Tourism agency for Canada’s Northwest Territories says more work coming for local photographers

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A photo of the northern lights by Yellowknife-based photographer Angela Gzowski. The NWT Professional Media Association recently called on Outcrop Communications, the advertising agency NWT Tourism works with, to give northern photographers a clear shot at lucrative creative contracts. (Angela Gzowski)
Photographers in the Northwest Territories are hopeful the territory’s tourism agency will do more business with northern freelancers this year.

Northern photographers tell CBC that for years it’s been common for advertising agencies in the N.W.T. to contract out some of their freelance work to southern creative professionals.

The artists say hiring southern photographers could lead to higher costs, between travel and per diems.

The NWT Professional Media Association recently called on Outcrop Communications, the advertising agency NWT Tourism works with, to give northern photographers a clear shot at lucrative creative contracts.

‘We really don’t want to be fueling the fire during a time when there’s other stressful conversations going on,’ says Cathie Bolstad, chief executive of NWT Tourism. (Submitted by Cathie Bolstad)

NWT Tourism is a not-for-profit association that’s contracted by the territorial government to market the territory.

Its executive director, Cathie Bolstad, confirmed that in late 2018, NWT Tourism and its creative agency, Outcrop, met with the NWT Professional Media Association to talk about photographers’ concerns.

Pat Kane, a photographer and president of the NWT Professional Media Association, was at the meeting.

He told CBC he didn’t want to rehash the past, but said the meeting was productive.

Angela Gzowski is an award-winning northern photographer from Yellowknife. ‘We’re a smaller population, but it’s not for a lack of talent.’ (Submitted by Angela Gzowski)

“They admitted that in the past, they weren’t doing the best job of of reaching out to Northerners,” he said. “And so we just kind of put it out there that we have very capable talented people here.”

Shortly before that meeting, NWT Tourism issued its latest request for proposals to hire a creative agency for the next two years.

Outcrop, which has offices in all three territories, announced on Twitter in December that its contract with NWT Tourism was renewed for two years.

Bolstad said NWT Tourism avoids getting involved in Outcrop’s regular operations, but noted that both NWT Tourism and Outcrop are committed to making sure Northern artists are considered for their next large video or photo contract.

She said they work closely with northern creative professionals, such as the many employees at Outcrop.

‘Turning over new leaf’

Hay River photographer Scott Clouthier said the fall meeting marked a shift.

“We’re turning over a new leaf,” he said. “I’m pretty hopeful.”

Yellowknife photographer Angela Gzowski has shot for Canadian Geographic and Parks Canada.

She said northern photographers have scouted locations, have experience shooting in -40 C weather, and don’t have a limited timeframe for shooting fickle subjects, such as the northern lights.

“If you’re flying somebody in from the States … they’re not used to having their batteries die in -30,” she said.

“We’re a smaller population, but it’s not for a lack of talent.”

Non-profit tough to crack

The information about what happened this fall offers a glimpse into how the government-funded NWT Tourism operates.

NWT Tourism gets money from the territorial government, the federal Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, and from the tourism industry. However, because NWT Tourism is an independent non-profit, it’s not required to make the details of its requests for proposals public.

Outcrop declined an interview, citing the terms of its contract with NWT Tourism.

“That being said,” Outcrop CEO Jen Hayward wrote in an email, “we remain committed to ensuring the work we have the privilege of doing, is done in the North by northerners.”

Pat Kane, shooting for Reuters, took this photo of Stanley Ferdinand in Deline, N.W.T. Kane is also the president of the NWT Professional Media Association. (Pat Kane/Reuters)
Similar concerns in Yukon

Neil MacDonald, co-owner of Yukon film production company Outpost 31, said the N.W.T. isn’t alone.

He said independent creatives in the Yukon also find themselves pushing to be considered for tourism marketing opportunities.

“We certainly find in the Yukon … on the film and video side, a lot of the contracts do wind up going outside,” he said.

“I don’t know exactly what the reasons are behind those [decisions].”

Film in the Yukon is “a burgeoning industry, for sure,” he said, but added that without more opportunities, it won’t reach its full potential.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: From the Arctic to Atlantic, a photographer documents seal hunting in Canada, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Photos – Cold temperatures create amazing landscapes in southern Finland, Yle News

Sweden: Photo staff laid off at papers in North Sweden, Radio Sweden

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Katie Toth, CBC News

Katie Toth, CBC News

For more news from Canada visit CBC News.

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