Jeff Thomas

Crip Times Episode 5: The Jeff Thomas Episode

This week, Kayla and Yousef are joined by Jeff Thomas, a Governor General Award-winning Indigenous photographer. Jeff provides us with some background on his photographic work which began in the 1970s as a response to the representation of Indigenous people through historical photography, and how it has grown and changed since becoming disabled.

“Everything comes at its proper time”

Jeff talks about turning photographs used for propaganda into tools of revitalization, and how he’s trying to continue the storytelling tradition in his family, blending this with new technologies such as 3D scanning and drones.

In his work Indians on Tour, Jeff explains how he plays with Indigenous presence where it wouldn’t otherwise be visible, by photographing miniature figurines all over the world.

CRIP TIME’S FAVOURITE QUOTES: 

“There’s been a large focus on developing your voice, finding your voice in the various mediums. And also you have a foothold in museums and art galleries and art institutions. We’ve done very well at that. My feeling now is that the time is to focus our work on reaching our own communities. People – young people – who, especially could benefit from the work that we do…and to find a way to encourage Indigenous young people because coming from the era of the residential school, you know ‘education’ has been a negative word. And how do we begin to change that around? And I think there’s a real strong sense that we are connected to the visual arts as a people in terms of expression.”

“There was no one around, no intellectual base that could talk to in terms of photography and what it means to Indigenous people. These were questions that I tried to address when I was even in high school, and even along with the urbanization challenge of How do you identify as Indigenous and living in this city? Is there a difference between urban and reserve Indigenous people, what is it and how does it make us think differently about ourselves?”

“I realized at a certain point that nobody was going to come along and you know, like what I call the “Super Elder” [laughter]. The person that had all the answers, you know, that could put into context residential schools, colonialism, along with urbanization, and photography and representation. I realize that no, that’s not gonna happen—you have to do it yourself.”

“But it’s the pursuit of realizing that our cultures have never been static. They’ve always been in flux. We have traditions, we have things that are being carried on. We still have Indigenous languages that are around. I want to know where do we go from here? How do we build on that, and is there room for a new kind of language? Is there room for a new type of ritual and ceremony that revolves around the arts?”

Full Transcript

[Podcast begins: 00:00:00]

Narrator: You’re listening to a Wheels on the Ground Production.

[Jazz music playing]

Kayla Besse [KB]: Hello and welcome to the fifth episode of Crip Times.

Kristina McMullin [KM]: Today on Crip Times we will be listening to Jeff Thomas, with my friends and your hosts, Kayla and Yousef.

Yousef Kadoura [YK]: Hello Jeff and welcome to Crip Times, thank you so much for being here with us.

Jeff Thomas [JT]: My pleasure.

YK: I was hoping you could share with our audience a little bit about who you are and um, what your practice is.

JT: OK, well my name is Jeff Thomas. I was originally from Buffalo, New York. My reserve is over here from the Six Nations of the Grand River. I’ve been living in Canada now since about 1983. I was in a car accident in 1979 and I couldn’t return to the type of work that I’d been doing at the time, so my life changed quite a bit at that point. And I moved to uh, Toronto and started to uh, look at photography as a new way of, a new … something new for me to do since I couldn’t work anymore. And that’s where my career actually started was in Buffalo and then it became much more focused while living in Toronto.

But that’s what I’ve been doing since the late 1970s, developing I guess it initially began as a response to the representation of Indigenous people through historical photography, and then I used my own work as kind of a counterpoint to the historical narrative as a contemporary component. So that’s been the uh, the focus of my new career. 

KB: Yeah, that’s excellent. And um, maybe you want to talk a little bit about more specifically how you reach the larger Indigenous community through your work, through the internet and other technologies of this time?

JT: Well, I find that uh, because working with a disability it’s been uh, very advantageous to me to have new technology to be able to uh, continue to be active and to reach an audience. And I think also too to build up a larger audience in the Indigenous Arts community.

