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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Reader's Diary #1131- Kyle Thomas: Yellowknife Street Stories

At the end of Yellowknife Street Stories, author and photographer Kyle Thomas thanks the individuals he has profiled in his book while saying, "It is your stories that make up this book; I am simply the storyteller."

"Simply the storyteller" is Kyle being as he always is humble. Talking with people, mostly homeless, on the streets of Yellowknife, recording snippets from their complex stories and photographing their deceivingly simple smiles, would not have been possible, or at least not have been as honest, without Kyle's humility. You can tell how Kyle has gently guided their conversations to find out where this small fragment of our Yellowknife population has hailed from and clues as to why they came to be here and on the streets and how they are currently surviving. You can tell they trusted Kyle and though I don't know Kyle well I met him only a couple of times on the small and inconsistent Yellowknife blogging circuit it does not surprise me.

Besides Kyle's natural charm I am also sure that there must have been a lot of hard work. The people in this book cannot, of course, be condensed to a mere page or 2, and I am sure Kyle collected many more details and anecdotes than presented here. However, he has thoughtfully and skillfully chosen just the right stuff to differentiate between each of these people, destroy the illusion that "street people" must all be cut from the same cloth. Accentuating that theme are his stunning photos. It's remarkable that in almost all of them his subjects are smiling. Most of us with homes have trouble even fathoming finding happiness without one, yet for this moment they are smiling. And even then, Kyle has managed to so honestly depict these people that their differences are obvious. Some seem to smile merely because there's a camera present, some seem to smile to convince themselves that they are happy, and more, thankfully, seem genuinely happy.

There's little editorializing here and Kyle has also not put anyone on a pedestal. He acknowledges in his introduction that he makes no guarantees about the truth of the stories within or of the characterizations people present of themselves. Still, one message is loud and clear, everyone is individual and everyone is human. It's a simply beautiful message, but one we often forget.

4 comments:

Sam Sattler said...

John, I can't even imagine how anyone could survive on the streets of Yellowknife at this time of year, let alone in the heart of winter. That's not possible is it? I would not last five minutes out there. Interesting book...

John Mutford said...

Sam: Sadly, not everyone does survive it. One photo in the book was taken just hours before the man, Walter, died. Another, Charlie, also died before the book was published. While there are others in the book whose whereabouts since I have no idea of, I definitely recognize the rest and know that some, thankfully, have survived. No doubt luck must play some role, but so too must resiliency and ingenuity and the aid of others (those on and off the street).

Sam Sattler said...

John, do you figure that all of these folks are from the area, or are some of them crazy enough to move up there without a place to live? As you can tell, the whole idea of sleeping on the rough that far North just completely floors me.

John Mutford said...

Sam: some of their backstories are given and many were not from here. But while some did move up, as you say, plenty more more down (from more Northern, smaller communities). Their reasons for moving here are myriad. For some, they don't move here homeless, that happens later. Others believed there'd be be more opportunities here in the "big" city. And that's just 2 of many reasons...

But yes, it must be a hard knock life. Some do sleep outdoors, some manage to set up make shift tents (one couple in the book had a tent given to them by a stranger), and we do, also, have homeless shelters and services (from the Salvation Army, for example). I'm guessing they are forced, by necessity, to learn very quickly where these services are.