The field for professional women photographers expanded substantially within the last century. Now, Native women are proving they are just as prolific and skillful as today’s top photographers across the world. We chat with Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) photographer Nadya Kwandibens about Red Works Photography and what her future plans look like.

Anishinaabe (Ojibwe)
Nadya Kwandibens’ is an artist and photographer who’s known for traveling and her striking portraiture. In October 2008, Kwandibens established Red Works Photography after photographing in Arizona, and in the same year developed her photography series Concrete Indians. After seven years of steadily traveling between Canada and the U.S., Kwandibens returned home to her Northwest Angle #37 First Nation to slow down and refocus on her business. Kwandibens is currently working on opening an artist retreat where she will have the opportunity to give back to the circle of artists who’ve supported and nurtured her talent and vision.

You’ve traveled the continent for years with your photography. Please explain your travels to us.
If you ask my friends they would say I’m a nomad; I’ve traveled quite steadily for seven years, devoting my energy and focus on Red Works Photography which was founded in October 2008. It’s been a remarkable and humbling experience having traveled for that long and I’m grateful I was able to do it but recently I decided that it’s time to slow down and refocus.

What are you currently working on?
I returned home to my First Nation last fall and now my goal is to open an artist retreat and invite artists to carry out workshops or presentations for Native youth in neighboring communities. The retreat is also a way for me to give back to the circle of artists who’ve all become friends over the years and to give back to those who’ve supported and nurtured my talent and vision. I hope to open the retreat early next year.

When did you first develop an interest in photography? When did you start taking it seriously?
I first picked up a camera while studying filmmaking. As part of my studies, taking a course in photography was obviously a requirement and it became a hobby for many years. It wasn’t until five years later that I realized it had become my main creative outlet. I started taking it seriously when I moved to Arizona, and in 2006 I began shooting portraiture sessions. From then on the opportunities to shoot just snowballed which led me to establish Red Works Photography and I’ve been shooting full-time, going on nine years.

Native women photographers are constantly overlooked, why do you think that is? Are you redefining that?
I’m not sure. I guess there’s that “old school” mentality that good photographers are men, specifically white men, behind those National Geographic features, behind those high-fashion magazine spreads. And we’ve all been subject to the imagery that white men produce, in that we’re constantly bombarded with the objectification of women. But I think that mentality is changing and I’m doing my part to shine a spotlight on what beauty means to me as a Native woman.

How do you capture Native beauty in your photography?
Beauty can be expressed and perceived in so many ways; what I think is beautiful may not be the same for you. Foremost, I think beauty is a trait that is expressed through confidence, a positive attitude, and in feeling proud of who you are. I see this beauty in the people I photograph because they exude such pride in being Native. During portrait sessions, I hear stories about what it means to be Native to a particular Nation or territory. My photography is about bringing those stories out and showing mainstream society just how beautifully complex, vibrant, and thriving we are as contemporary Native people.

Nadya Kwandibens was originally featured in the Native Women’s’ Issue. Purchase your copy here.


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