Jaiden George is a photographer, writer and future Hereditary Chief from the Ahousaht First Nation. With support from NEDC, he has taken his freelance business and artistic practice to new heights.
Growing up in Tofino, Jaiden George never got into surfing. He was always an artistic kid. Always drawing and writing. Always carrying books. Fast forward to today and the Emily Carr graduate runs his own commercial photography business and is working towards his first solo show, centring Indigenous voices and worldviews at the core of his craft.
While he wasn’t immersed in his Nuu-chah-nulth culture as a child, a documentary project about deforestation and deglaciation on Vancouver Island, which he began in Grade 12, inspired Jaiden to reconnect with the cultural stories and teachings of his nation. His ongoing project, Staging Nature, gives a complex view of the natural world as it is shaped and defined by human interpretation.
“I’m really interested in metamorphosis, the process by which something that exists out in the world is transformed in the process of our seeing of it, in our narrativizing of it, our reinterpretation of it into something else entirely,” he shares via zoom from his home studio in Kitsilano
When he was 15 Jaiden picked up a camera for the first time for a trip to New Zealand. He bought his first professional camera in 2017. Initially thinking he’d become a National Geographic photographer, Jaiden’s transformative experience in Emily Carr’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography program altered his whole perspective on the medium.
“There’s two sides to the coin. There’s the commercial and the artistic. I’ll start with the artistic. Go to art school,” he advises aspiring photographers. “That’s the first thing. Don’t go to a technical school that’s going to teach you things that you can just google. There is no substitute or replacement for an education in the arts. It’s an extremely valuable route to go.”
“In terms of the commercial side of things, don’t undervalue yourself. When I was starting out I really didn’t know how to price my work. Reach out to other people in the industry and see what they charge and what they think is fair. Definitely don’t undersell yourself. And try not to be too picky when you’re starting out. Try different things and then find your niche.”
In addition to his solo work and projects for commercial photography clients, Jaiden is leading two projects with Maaqutusiss Hahoulthee Stewardship Society (MHSS), interviewing Elders and Knowledge Keepers. It is work near and dear to his heart and something both his father and grandfather have championed for decades.
“Commercially speaking, the things that I want to work on, and what I really try to focus on, are things that I feel directly benefit my community. I want my work to be meaningful. I think that’s what everyone’s goal pretty much is: doing work that they really feel is benefiting someone. And so, for me, this project is how I can do that.”
“I feel really grateful to have this opportunity. It’s not only a business thing for me. This is me learning. It’s super helpful for me to sit down with our elders and just learn about everything that they know; all of our cultural practices, dances, ceremonies, village sites and places of cultural importance, territorial boundaries, the composition and principles of our governance system, and things like that,” the hereditary chief-in-training shares.
“I’m really focusing on knowledge preservation so that our teachings can be passed down to future generations, because a lot of it is at risk due to colonization and intergenerational trauma,” he says.
Careerwise, Jaiden’s next goals are to have his first solo show and to find gallery representation, building the foundation for a long-term career in the arts. He credits the loan program he received from NEDC as the catalyst he needed to get his freelance business off the ground.
“That’s the one thing about photography (and videography too). It’s not cheap when you’re starting out. I was working with a camera that just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. I needed to upgrade. I needed a reliable computer. I needed hard drives. I needed a proper backpack to carry everything. There was marketing and a website domain and all that stuff. It really adds up.”
“I couldn’t have done it without NEDC,” he says.
Jaiden’s work reveals a philosophy that photography does not copy nature, but metamorphosizes it. He shows how we as humans metamorphosize – change – nature, exploring how his own Nuu-chah-nulth culture, among other viewpoints, symbolize and mythologize the land, waters and animals.
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