Geraldine Moodie overcame harsh conditions to become western Canada’s first professional female photographer, capturing beautiful images in the country’s most remote regions. Moodie was born in 1854 in Toronto, and after a move to England she met and married John Douglas Moodie in 1878, and had six children. The family returned to Canada to farm in Manitoba, before John began working with the North-West Mounted Police (aka the Mounties). Geraldine set up a studio in the police house, and trained her husband in photography. Geraldine accompanied her husband on expeditions to the police’s detachment at the now-deserted Fullerton Harbour in Hudson Bay – an obscure, frozen point in Canada’s far north in what is now Nunavut territory . She took portraits of the local Inuit people, while he documented the landscapes he found during his police patrols. ‘The whole sea and land as far as the eye can see lends itself to inspire ghostly imaginations, nothing but snow & the sea in an unbroken expanse of ice and snow. In the sunshine it is beautiful, but at night it looks uncanny, the northern light shifting and changing all the time’ ‘Words cannot describe this wonderful coast, apparantly [apparently] devoid of everything that goes to make a land attractive, it still has a grandeur and beauty all its own,’ she wrote in her diary. She wrote of the Inuit: ‘They are very bright and intelligent, her eyes were taking stock of everything all the time’. ‘The whole sea and land as far as the eye can see lends itself to inspire ghostly imaginations, nothing but snow & the sea in an unbroken expanse of ice and snow. In the sunshine it is beautiful, but at night it looks uncanny, the northern light shifting and changing all the time’. ‘There is a shooting and trapping mania on board at present, a good thing as it keeps them in health and good spirits,’ she writes, also mentioning plenty of dances and football matches. She complains of the challenges of trying to take decent photographs amid waterlogged supplies and harsh weather. Geraldine also writes of improving her technique, while photographing this boat, the Arctic. ‘There has always been such a glare of snow with nothing to relieve that it gave no definition when photographed, and made a poor negative. I tried it under every condition of light, and finally found by stopping my lens very low and taking the photo when the afternoon sun was very bright, throwing strong shadows that I succeeded in getting a fine negative’. She went on to work further south in the city of Regina, Saskatchewan, and when accompanying John on expeditions for the Canadian Pacific Railway. With hundreds of emotive and lyrical images to her name, her legacy is of a true photographic artist, rather than a dispassionate documenter of rural life.
With these images of far-flung communities in north-west Canada, Geraldine Moodie became the one of the country’s first professional female photographers
An exhibition, North of Ordinary: The Arctic Photographs of Geraldine and Douglas Moodie, is at Glenbow, Calgary, 18 February-10 September