Pitseolak, Peter

Pitseolak, Peter

Cape Dorset


A camp leader, he recognized early that traditional inuit life was disappearing and strove to record its passing, writing diaries, notes and manuscripts, drawing Inuit customs and legends, and photographing the life around him. He took his first photograph in the 1930s for a white man who was afraid to approach a polar bear; and in the early 1940s, while living in Cape Dorset working for fur traders, he acquired a camera from a Catholic missionary. With help from his wife Aggeok, he developed his first pictures in a hunting igloo, using as a safelight a 3-battery flashlight covered with red cloth.

He photographed over a 20-year period, and after his death more than 1500 negatives, images increasingly valued as an insider's record of the final moments of Inuit camp life, were purchased from his widow for the National Museums of Canada. A fine artist, he is credited too with Cape Dorset's earliest contemporary works on paper: watercolour drawings executed in 1939 for John N.S. Buchan, later 2nd Baron Tweedsmuir, at the time a fur trader with the Hudson's Bay Co. Shortly before his death, Pitseolak put down in Inuit syllabics the story of his early life (published in 1975 as People from Our Side, with oral biography by D. Eber) and an account of near disaster among the ice floes

(published in 1977 as Peter Pitseolak's Escape from Death, D. Eber, ed).

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