[00:03:00] There’s been a large focus on developing your voice, finding your voice in the various mediums. And uh, also you know, having a foothold in museums and art galleries and art institutions and that. We’ve done very well at that. My feeling now is that the time is to focus our work on reaching our own communities. People – young people – who, especially could benefit from the work that we do…and to um, find a way to I guess encourage Indigenous young people because coming from the era of the residential school, you know education has been a negative word. And how do we begin to change that around? And I think there’s a real strong sense that we are connected to the visual arts as a people in terms of expression and that.

So I found that using photography was a way to bridge that gap and to begin uh, finding what it is that we want to say through photographs. But new technology, the fact that it’s brought around me to my current program of work of using it to, I guess really build on my role as a storyteller. I’ve been working in photography for a long time, but it never felt comfortable you know in terms of the art gallery space, the kind of space of the museum. And how do we begin – because it’s not Indigenous. And how do we begin to address that? So that’s been the focus of my work all along but more when new technology came about it, offered me tools I hadn’t had before.

And that’s what I’m currently developing in my work.

YK: Are there any of those tools in particular that you found to be very successful in reaching young people? It seems to be something that like, community seems to be such a big part of what you do, um, have there been any of those tools that you’ve found particularly affective or that you thought would be effective and turned out to be, y’know, not so much?

JT: No, not really because I’ve really developed my practice with patience. And thinking through and moving along at a reasonable kind of speed. And not getting too far ahead of myself! And I found that you know, with new technology and that, it just, I began thinking about my practice in a different way at that point. Expanding on it. But I think that probably the best example, well I didn’t have any negative responses, especially with the work that I do as a curator with historical photographs. Because in 2001, I developed a residential school exhibition, Where Are The Children? And it opened here in Ottawa on National Aboriginal Day in 2002.

[00:06:00] And at that time, there was a lot of hesitation as to whether or not you could take photographs that had been produced as propaganda for the residential schools, and turn them around and use them as a way of revitalization, and seeing ourselves. And so there was a bit of criticism before that because people just thought you know, you can’t do that. But it turned out that the exhibition has been travelling across Canada to this day. So from 2002 until now, it’s been on the road. And it proved to be very effective in terms of stories that the community is able to tell through the photographs. So the photograph itself became a catalyst, there’s no right or wrong about it, it’s just a place in time, and how do you add your story to that image?

I think in terms of that it’s been very effective in my own work, my personal work, I’ve been looking at developing a new body of work called Where the Rivers Meet. And it’s really determined by my real desire that I had when I began to work in photography to find something, a format, that’s Indigenous. And so with this new body of work that’s what I’ve been doing, is using the Wampum belt format that’s a traditional way of capturing history in Iroquois culture and utilizing that as a format and then playing around with the images that I use, juxtaposing it historically and contemporary.

The idea behind the work is really to get people thinking and the clash of two disparate images, what comes out of that? And so that’s what really intrigues me. It’s not about, I guess, reading the photographs in a particular way, but really finding your own voice. Because when I was growing up there were two storytellers in my family. It was always interesting because there was always a certain point where listening to their stories you would find yourself drifting off and inserting your own feelings or impressions into the story. And then you come back, and it’s like you didn’t miss a step along the way. And I always thought that was something that was very remarkable about Indigenous storytelling, is that you find your own level within that. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do with my own work.

I think now that I’ve uh, started working in really referring to myself as a photo-based storyteller, is to, um, to build on that idea. So how does the story manifest itself today? So it’s a part of the Wampum belt series. Wampum belts traditionally had been told orally by the keeper of the Wampum belts, and I wanted to apply that as well to my work. 

[00:08:48] And so I’m developing stories that go along with each one. I’m gonna record them and then I’m working on a new website now that will have all of that information, you know, all the research materials, the story behind each, each belt. And um, and also you’ve seen uh, 3D scanning as a part of it as well. So that’s been the most interesting part because I found that working as a disabled person, as an artist, that there’s only so much that I can do. And um, especially now at this stage of my life, and so I’m working with a technician who is able to go out and to actually scan uh, different monuments. In Toronto um, he did the um, uh … the Hockey Hall of Fame. And above – that used to be a Bank of Montreal – and above the Hockey Hall of Fame is a crest that usually has two Indian men on it. But this one, the date is 1885 and it has a woman on one side. And I’ve never seen that before.

So my technician was able to go there and use a drone and 3D scan the façade along with the crest. And it’s just amazing, what it does.

