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Erin Riley. Cemetery, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist.


January 20 - January 20, 2019

Erin Riley

As I disembarked from the belly of the cargo plane that carried me there I was immediately hit by a cold so sharp, so crystal clear, it snapped me to attention. I just stood there stunned.  Everything was so blindingly bright. The sky was filled with white-hot sparkles that twinkled against the blue sky. It was all so strange and so pretty. And very cold.

I spent seven days at Fort Eureka, Nunavut, located on the western side of Ellesmere Island. It is located at 79° 58° 59° N, 85° 56° 59° W, which is considered pretty far north. About as far north as you can go. The only settlement more north is the weather station at Alert. As far as I was concerned, I might as well have been on the moon.

Soon things changed. The beautiful sparkling sky was replaced by a tangible fog, which manifested itself as a persistent greyish-ness. Never changing. It simply lingered.

I would stand outside and look in any direction. Everything was white. White as far as you could see. So many shades of white. Whites so white they were blue. Ironically, I started to feel a sense of being contained, of being trapped.

I knew from spending hours in the small Twin Otter plane that if I were to set out walking in any direction, I wouldn’t get anywhere. I started to feel insignificant in this monochromatic vastness. It was at this realization that I began to engage with the impossibility of the North.

As a photographer I started to panic. I was confronted with the enormity of the space. Its emptiness. The impossibility of my surroundings. To bow my head and look through the view finder of my camera felt like a gesture of surrender, of acceptance. The act of photographing became a way to contain an environment that had complete control of me.

– Erin Riley


“It is my intense curiosity about people and the world in which we live that compels me to pick up the camera – a machine embedded with the promise of truth and revelation,” says Erin Riley, who began her photographic career working as a photojournalist for various national newspapers and magazines. She has recently turned her attention toward developing an active artistic practice. Her accomplishments have included the completion of an MFA in the Documentary Media programme at Ryerson University, a trip to the high Arctic with the Canadian Military as one of five civilian artists chosen to participate in the Canadian Forces Artists Programme, and being asked to participate in the outdoor exhibition Beyond Imaginings at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. Riley continues to explore her interest in photojournalism within the context of contemporary documentary practice and theory. Her newest body of work entitled Vocation further explores how strategies borrowed from the world of conceptual art are able to function as tools in contemporary documentary practice.

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