REDress Photography Project honours 1,181 missing and murdered women

A group of Canadian photographers, led by Edmonton's Mufty Mathewson, are taking striking photos of red dresses in unexpected places in honour of Canada's 1,181 missing and murdered indigenous women.

Faced with a stark image of a red dress hanging empty, Edmonton photographer decides to take action

Sixteen Canadian photographers, including Mufty Mathewson, are using their cameras to honour Canada's 1,181 missing and murdered indigenous women as part of the REDress Photography Project. Video Producer: Rick Bremness 2:25

A group of Canadian photographers, led by Edmonton's Mufty Mathewson, are taking striking photos of red dresses in unexpected places in honour of Canada's 1,181 missing and murdered indigenous women.

Mathewson said she was inspired to start the REDress Photography Project after seeing a full page ad showing a red dress hanging in the woods. "Imagine if 1,181 of your daughters never returned home, and imagine if no one cared," read the caption.

"I thought to myself, I do care, I really care — but what can an 81-year-old woman do?" Mathewson remembers. 

"Then I thought 'Ah-hah! I know what I can do — I'm a good photographer.' "

Mathewson decided to follow the lead of Jaime Black, the photographer behind the 2012 REDress art installation at the University of Alberta, and take her own red dress pictures. The REDress Photography Project was born, and Mathewson oversaw a display about it at an Edmonton conference this week in support of families of missing or murdered people. 

On Jan. 1, 2015, she and eight others met up to take their first pictures, snapped in Edmonton's Glenora neighbourhood and nearby ravine. 

"If you're out somewhere and you're hanging a red dress, people will come and say 'What's going on?' " Mathewson says. 

"And I say: 'This is to honour the missing and murdered indigenous women'— and it sobers them immediately. Each red dress represents a woman who is not here."

Since that first outing, Mathewson has enlisted 15 photographers across Canada to join the project.

In the video above, created by CBC video producer Rick Bremness, Mathewson explains why that first photo struck her so profoundly, and how she got others to join the movement.

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