So how do you create a story from a 3D scan? Looking at the material that he shot so far it looks like a dream. You know? It has that kind of feel of disjointedness, from the reality that we’re used to. And I just love that feeling of that, of letting the mind kind of soar in that area. It’s currently in a process of Okay, so what stories are we going to write to go along and incorporate this into the work?

And then of course it can be incorporated into a website and reach a larger audience, coming back to your question. Um, as well. And I think in using 3D technology and things like that, and drone, is that it’s gonna capture a younger audience. Which is what I’ve been wanting to find a way to do to make it interesting and challenging. So, yeah.

KB: That’s amazing. Do you have a projected date for when that’s available online, or is some of it online now? 

JT: The new website won’t, well it should be going up probably early next year.

KB: OK.

JT: And the title is just simply wheretheriversmeet.ca. And I’m not sure when we’re gonna launch it yet but there’s still a lot of work to do. That’s the idea.

And it’s gonna work in conjunction with uh, Bodies in Translation uh, they’re the ones that have funded the uh, technological part of it. And um, I’m going to incorporate it into an exhibition as well so it will have uh, a wider audience in terms of who we want to reach in that, so.

KB: Right, that’s so exciting, I can’t wait to see it!

YK: That’s fantastic.

[00:11:50] KB: I think I wanted to chat for a minute about your relationship to Bodies in Translation and your relationship to disability art, if that’s ok. Um, when we spoke before you said you never really addressed your disability until you worked with Bodies in Translation. And um, it was the first time you had heard an Elder – Elder Mona Stonefish – talk about disabilities. And that really informed your work and your identity in new ways. So, um, maybe you want to talk about you know, limitations and challenges but also new uh, new ways of, of working and modifying in a disability aesthetic way, blended with your Indigenous art. 

JT: Well the way that it all began was you know, as I mentioned before, after my car accident um, I had to find something that I could do with my life that um, that I could physically handle. And um, and that’s how I fell into photography. But in the beginning, it was more of a – let’s say – a way of getting myself out of the house. So I would go for a walk as part of my rehabilitation and uh, each day I would go out a little bit farther and I decided to take my camera with me. And started making photographs along the way. And it just continued from there, uh, and my focus at that time was really on the um, on the I guess just the regular everyday landscape of Buffalo New York. It wasn’t anything strategic in terms of addressing Indigeneity within the city urban reserve and all that, that would come later. But at the time I had to make a decision, um, over a period of time as to whether or not I would continue to go through uh, with rehabilitation, things like that. 

I had pretty much exhausted everything that I could reasonably do. But I had to make a decision that I would pursue my work over everything else. Because I only had enough energy to do one thing. I couldn’t go through rehab or continue doing that and also the dream that I had in the arts.

So that’s the decision that I made, and from that point on my – I guess my real objective was to prove to people that even an Indigenous person with a disability could reinvent their life and become successful from it. I wanted that, I wanted that role um, to take on and to prove that. Because when I had my car accident and I was in the hospital in Southern Ontario, the doctors were – they kept on questioning me – and thought I was drinking. That I had you know, passed out at the steering wheel and hit a telephone pole. And it didn’t seem like anybody really believed me, that I wasn’t on drugs or something. But I wasn’t. And it just set in my mind that I have to prove to all of these people that they’re all wrong, and that I couldn’t really get a career, um, started after what I had gone through.

[00:14:55] So that was the objective. And I just started teaching myself all the things that I needed to know, and pursue developing a career. And to my surprise it developed into a career, which I didn’t expect. I hoped it would, but I didn’t really expect it to! And uh, I guess that my feeling was never to kind of dismiss my disability, but to be able to not let it hold me back and to not kind of think about it all the time.

So, it’s kind of a mind thing that you know, you’re playing with on yourself. It’s like how do you, how do you get into a state of mind where you still deal with the pain and the disability, but you still pursue this? So it all worked out in that sense, and it really, as you mentioned, Mona Stonefish…it wasn’t until I went to the first meeting for Bodies in Translation that I began to get a different sense of my disability coming back into focus and realizing that well you know, it’s time to start making it the focus of my work. And I had never been anywhere before where there was an Elder that talked about Indigenous people with disabilities, it just – you know. 

