Selective Focus: Ivy Vainio

Ivy Vainio is a self-taught photographer and this week she talks about how she got started, how her photography has grown, and where she would like to take it.

I.V.: I started taking photographs in about 2001 when the office that I work in got a Olympus SLR camera to help document our programs and events. With time, I became better at taking photographs and started to have a yearning to try this art form outside of the University. My husband surprised me, in 2011, and bought me a Canon Rebel camera from a local pawn shop in Duluth one day and that is all I needed to fuel my passion for digital photography. I took that camera out in our woods, and played around with it. It was in the summer of 2011 when I got my big break. I was at a powwow with my camera and I got a call from Jana Peterson of the Pine Journal newspaper in Cloquet. She heard that I was at the powwow and she asked if I would take a couple photographs for the newspaper. I told her yes and I have been taking photographs ever since with more intent of getting the perfect shot.

I was the featured artist for the One River Many Stories exhibition at the Depot last April. That was a highlight and was my first real photography challenge that made me think critically about my work and to have it framed around one specific landmark, the St. Louis River. I am also an artist contributor of the All Black Zine which is coordinated by Jordon Moses and is an avenue for diverse artists to show their work and express themselves with an exhibition and an opportunity to be published in a zine.
My favorite things to photograph are: diverse cultural events such as powwows, Hmong New Year celebrations, African American, Hispanic/Latino, and LGBTQIA themed events. I also like to focus on taking landscape and nature photography, and some portraits. I’ve only photographed one wedding (it was a few years ago) and I missed the kiss! So I will never do that again.
I still feel like I am challenged in this art form for not exactly knowing what I am doing. It pretty much is a guessing game for me when I grab my camera and take it out for a photo shoot. I think if I took a photography class which taught about the mechanics of the camera and editing photos I believe that I could bring my photography up another level. I have never taken a class except for my high school photography class in 1987. I tell people that I have a lot of luck on my side when taking photographs. I have never even experimented with PhotoShop. I do basic editing. Another challenge is learning how to promote my photography as a business. Looks like that’s another class that I may have to take which might include a grant writing class. The rewards I get from taking photographs at cultural events is that I am educating others about these cultures through this art form. I feel honored that people will allow me to be part of these family and cultural celebrations/community events and that I know that they appreciate my work and documentation of what’s important to them and the community.
My work is in public collections such as the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO Galleries) in Duluth, the Depot’s Ojibwe Gallery, the St. Louis County Government Services Building, University of Minnesota-Duluth College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Conference Room and the Multicultural Center, University of Wisconsin-Superior Library, Superior Police Station lobby, Cloquet Memorial Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital (Maternity Floor), Black Bear Casino Seven Fires Steakhouse, to name a few. As for other places, my personal Facebook page and Instagram. I don’t have a website with my work. I have been interviewed in 2012 by WDSE’s Native Report program after my first solo photography exhibition that featured powwow dancers and their written narratives on why they dance at powwows which was held at AICHO Galleries. Here is the link to that. Also, from that same Naamijig: Honoring Our Traditions exhibition, I was featured in a 3 page feature layout in Indian Country Today magazine and online publication. I was also interviewed by WTIP North Shore Community Radio for their Anishinaabe Way segment in Grand Marais, Minnesota and here is a link to that interview. Capture Minnesota Books 1 and 3. The most recent edition of the Great Russian Encyclopedia has a photograph of mine of the late Jim Northrup which was placed in their “Ojibwe” section. I’ve also had work in the last two All Black Zine publications.
I will be in a show entitled “Anishinaabe Kwe Way” with fellow Ojibwe artists Sarah Agaton Howes (mixed media, beadwork, textiles, etc.) and Leah Yellowbird (painting, beadwork, textiles, etc.) for the month of March 2017 at the Kruk Gallery at UW-Superior with the opening reception set for Tuesday, February 28 at 5:30 pm. I have a couple of exciting projects coming up that I am not allowed to mention until the first of the year. I have had my work featured in 5 calendars, billboards all over the state of Minnesota (last year), a photograph of mine covers a utility box in Minneapolis, and two years ago my dream came true when the Minneapolis Institute of Arts commissioned me to have two of my images in their Native American exhibition for a year and both images were set on both sides of a large George Morrison collage. I have a strong cultural idea for my next solo exhibition but I will need time to hash things out and maybe try to write a grant for it. It will involve photography and audio.


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