Peter Pitseolak

Peter Pitseolak was a photographer and artist based out of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU whose work focused on documenting the way of life of the people in his community. He produced an astounding portfolio of photographs from the 1940s to 1970s. Apart from photography the scope of his work included drawing, sculpting, watercolour painting and historical documentation using tape recordings, diaries and manuscripts.

Pitseolak took his first picture with a visitor’s camera and he purchased his first camera in 1939 while working for the Baffin Trading Company [1]. Pitseolak would come to own six cameras over his lifetime and would take thousands of photographs. He was a self-taught photographer experimenting with improved methods to develop photographs and was often sought out by others to learn his techniques [2].
Pitseolak’s photographic subjects were chosen with consideration for the future of his community. His aim was to record Inuit culture as he knew it so knowledge could be passed down to following generations [3]. Pitseolak’s photographic work has been distinguished into three periods in which he first captured images of daily life on the land and camp life, then shifted towards portraiture as a result of becoming hospitalized, and finally focused on composing scenes that conveyed Inuit traditional knowledge and stories [4]. Many of these photographs would become templates for his drawings, which he began producing around the same period.

Pitseolak documented the experiences of his family and community during a period of social change for Inuit living on the land to relocation in permanent settlements. His body of work stands in contrast to that of Euro-Canadian settlers that had attempted to document Inuit ways of life. Following his death his collection of over 2,000 negatives were placed on loan to the McCord Museum, Montreal, QC [5]. Two autobiographical novels were subsequently published about him, People From Our Side (1975) and Peter Pitseolak’s Escape From Death (1977). The Peter Pitseolak High School that was located in Kinngait, NU was also named after him.

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Accomplishments

1955: Appointed foreman of the crew organized to carve the Mace of the Northwest Territories.
1982: An Inuktitut film, “Peter Pitseolak: The Man Who Made Pictures," was produced by the National Film Board’s Multimedia Department. The English version of this film won the 1981 Award of Excellence from the Amtec Media Festival.



Citations/Footnotes

1. Peter Pitseolak and Dorothy Eber, People From Our Side: A Life Story With Photographs, (Montreal: McGill-Queen's Press, 1993), 12.
2.Ibid.
3.Ibid, 15.
4. Amy Adams, “Arctic and Inuit Photography Part Two: Through the Looking Glass”, Inuit Art Quarterly 15, no. 3 (Fall 2000): 13.
5.Ibid, 18.