Inuit Life in Transition

Written by Phil Koch Posted January 10, 2024

Photographs by Richard Harrington appeared in and on the cover of this magazine — formerly known as The Beaver and published by the Hudson’s Bay Company — beginning in 1947. The following year, as he wrote in a later article, Harrington undertook the first of five winter Arctic trips by dog team with Inuit guides and “Company hospitality and cooperation,” including rest stops at remote HBC posts. For the remainders of these “difficult trips” he lived in igloos while documenting the Inuit way of life.

In a career that spanned continents and saw his work published in prestigious international periodicals, Harrington’s Arctic photographs of this period were not only his most recognized but also of special importance for him: “My Inuit photos to me are the most meaningful,” he said in 1998. “They were taken under difficult conditions. I came to know the people. We lived together and shared hardships.” That included his time in 1950 at the community of Padlei, in what is now Nunavut, during a deadly famine caused by changed caribou migration.

The new book Richard Harrington: Arctic Photography 1948–53 — published by Firefly Books with the Stephen Bulger Gallery — presents more than one hundred of Harrington’s black-and-white photographs from this time, recording Inuit hunting tools and techniques, musical instruments and sculptures, and daily life in Inuit communities. Many are portraits of women, men, and children at a time when their traditional existence was threatened. The book includes an introduction by curator Gerald McMaster and transcriptions of Harrington’s handwritten notes from the backs of his photographs.

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This article originally appeared in the February-March 2024 issue of Canada’s History.

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