VCUN on the Anthropological World Wide Web

Because I don’t ever seem to learn my lesson, I agreed to a few other blog posts on various anthropological outlets. As we are just home from the field, I have had the high rise and matters of making visual on my mind. I started off with a process piece over on the blog Savage Minds. It was a chance to write out what it is like to work together without eclipsing the other’s modalities. Next, I was invited to write as part of a ‘literary experiments in ethnography’ series on the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography’s website. Taking advantage of having just been in the field with Gen, an astute fiction writer, I decided to craft a short piece of ethnographic ‘faction’ (it is a word) using both of our observations from the High Rise elevator. I called it Going Up. See what you think!



High Rise Diaries: Inside Out

As solstice approached our ideas about the project have taken some experimental turns. Could be the sunlight, could be the result of being surrounded by the equipment, but we decided to use an extra Go Pro camera we have to film the interior of our apartment for 24 hours. In the past, I have done life history interviews with tenants of this lone High Rise tower. Once our research license comes through, we will do more. Visually, as it stands, our focus has been on the exterior of the building. Now we are considering what are the possibilities of turning things inward.  We are cognizant of the ‘surveillance-y’ feeling of such a move, so we subjected ourselves to the experiment first. We wanted to see what it gives in terms of product and process. Continue reading

High Rise Diaries: Safety First

Now knowing that our roof installed cameras can work and that their output is significantly interesting to our anthropological and artistic investments, Jesse set about building new cases for the next round of data collection. The cases we have for the cameras need a  few adjustments to work in this climate. Our test models were mounted on wood that cracked, so we had to opt for a different base. The case has a single hole that needed to be filled with epoxy to keep snow and water and out. Battery powered cameras are not an option given that at about -20 celsius they expand and explode. We are running electricity to the cameras via extension cables that line the roof. Jesse drilled holes for power cables and Gen installed them with a water tight connecter.  The apartment, covered in tools and equipment, looked like an episode of the Red Green show (Canadian joke).

Continue reading

High Rise Diaries: Testing, Testing

For this project we have come north four times. First Jesse and I came to do some specific images of the tower and other northern housing types. We also started to think about what kinds of spaces/ locations would be interesting for the bulk of the new work. Last year, I came up for the summer to do the dual anthropological thing: hang out. Then in December Jesse and Tori came up to figure out the logistics of where we wanted (and were able) to install cameras and how to keep them running in -40 temperatures. I also wanted them to have a chance to orient to the community without my incessant filter. They spent the bulk of their time fiddling with equipment in a cramped hotel room and working quickly when they went outside. They made several tests and as a team we had to talk about what was anthropologically interesting and what was artistically interesting. These aren’t one in the same always. This has been the subject of a perhaps impossible to solve conversation that Jesse and I like to have both in theory but in this practice of image/anthro making.

Continue reading

High Rise Diaries: Local Expertise

I’ve always known that anthropology projects depend on the help of local people. What is becoming very clear on this short field trip is that artistic projects equally depend on the talents and kindness of others. Our first full day ‘on the ground’ (or up in the air) was spent catching up with and getting input from some key people. We started at the local branch of the community college. The director Ken is a life long resident of the NWT and has been the source of countless conversations that have shaped how I think and write. When we conceived of the project, we asked Ken to be a community collaborator as I knew I would be soliciting his input regularly. As the former mayor, he always knows who is who and what is where. Ken trained in anthropology at Princeton and is always keen to humour side conversations on Levi Strauss. Continue reading

High Rise Diaries: Arrival Tropes

Our team met up in Vancouver to make the trip North. Jesse and Gen came up from southern California and I took the ferry from Victoria where I was attending a conference. We were loaded down with three push carts worth of luggage. Most of it is camera equipment, but my shoe addiction didn’t help matters. We flew through Edmonton and on to Yellowknife on West Jet. When I first lived in the North (2003), there were fewer air carriers that flew this route. The price has come down substantially and we had far more options than I was used to.  Once in Yellowknife we took the requisite airport Polar Bear photo, although Jesse put an infrastructural spin on it. This prompted a bit of a series of polar bear/ infrastructure images.


Continue reading

High Rise Diaries


Hello from the top of the High Rise,

We are happy to be back in Hay River. I’m Lindsay Bell, a former NWT teacher turned professor of anthropology. I now live in Syracuse, New York and teach at SUNY, Oswego, the second snowiest campus in the United States. I can’t seem to leave cold and snow behind. I’m here with my collaborator Jesse Colin Jackson. Jesse is an artist and professor at the University of California, Irvine. Together with our research team we are creating a visual story about northern life in larger, semi-urban communities. Our first case study is Hay River.

Hay River is where road, railway and river converge. It is important node in global networks of resource extraction and trade that pre-date the infrastructure it is now known for.  The South Slavey Dene people used the mouth of the river as a fish camp, their catch an important currency long before the onset of colonialism. The waterways and bush trails provided the avenues for interregional trade and celebration. We chose Hay River, in part, because it is the community I know best. You can read more about my connection to the community under the BIOS tab.

Our project involves creating a series of images, primarily of the downtown area and the High Rise. You might be asking why? Part of the answer is Jesse (and our other artist collaborator Tori Foster) are experts in making images of urban cities like Toronto, Los Angeles and Beijing. They have a series of techniques that fascinate me. I wondered about what would happen if we tested those techniques in a not-so-conventional urban-ish place like Hay River?

A lot of good research and image-work on the north has focused on remote or rural communities. For some great examples of research by Indigenous scholars see the work of Crystal Fraser and Zoe Todd in the Beaufort Delta and many other community based leaders and researchers across the NWT. In the image department, the most widely circulated pictures are usually of northern lights or snowy landscapes. These are important to the larger portrait of what the north is like. We are hoping to contribute to this picture by focusing on the semi-urban communities that are important nodes in global networks of trade and production as well as the diverse people that call the North home either for a few weeks or for time immemorial.

The project involves creating a series of images, primarily of the downtown area and the High Rise. We are using a set image techniques in combination with my writing to show how internal and external forces (local demands for better infrastructure and the push for/against resource development) leave their mark on communities over time. We are also interested in showing how people experience connections to place in semi-urban communities. The project involves collecting the stories of those who currently live, or have ever lived in the High Rise. In my previous research, I spent a year in the High Rise and collected a number of stories. They are the basis of a book I am writing. The finished images will be shown in art galleries across North America and here in the community.

Why Visualizing Canada’s Urban North? Many Canadians say that they are concerned about the future of the north, but few will ever visit or call the north home. Instead, they rely on media stories, novels, and images to put together an understanding of what it means to call the north home, whether for centuries or even for a short time. National public culture is increasingly visual. Images are snapped and circulated on social media and across different channels faster than ever before. With more people dependent on images to learn about contemporary issues in the north, it is important we have a thoughtful, diverse range of ways of ‘seeing’ the North. We are looking forward to learning how you see it as best we can. We will be posting on this blog page each day as we prepare to collect image-data for the coming year. We are aiming to have our documentation begin on Aboriginal Day, June 21 and run to winter solstice when we return.

Mackenzie Place Test Time-lapses | December 2014

Two Week Test Time-lapse, Facing East

43198 frames, beginning at 00:00:13 on December 4, 2014, ending at 23:59:37 on December 18, 2014.


Two Week Test Time-lapse, Facing South

43198 frames, beginning at 00:00:26 on December 4, 2014, ending at 23:59:50 on December 18, 2014.

A excerpt from the above in which the camera lens is temporarily blocked with snow.