Zak Hajjaoui x Wendy Ewald x Eric Gottesman
They Used To Walk Here, Not Anymore
In the summer of 1969, then 18-year-old Wendy Ewald traveled to Sheshatshiu, an Innu reserve in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Ewald worked with Innu children to produce a provocative and intimate series of Polaroid photographs depicting life on the reserve as actually lived and experienced. Encouraged by Ewald to express themselves, the children produced pictures that challenged traditional notions of documentary photography and marked a transformational shift in how native people are presented and seen in photographs.
Concerned by the persistence of many of the challenges faced by the Innu, Wendy and fellow photographic artist Eric Gottesman returned to Labrador in 2007. Ewald and Gottesman displayed the 1969 photographs in the Innu National hall and started conversations with the community about what the pictures meant and what happened since they were taken. The artists began building an archive of Innu pictures and films made before and after 1969 and initiated a new project with young Sheshatshiu residents Zak Hajjaoui, Dakotah Free Snow and Philip Nuna.
Through photographs and writings, the three teenagers created a contemporary portrait of the same community, thirty-nine years later. Possessing an intimacy absent from depictions of Sheshatshiu in the media, these pictures were exhibited at the Labrador Interpretation Centre in nearby NorthWest River. With this project, Ewald and Gottesman engaged the Innu people not only in taking photographs, but in curating as well, leading to the creation of a layered, cross-generational, community-curated public installation and experience.
Hundreds of Innu people to see the exhibition and vote for their favorite images – the most well-attended Innu event the LIC had ever seen. Zak’s picture on this billboard received the most votes.
At that time, Zak wrote about his photographs:
"The kids forty years ago were more scared than we are today. What we did was take pictures of what tradition means to us. I think, “This is my home, where I live, where I always wanted to be.” To them, the reserve was so new that it wasn’t their home. So I think it was totally different between us.
Kids in the future will probably relate in the same way as me and Dakotah and Philip because this is our home too. Kids in a future Sheshatshiu will accept this place. So their pictures won’t be so different as ours. The biggest difference between our pictures and the ones taken in 1969 that I have noticed is that back then, they were taking more pictures of each other. For them at that time, it was more about sticking together. We took pictures of a lot of landscapes. Today, it is more about fighting for our land and making sure we keep what is ours. So we take pictures of landscapes so our kids can go back to life before the reserve, to the life that Ben Michel and Alex Andrew and their generation used to live, so we can start thinking about our own selves and not worry about anyone else.”