And I think that was part of why I was able to work so well over the years, is because there just, there wasn’t any kind of conversation about it. You know? You just … and there was no conversation about Indigenous photography.

So I was, I guess the challenge really worked out well for me because it cleared everything else, and that’s all that I did.

But now I, it’s … and I guess the way that I look at it now is that everything comes at its proper time. And actually it was a friend of mine, Anna Hudson who works as a professor at York University, had suggested to uh, Bodies in Translation, for a possible project and that’s how it started. At that point, I would say that it was 3 years ago that the conversation started and then Bodies in Translation accepted our proposal and I had to really start thinking about how do I incorporate new technology into the stories that I want to tell? I had no idea.

So it took a couple of years just constantly thinking about it and thinking uh, how am I gonna accomplish this? And so it began to work out and now it’s um, I’m finding that um, it’s, it’s very effective because losing more mobility as I get older, it seems to correspond with what’s happening now and I don’t have to travel in order to find what we’re doing now to have a conversation in person. Do it … you know, through the internet which is great. It’s been really interesting for me to experience a way of continuing to work with my disability.

[00:17:50] And to even broaden it farther than I would have without the technology. So. Yeah, it’s been pretty amazing. 

YK: Yeah it certainly seems like it. What really strikes me about all that you’ve just said is—correct me if I’m wrong—but it doesn’t seem like you … you had, your cultural touchstones growing up and your relationship to storytelling and all these different things that have shaped you as to who you are. Yet you’ve, and yet you’ve gone on this journey to become this fantastic photographer-storyteller, um, artist. And I was just wondering what would you, what would you pass onto um, our younger artists who look like yourself? 

What would you have wanted at that age? When you were starting out?

JT: Mmhmm. Yeah.

It’s, it’s been an interesting question because it’s one that um, it’s just really um, kind of directed my more recent work. And um, I was you know, growing up I was very fortunate to have my grandmother, my great-aunt in my life who were my mentors and Elders. And uh, provided me with a direction and a work ethic that um, that I used. I didn’t have uh, male role models because my father was an absentee father. My grandfathers, I didn’t know one grandfather and one had passed away just before I was born. And you know, there was no one around, no intellectual base that could, I could talk to in terms of photography. And what it means to Indigenous people. These were questions that I tried to address when I was even in high school, and even along with the urbanization challenge of how do you identify as Indigenous and living in this city? Is there a difference between urban and reserve Indigenous people, what is it and how does it make us think differently about ourselves?

So there were a lot of questions that came into mind at the beginning of my practice. I realized at a certain point that nobody was going to come along and you know, like what I call the “Super Elder” [laughter]. The person that had all the answers, you know, that could put into context residential schools, colonialism, along with urbanization, and photography and representation, and you know. I realize that No, that’s not gonna happen, you have to do it yourself.

And so that was my working premise for my work, how was I gonna accomplish that? And I found that, it was interesting, because dealing with these issues I realized that with my Elders that they couldn’t, um, we would have conversations. 

[00:21:05] But those conversations I realized that they were all directed towards me in terms of I had to find the answers to my own questions. And that’s what I decided I was going to do. and in terms of I think my curiosity about the world is what really has driven me in terms of wanting to get out and to see and to understand, and how do you find a balance with your identity in an urban setting? And that led to my work with public monuments. And using those as kinds of way points on this new map that I was developing and what is the importance of a public monument? In terms of my work with Indigenous representation or kind of stereotyping a monument, it gives you a place to talk, to focus on, to photograph.

And so developing conversations. So in my mind, during all this period of time I was having these conversations, not with a real person but with myself, in my head. And um, and so … I think that when I look back now, I wouldn’t want to change anything. Because I love the way that it forced me to think and to learn. And to look at issues and find an alternative to it, or a way of, let’s say of bridging historical photographs to the contemporary world. What is the value of those photographs? And how do we, how do we create a new um, a new voice along the way? I realized that in my mind, that historical photographs were latent in terms of like a negative, a black and white negative. And so you have this latent image, you know, and how do you develop it? You make decisions about what you want to do in terms of developing it, printing and um, and then um context.

