Photographer Pam Harris came to Spence Bay from Toronto as a friend and visitor in 1972 and was surprised by how many local people had cameras but had to wait 2-3 months for their processed photos to return by mail from the south. She thought it would be helpful, if the local people were interested, to be able to control their own processing and she applied to Kodak Canada, National Film Board, Canada Council and the Government of the Northwest Territories for basic equipment and chemicals. She then returned to Spence Bay in 1973 to set up a darkroom and teach anyone who was interested on how to use it.
The craft shop was already overcrowded so the bathroom became the darkroom, and we did our best to manage with a 50-gallon water tank, sharing water with the natural dye process, and sometimes carrying buckets of prints or film to the school or elsewhere for rinsing. Fourteen people learned the process of developing film and printing photographs. As an instructional guide, several participants helped make translated cards with diagrams for the photo processing procedures. The school principal, Peter Hyde, stepped up when help was needed after Pam had to leave. He knew the darkroom process and had made sure a fully equipped darkroom was included in the new school being built. He also ordered the school’s new darkroom equipment ahead of the school’s opening so that it could be used at the craft shop. The darkroom project received contracts to document the natural dye work and the building of the new school as well as requests from publications and government agencies.
Ootookee Takolik ᐅᑦᑐᕿ and Selena Tucktoo ᑯᑉᓗ were often called upon to photograph special order fashions before they were sent in the mail and to print photos for garment information booklets for the craft shop. Together they printed 40 photographs of their work which travelled with Ootookee to Toronto to be shown at “Crafts from Arctic Canada” exhibition at the TD Place during the summer of 1974. A short time later Rudi Strickler came to Spence Bay and worked with Steve Alookee ᐊᓗᑭ on photography, including the making of a documentary film. In 2017 the Exhibition and Publication of Photographs class of Ryerson University researched the darkroom project of Spence Bay, producing a publication and exhibition at Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto. Upon learning about the exhibition and her collection held at the Art Gallery of Ontario Selena Tucktoo responded: “Oh my gosh, I wondered if my pictures were good enough to put on the wall. I started going back to 1974 thinking, “oh, we had fun,” and some of them must’ve been pretty good if you were interested in them. I’m very happy to know the pictures are being put to that use a bit. I was very honoured when I heard about it.” And reflecting on their importance to the community she added, “We look a lot at old pictures, even before the darkroom, and we talk about them—how we lived long ago. They tell a good story, and we talk to these younger people about them, and they are pretty interested in the pictures we used to take and how interesting it was to develop them, what kind of chemicals we had to use and how long they had to be in each chemical.”
Judy McGrath talks about Pam Harris and the Arnaqarvik photography program
"At least the coats I model are warm at forty below! I guess I do most of the modeling around here. I used to really hate people taking my pictures but now if Judy or Oktookie take them it is alright. We only model the dresses outdoors in the summer because it is so cold the rest of the time. Even then it’s only good when it’s windy because the mosquitoes are so bad. If you really want to see how the garment looks on a person Oktookie takes a picture and develops it the same day so we can all see how it looks."