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Barry Pottle

Through the camera’s lens, Pottle showcases the uniqueness of Inuit life in Ottawa.

Blue tinted photo of a ski-doo covered in frost

Barry Pottle. Idle No More, 2011. pigment inkjet photograph, Overall: 46.1 × 61 cm. Purchase, with funds from the Joan Chalmers Inuit Art Fund, 2021.   © Barry Pottle. 2020/128.

Barry Pottle is an Inuk artist originally from Nunatsiavut in Labrador (Rigolet), now living in Ottawa, Ontario. Pottle has always been interested in photography as a medium of artistic expression and as a way of exploring the world around him. Living in Ottawa, which has the largest urban population of Inuit outside the North, Pottle has been able to stay connected to the greater Inuit community. Through the camera lens, Pottle showcases the uniqueness of this community. Whether it is at a cultural gathering, family outings or the solitude of nature that photography allows, he captures the essence of Inuit life in Ottawa.

"My art practice focusses on urban Inuit realities, events, history, cultural awareness and activities of Inuit living in Ottawa and Gatineau area (and beyond)," says Pottle. "Whether it's at a political, social or cultural event, community feasts, celebrations or the adversity we are all facing these days. I try to capture what is taking place in and beyond the Ottawa Inuit community. Whether it’s at a community feast, celebration or adversity facing us all, my artwork speaks to the development of Inuit Art Photography, a new canon so to speak (within the world of Inuit Art). The camera allows me to explore space, connection and continuity with my heritage, culture and realities, especially contemporary realities."

Photograph of hands slicing pieces of whale fat
Barry Pottle, Starting the Feast, 2012. Digital Photograph.

AGO: Tell us about a place or a space where you most love making art?
Pottle: I love being out and about, whether it's in the city, in the country or in the community, when it comes to making my artwork, I am outside a lot. I don’t do a lot of studio work per say, although I tried it, it's not my part of my practice at the moment. Urban Inuit iconography is my theme, my bread and butter, but in reality, it's impossible to be one hundred percent devoted to the theme all the time. At times, life, circumstances and activities circumnavigate my practice. I can’t always be taking photos of my fellow Inuit. People don’t like it or don’t want their photos taken all the time and although I am a community member, I still have to respect people’s wishes.

In order to grow and expand my art practice, I try to find themes, ideas and objects that are of interest to me. From a photographic perspective, all things interest me, so in that sense, I am always taking pictures because I never know what will or won’t work. This approach allows me to practice, and as a self-taught artist, its allows me to hone my skills and keep an eye towards the creation of future artwork. I have come to respect and appreciate the artistic process from conceptualization to printing and I thoroughly enjoy it. It allows me to go beyond my community and to grow as an artist. That is reflected in my images and the audience they are finding.

Photograph of colourful stacks of COVID face masks
Barry Pottle, My COVID colours ( work in progress), 2020. Masks by Cindy Hamby, Ottawa.

AGO: Are you in dialogue with any other artists or creative peers about your practice? If so, how does this dialogue feed your work?
Pottle: In a nutshell, no. At times I do converse with other artists about their creative processes and how it affects/effects my work. But for the most part it's just me, creating, exploring, generating ideas, concepts, projects and art. When I do have the opportunity, I will engage other artists about their practice, to see who is doing what, when, where and why. There are photographers/artists who both inspire and encourage me in my art practice, including David Kilabuk, Greg Staats, Ryan Winters, Jenny Williams, Eldred Allen, Jeff Thomas, Heather Campbell, Derrick Pottle, Ray Mackey and Ned Pratt just to name a few. When there is an opportunity to meet other artists face to face then of course there is engagement. These days (COVID realities) with social media being the norm for networking, connecting and dialogue, and where engagement takes place through social wiring (internet), it does not replace the need for social interactions and the feeling of togetherness. At this point, I am not very active in seeking out dialogues with my contemporaries. As I look at other artists’ work, I feel I am among my peers - despite being at a distance. However, when one is trying to develop a new approach, you're alone at times.

Follow Barry @urban.inuit613

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