. His goal is always to empower people through their portraits, but he wanted to do that with their input. 

“Everybody reviewed their stories before going out and made edits, if needed, and changes as well,” says Clark. “And they’re very strong and powerful, but they’re strong and powerful, because they’re personal. We wanted to make sure that everybody felt comfortable with the stories that were being told, and knew fully how those stories are going to be out in the community.”

Together, they tell what it’s like to be a new immigrant in Canada, looking for affordable housing when you’re making minimum wage; to be from a First Nation and having to live in a wall tent because you can’t find a place to live on your own traditional territory; of struggling toward sobriety; of establishing an Accessibility Olympics after a car crash that changed your life.  

“We just want people to feel good about it in the end,” says Gary.  “You’re talking about some really difficult stuff but at least if you can get a photo that you’re proud of, it gives you that extra bit of energy to face that. It’s like the armour to kind of go out into the world.”

The exhibit runs October 6 to November 18, Monday to Friday (10AM-5PM).