KB: Mmhm.

JT: So looking at historical photographs in that way was the same. And just worked out a bit differently. 

But nobody could have taught me these things, so I had to learn as I went on. And I also made a deliberate decision, when I was in university they had a photography program. And I decided not to go into it because I didn’t want anybody kind of changing my direction. I wanted to stay as pure as possible because I knew that uh, what I was looking for didn’t exist yet. 

KB: Hm.

JT: And even my mentor in Buffalo, Milton Mergogin, was a well-known documentary photographer. 

[00:23:40] And when we looked at my work he looked at my powwow photographs on my second visit, and he wasn’t as happy as he was with the first work I showed him, which was my urban studies. He thought that, Well, isn’t there something you could be doing that’s more beneficial to your community than photographing powwow dancers? I couldn’t answer him at the time. This was about 1981. And now I wish I could go back and talk to him and tell him exactly why that was important. Because now I understand it.

But it’s the pursuit of um, of wanting to understand what it is – the pursuit of realizing that our cultures have never been static. They’ve always been in flux. And so why not at this point? We have traditions, we have things that are being carried on. We still have Indigenous languages that are around. But what I see is that I want to know where do we go from here? How do we build on that, and is there a room for a new kind of language? Is there room for a new type of ritual and ceremony that revolves around the arts? 

That’s what intrigues me. And that’s what I’m looking for. So that applies to anybody. When I look back I wish I knew these things back then, but of course that’s not the idea, you don’t want to see into the future because if you do that than what’s the point of living? You know everything already! It’s the unknown that is really, really interesting.

KB: Mmhmm.

Yeah, I – I really love that you knew even those many years ago that you know, formal photography, education wasn’t the way forward for you. And obviously that’s worked out in many ways. Maybe you want to share with the listeners or readers, um, about how you use miniature figurines in your work? You’ve used miniature figurines before to start some of those conversations. Want to talk about that?

JT: Yeah, sure that’s my series called Indians on Tour. And it really began when I came to Ottawa for the first time in 1992 to see the Samuel D’Champlain monument. And a friend had told me that there was a lovely you know, full-size Indian figure kneeling at the base of the monument. So we came up to Ottawa and checked it out. And it was interesting because I waited for all the tourists and that to leave. And then I went up to the Indian figure. And for some reason I felt motivated and talked to him. Like I would treat him like I was going to photograph – like a living person.

And the last thing that I asked him, I said Where would you go if you could leave this place?

And it set off all kinds of questions about, like, What would a 16th century Indigenous person, how would they respond to the 21st century? And it’s like in one way, we’re still dealing with the same issues that um, he would have to had dealt with moving into a city. And that same kind of political stuff going on. And so when he was finally removed in 1999, it was a protest by the Assembly of First Nations in 1996 and they threw a blanket over the Indian figure and said, cited, reasons for his removal.

[00:27:05] And it’s really interesting now to look at how this predated what’s going on in the US with a civil war monuments. And, but at that time they went into conversations with the um, with the National Capital Commission. And decided that they would remove the Indian figure and when they finally did it in 1999, it was moved just across the street from the Champlain monument. And um, so he was, he kind of, I felt obligated to begin looking at, Where would he go now? And it just happened that um, that my friend Ali Kazimi who made a film about my work called Shooting Indians: A Journey with Jeff Thomas, introduces the film with a plastic cowboy and a plastic Indian to set up the direction of the film

So at the time he sent me a box that had the figures inside of it, with a little note that said “You’ll probably find something interesting to do with these.” So I took one out with me and walked around Ottawa and found a place and put him next to a statue with the Indian hunter in the background and photographed it. That was the first one in uh, 2000, that I made. Using one of those plastic Indian figures.

And from that point on it began to evolve into a larger project. I stated taking these figures with me wherever I travelled. So if I went to Switzerland or Paris or London, if I went anywhere in the U.S. or in Canada, I would take them with me and uh, photograph them in different locations. And the idea behind the title for Indians on Tour was a reference to the Buffalo Bill Wild West shows in the late 19th century when he had had a cast of Lakota Sioux people that he would take as performers. And they travelled all over the world, and I had seen photographs where they were photographed like in a gondola in Venice and things. And I thought yeah, this is how I want my plastic Indians to look as well. 

