Another new initiative has sprung up on the Carcross Commons.
Near the totem pole stands an off-white canvas wall tent. Inside, it’s set up as a photography studio. There are lights and high quality cameras with multiple flashes. There is a printer, and a tickle trunk.
It’s the second place in the territory to offer gold rush-themed sepia toned photographs, joining Peabody’s Photo Parlour in Dawson City.
This one is called the Tagish Kwan Photo Parlour.
Customers “can wear can can dresses, nice apparel for men and women, luxurious tuxedos and things like that, gun replicas, old dilapitated shirts and pajamas.”
This is according to Jean-Christoph Demers, who was hired by the Yukon Literacy Coalition to act as a consultant to create the photo parlour.
Demers is a professional photographer. He says the purpose of the parlour is more than offering a service to people visiting Carcross. It sets a “scene to train competent workers.”
Youth from Carcross were given eight days of job-skill training in the context of the photo booth. Training was done by Colleen Segris, of the Yukon Literacy Coalition, and Geraldine James, a Tagish Kwan elder.
Photography was used as a pretext to teach skills to people who may not have been exposed to the job market before.
James is the manager of the parlour, and its cultural consultant.
To her, the photo parlour is part of the long journey to bring culture back to the Carcross Tagish First Nation. Her mother was one of the first people to take this on, says James. In 1973 she started working on integrating culture into schools by creating what is now the Tagish Nation dance group.
The photo booth project is “putting a twist on the old-time photography booth in that yeah, people can come in and they can get their pictures taken as an old-time miner or can can girl, or respectable people or policeman, stuff like that.”
But there’s more. Customers can pose with James or her sister done up in regalia. James takes customers outside to the totem pole and explains its cultural relevancy. “We do some Tagish Kwan legend, we do some songs and dancing.”
She says they’re using their culture to pull people into the photo parlour.
In a further twist, it’s the only First Nation presence on the Carcross Commons; James says the other businesses are run by non-First Nations.
Along with James, who manages the parlour, a 16-year old youth is employed, and they are going to have one more young man join the team soon. At first, the 16-year old didn’t even talk to customers, says James. Now he drums for them. Her hope is by the end of the summer, he and the new employee will be the ones telling story and talking about culture out by the totem pole.
The idea behind the photo booth extends even deeper, however.
In the job training that was done before the photo parlour opened, Carcross youth were given a safe space to talk about employability, health, and what it is like to come from a community where many people have never been exposed to the job market. James says young First Nations are saying, “you guys have brought us up in non-First Nation ways enough now.”
Youth are saying they to want to learn on-the-land stuff — “we need to be taught our own way,” is what James has heard.
The photo parlour doesn’t teach on-the-land skills. What it does do, says James, is create the aforementioned cultural presence. Youth employees learn skills – which include photography, responsibility and showing up to work on time – that build confidence and esteem. These are transferable to other life situations. If a person is confident in his or her abilities, that confidence will help the person be comfortable to learn how to live on the land. That is the idea, says James.
The project has been up and running for about three weeks now, says Demers. He says it’s successful in that customers are extremely satisfied with the product – that means the youth employees are putting to use their recently learned skills. Since it’s run as a non-profit model, it’s not as important that the photo parlour breaks even business-wise. Demers says there could be more customers. He encourages Yukoners to solicit the parlour.
James does, too. In her opinion, there are things that everyone can learn at the photo parlour. She says she tells a story about what her people call Rainbow Lake. It’s what the government calls Emerald Lake, she says.
James also says if there are any businesses interested in operating on the Carcross Commons, let her know. The First Nation can potentially provide trained youth as employees.
The Tagish Kwan Photo Parlour is open from Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm. Jean-Christophe Demers hopes to expand the hours into the weekend, to make the photo parlour more accessible to Yukoners.