Kahentinéhtha’ Horn’s portrait beside her daughters: Dr. Ojistoh Horn, Professor Kahente Horn-Miller, Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller and renowned screen star Kaniehtí:io Horn (see below) are on display at the Canada Council for the Arts gallery in a small but impressive show running through the summer. (Courtesy Christine Fitzgerald)
Walk into the Canada Council for the Arts building in Ottawa and a selection of works from Open Channels greats you transforming a basic foyer into a journey along the country’s three coasts.
Along that journey, visitors will see carvings, paintings, a video installation and a series of five portraits of a Kanien’kehá:ka family of women done in an antiquated photo process popular in the 19th century.
Artist Christine Fitzgerald shot Kahentinéhtha Horn and her four daughters Ojistoh, Kahente, Waneek and Kaniehtí:io using a large box camera and vintage lenses in a process called the wet collodion photographic process. The result is five plate prints of the doctor, academic, athlete, artist and matriarch activist from Kahnawake that grab the eye and tell a story through the images.
The time-consuming process to create the plates involves the subject and photographer being on the same page for a long period of time.
“The subject has to be a part of it, very much apart of it,” said Kahentinéhtha. “Today it’s all snap, snap, snap, snap. Well, in this type of procedure, the two subjects work together very close – spiritually and everything I find. It’s a long procedure.”
“Christine is so amazing,” said Kaniehtí:io. “You’re literally with her for half a day and she has to have a very awesome vibe.”
Fitzgerald explained that the process involves using aluminium made chemically sensitive to light minutes before it is used and placed in a modified old film sheet holder placed behind her large box camera.
When shooting the women, Fitzgerald set up a portable darkroom (an old fishing tent), and backdrop to produce the image, which always caused a problem or two.
“It was super windy that day (I shot Kahentinéhtha), and my backdrop kept falling even with heavy weights – plus it was cold,” said Fitzgerald, who has done hundreds of plates using the same process.
It’s never easy, she said.
“The backdrop eventually broke, so I stuck it to the side of the house and brought continuous fluorescent lights out, as I was losing my light. There is nothing easy about this process,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald and Kaneihtí:io met on the Canada C3 Expedition in 2017, and the two became fast friends.
“What struck me about her was that she spoke her mind and had a big heart,” said Fitzgerald.
Kaniehtí:io was the first subject, who introduced Fitzgerald to her mom an sisters. Each plate captures the Kahnawa’kehró:non woman’s distinct style and substance that becomes apparent the closer you look.
Kaniehtí:io said the process brought them together in both an artistic and scientific way.
“I feel like it was a process that they were all sort of interested in because it incorporated all of our interests,” said Kaniehtí:io. “I feel like they kind of got it. When they saw it, they were like, ‘Wow! That was an incredible process. I’m so glad that we got to see it.’”
“I was captivated and inspired by these five strong women and their culture,” said Fitzgerald, who recounted her shoot with Kaniehtí:io.
After a hot and humid day of shooting with nothing going the way it should, Fitzgerald did eight plates including the final one when she was losing essential and valuable light. Six hours of working in 30-Celsius heat, Fitzgerald was done.
Kahentinéhtha looked at the plates and told the artist the final one was the best.
“When I asked her why, she said that in the last plate, I was able to capture the ‘essence of what it means to be a Mohawk woman,’” said Fitzgerald. “Hearing that, I started crying and gave her a hug.”