Calling into question removal, absence of Indigenous people from particular spaces, um … Where Have They Gone Now? was another title that I worked with. Kind of referencing the tourists that would come and want to see “authentic Indians.” And um, and it also kind of in a way repopulated the landscape. Cause we lived everywhere before Europeans arrived. And so who knows how much activity was going on where I live in Ottawa. But I wanted to say with those figures that we have been to all these places.

I had – I’ve had several exhibitions with them – and one time somebody came up to me and said, “I looked at the images and I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh.” And I said “That’s perfect, because you can do both.” And that’s how I feel when I make those photographs. 

But it’s a form of empowerment as well.

[00:30:10] It’s um, because there’s so little for me to photograph that is Indigenous-related, there are so many Bank of Montreals, so many statutes, so many monuments that can be photographed that have Indigenous content. This gave me a way to play with presence. So when people look at them I want them to be aware that an Indigenous person is photographing these figures in these particular places. What does that say?

And so it’s really not about having the answers, but it’s just about positioning the question that people can, if they want to, begin to find out more about.

And with that in mind as well, the use of uh, of websites is a way for people that want to know more, can actually go to my website and find out um, the history behind different locations and things like that. So over time I also began to expand, and I would find new figurines that I would begin to use, and some that are larger and more elaborate and that. So there’s a whole cast of figures that I’ve used over, since [the year] 2000 so, it’s turned into I think probably one of my favourite series that I do. Just simply because it’s so much fun to do in finding places, and then to watch people’s reaction when they see a printing of this Indian figure on a, on a tripod and then photographed. And it’s just like – what’s going on here?

Um, but that’s the thing that I love about it, it’s being able to do that. So it’s just to say that these are all still works in progress but that’s the idea is that at some point, um, where’s the apex for all of this work? And I don’t know yet. But it’s coming soon. Um, it has to! [laughter]. I’ve been doing it for so long, you know, it’s like at some point you wanna just relax and move on. But, it’s just so compelling. You know? It’s hard to give it up, so.

KB: Mm. That’s fantastic and we’ll definitely link to your website in our show notes so that everyone can—

YK: I assume listeners will be keeping an eye out for the Apex, whenever that happens [laughs].

JT: Yeah. Well, I’m working on a, on an exhibition for um, uh, here in Ottawa at the Ottawa Art Gallery. And I think it’s 2022 and so I’m hoping that at that point, that’s when it’ll take place that everything that I’ve been working on will finally coalesce and come into focus as one major statement about what I’ve been in pursuit of. So hopefully it won’t be too much longer.

YK: Fantastic, I’ll be sure to come down to Ottawa for that. I’m hoping by that time we’ll all be able to travel safely.

KB: Hopefully!

YK: and experience the world and each other in person again.

KB: I wanted to ask you Jeff, is there anything that we haven’t gotten to yet that feels important for you to share in this space that, um, is on your mind or your heart that you wanted to share?

[00:33:20] I was…one time I gave a keynote address and it was on reconciliation and they wanted me to talk about exactly that. At that time I was thinking about, Well what does that really mean in terms of Indigenous people? It’s not us that have to reconcile colonialism, but I think what I’ve always felt is how do we begin to do it ourselves within our own families? And my focus began in Toronto on Queen street in 1984 when I photographed my then-7-year-old son Bear on Queen street in front of a tag on Wallace, Cultural Revolution. And that photograph set in motion, it began with the idea that I saw it as kind of a ritual in a way of my father/son relationship and having my son involved in what I do because I was never like that with my own father. And it was a way of, it really was a way for me to continue to keep working and thinking that I’m doing this for my son. And empowering him along with his mother, who’s an actress Monique Mojica in Toronto, we’ve both given him that sense of empowerment that we found over the years uh, within our own lives. 

