Mi'kmaw photographer Patricia Bourque featured at Indigenous Artisan Christmas Market

“There’s a rule that a lot of Indigenous artisans go by and it’s one of the biggest ones: you have to be in a good place before you work," says Patricia Bourque.

She captures the vibrancy of the Mi'kmaw people and raw beauty of nature

Patricia Bourque's submission to Canadian Geographic, featuring Wyonna Bernard (Patricia Bourque)

Mi'kmaw photographer Patricia Bourque is one of 30 Indigenous artists whose work will be featured this weekend at P.E.I.'s Indigenous Artisan Christmas Market.

Indigenous artists are selling everything from quill art to beadwork and photo prints.

While she is excited for the market, Bourque says her mental health has made creating difficult as of late.

"There's a rule that a lot of Indigenous artisans go by and it's one of the biggest ones: you have to be in a good place before you work. I've been struggling to be in a good place."

'It was like my first time seeing P.E.I.'

As a child, photography provided an escape for Bourque. She was adopted by an Acadian family and grew up alone, as the other siblings had already moved away, she said. 

Patricia Bourque pictured shooting a snow-covered Victoria Park in Charlottetown. (Stewart MacLean)

"I spent a lot of time by myself. My home wasn't the happiest, it wasn't the most fun."

Getting her driver's licence provided Bourque with a newfound freedom.

"When I got my licence, I started going for drives. It was like my first time seeing P.E.I. — fresh eyes, brand new, everything was brand new for me. I would take any back road I could find. I remember just taking the camera with me. Only the keys and the camera. And that was part of the adventure."

That love of capturing moments and places that made her happiest has followed Bourque her whole career. 

Finding the courage

Fifteen years after first picking up the camera, Bourque was a single mother working an office job. She had recently lost her father, and she was burning out at work. 

An employment counsellor encouraged her to take up photography again, said Bourque.

"It was Betty Gordon. I always like to name her because she was the person who was my biggest cheerleader in this chapter of my life. She was the person who encouraged me to find the courage to step out of that place and find my artistic self."

Bourque sat in silence for a moment.

"It's been 20 years since I started this chapter of my life." 

'It was everything'

Bourque has exhibited at The Guild, the Confederation Centre of the Arts and Eptek Art & Culture Centre. She has prints hanging in Senator Brian Francis's office in Ottawa and in the premier's office here on P.E.I. She has received numerous grants and awards for her work.

Bourque's photos of Charlotte Moore in Tapestry: A Tribute to Carole King on display outside The Guild. (Chelsea Perry)

In 2017, Bourque was featured as one of three Indigenous photographers in Canadian Geographic magazine. Soon, she'll be featured again – this time, with a full-page spread.

The feature photo captures a Mi'kmaw woman, Wyonna Bernard, dressed in full regalia and gazing out at the ocean. 

"The first time, it was more of a feature. There were three little pictures on the page. But to me, it was everything… Now, I'm going to have a full page," Bourque said. 

Chasing perfection

And yet, Bourque still doubts herself, often comparing her work to other photographers. 

But a photo doesn't need to be perfect to be important.

"Sometimes we look at the things we have today and we don't appreciate what we have. It's not perfect enough. It's not good enough," she said, wiping her eyes.

"When I see the archives … I think how important those images are. And you think those are the best images in the world. And maybe they're not perfect. Maybe they're not the best images in the world. But maybe in a hundred years, there will be people that appreciate them." 

The market runs Saturday, Nov. 27 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown.


Chelsea Perry is a Holland College Journalism and Communications student. You can find her on Twitter @perry_chel.