A Lens on Culture

By: Andréa Ledding December, 2019

A local photographer is helping kids build their self- esteem and achieve wellness through connecting to culture.

Dre Erwin is a photographer who knows first-hand the potential for the camera to save lives. He was at the lowest point after a traumatic divorce when he reached for his camera. He credits it with being beyond therapeutic. Now he has the whole community of Pinehouse, participating in a life-giving lens on culture and wellness.

“For me [photography] was a wake-up call, I was focusing too much on the negativity when there’s too much to be thankful for,” says Erwin. “It gave me hope, focus and direction and also courage. Courage to take on things that I normally wouldn’t.”

This awakening was what inspired his move to Pinehouse as a primary caregiver. A chance encounter with the northern lights while letting his dog out, began his pursuit of night photographs, which he began sharing on Facebook. When youth began asking him to take types of photos, the program began to grow in popularity.

“They were telling me how it helps with depression and anxiety, mental health, addictions...an escape from the pain they’re going through,” he says.  Photography saved my life and it’s helping them and can help more people — all by focusing on the good in life.”

With a studio, a full-time employee, and eight computers and printers, the Pinehouse Photography Club work with over 300 kids a month.

Thanks to funding from SaskCulture’s Métis Cultural Development Fund, the Pinehouse Annual Elder’s Gathering, held June 16 to 21, 2019, was able to engage over 150 youth in learning photography at an event. This program was a highlight.

“They had shirts, ID, cameras, and they walked around for an entire week taking pictures of Elders, dancing, music,” says Erwin. “Kids that normally wouldn’t have cared are encouraged to take part in these events as a photographer. So now hiding behind a camera watching and seeing this, and getting community members celebrating what they’re doing, increases their self-esteem.”

Erwin explains further that while the youth were learning from Elders, and recording memories, they are also doing something for their community, understanding what it feels like to help others, and gaining understanding of their culture, community, traditions and teachings.

“They’re preserving those memories and showcasing them, enlarging pictures and doing presentations, and we’re wanting to put a book together with some of their work as well as stories of Elders and traditional practices.”

The club has expanded to Beauval, the Pinehouse Mental Health and Addictions Treatment Centre, and is duplicatable across the country.

“We’re looking at the good in life instead of always focusing on the bad. As they’re looking through the lens they’re seeing life in a new way on a day to day basis. The buds, the sunrises and sunsets: such an important part of mental health is prevention. Photography is just one tool they can use.”

Erwin hopes to continue to expand, capture culture and landscape and lives through their lenses, and publish their work in bookform.

“All these kids need to feel they’re part of a community — photography connects them to their own culture. It gets them out of the house and into a group that’s supportive and focuses on their traditional aspects and how being a part of the community and your culture makes you feel better about yourself.”