I really believe that his success is a result of that, of being Bear Witness of a Tribe Called Red, and the success that he’s had with that, and it’s been a wonderful experience seeing my son grow in that way. And I think you know, really, that’s the bottom line for me in my, in what I do and the message that I want to convey is that um, how do we treat our children? And it’s not always easy, you know, it hasn’t been easy for me to do what I’ve had to overcome, things that I’ve acquired from generations of uh, negative behaviour in our family. But it’s possible. And I think that’s the message that I really want to convey with my work; of course I’ve overcome my disability and different things along the way, but I think the bottom line is having a son and being responsible for him. Is how does he become a part of this process as well? And so what I know, even if my career ended today, that what I wanted to be able to do is carry on in my son. And he’s doing that. And he’s doing it for the right reasons as well. Which I find is so important.

And that’s, I think really that’s, that’s the message that I wanna leave people with.

[00:36:10] KB: Thank you. That’s beautiful!

Yeah, it’s really lovely note to wind down on. Um, as Yousef was saying we always end with the same two questions with our guests on this show. So first I would ask you just because as you mentioned we are recording remotely over Zoom. We’re still in this pandemic, so, what has your life looked like during Covid-19 times if at all different, or …?

JT: Yeah. That’s a good question because I found that um, when I’m asked that I usually say that I didn’t even notice it. Primarily because I’m a hermit by nature. And I’ve needed to sit down and just work and go through everything that I’ve been able to produce over all these decades, and um, and then…what does it all mean? And I’ve been able to clean up my computer in that sense of going and doing the things that I could, I never had time to do before. And of course, you know, with the Zoom and that, and Facebook and things, you can still stay in touch with people you know, I’ve gotten comfortable being on Zoom. And um, and it’s worked out well. So, no, it’s uh, I mean it’s a terrible situation that we’re in. And that you know, I know that there are people out there that have to deal with you know, really bad issues in terms of sending their kids to school and this and that. But you know, I’ve been fortunate in terms of being self-employed and working at home that I just, I just turn it into something that’s been more of a positive in terms of yeah, now I can get some work done.

KB: That’s great. And um, yeah, there’s been lots of access elements that have come out of this new world we find ourselves in for sure, as you mentioned.

Um, and lastly, Jeff, I would ask you, what is bringing you joy right now? Lately?

JT: Oh … [laughs]. Hm. That’s, that’s uh … that’s a good question. I’ve never really thought about something like that before. I think … I think it’s really about how things, you know, there are certain moments in our lives everything seems to come together. And you can’t make that happen. It’s, for me, uh, I think coming back to Bodies in Translation and this joy has really been finding how it is to work with other people. Like I have a coordinator now that I could afford to hire for this project, I have the technician that I can work with, and I, I am looking forward to winter in the sense that we’ll be figuring out how to develop a storyline and go on and use video and different things and what we’re gonna do next with this project.

And I think that for me that’s what I’ve been finding.

[00:39:10] If you stick around long enough everything falls into place. And it seems like that’s what is happening right now, there are just so many things that can be done and used, and new technologies and that, that I find that there’s a lot of joy that goes into that because the work is my life. And, and now I can, I guess I figured out a lot of things at this point. It’s just going into the work and its starting to make sense. It’s not like, you’re writing something, “Wish I knew what to write, I can’t write anything,” but now I sit down, and I start writing and yeah, there’s something to write about. It’s something that my Elder had said to me when I was a teenager, because I used to sit around at the table when they would have visitors come over and listen to the Elders talk and their stories and that. And one time my Elder said that someday, Jeff is going to tell his own story, not our story.

So it kind of was burnt into my mind as a mantra. And what is my story? And uh, why won’t I be telling their story? It’s because generations have new responsibilities and I feel that I’m fulfilling mine, you know? I made a vow when I was a young boy that at some point I would be able to do that, and I would come back and I would show my Elders what I had done. Of course I can’t do that because they’re no longer here, but it doesn’t matter because it stays in your mind and you continue to use it even if they’re no longer here in a physical sense. And there’s a lot of – a lot of joy in all that. So. Yeah. It’s worked out.

[Jazz music playing]

KB: Crip Times is presented as part of the Wheels on the Ground podcast network. This podcast is produced by us, and supported by Tangled Art + Disability and Bodies in Translation.

If you enjoyed this interview, we release new episodes every Monday wherever good podcasts can be found.

[Jazz music fades out]

[Ends: 00:41:30]