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South Baffin's Jimmy Manning documents his surroundings through words and photos, earns "Unsung Hero" medal

Jimmy Manning is documenting everyday life.

Jimmy Manning has spent decades assessing and purchasing art for the Co-op in Cape Dorset. He's also been chronicling life in the North through his own photography and journals. Manning has been chosen as a Canada 150 "Unsung Hero" medal winner by Senator Dennis Patterson. Photo courtesy of Pitseolala Manning

He regularly takes numerous photos, shoots video and jots down daily notes in his journals, of which he has amassed several volumes.

"I just keep shooting, shooting, shooting," Manning said of his trusty Nikon digital camera. "And I do some kind of a diary that I write every day, what is happening in the North and so on."

He's on his 12th volume, and he may leave his journals with the Kenojuak Cultural Centre someday, he said.
"I have had people from the south – curators – look at it, and the youth (in Cape Dorset) view scripts," he said.

A promoter of the arts, Co-op employee for almost 45 years and a father of eight, Manning has been recognized as a Canada 150 "Unsung Hero" medal winner by Senator Dennis Patterson.

"I didn't expect to get an award," said the soft-spoken Manning.

His nomination recognized him as an "integral figure in the development of the Kinngait Co-operative," former manager of Kinngait Studios, a board member with the Inuit Art Foundation and a liaison for Cape Dorset artists.

He learned of the medal from his wife, who took the call from the senator's office on her husband's behalf. Manning was on a boat trip at the time, outside of Kimmirut, where he was born. He travels back and forth – 14 hours by water in good conditions or a day or two by snowmobile – at least once a year to visit his birth family and other relatives. Sometimes he takes an extra day or two to stop at landmarks, which he is also documenting on a large map.

Manning was adopted by his uncle in Cape Dorset when he was an infant. He inherited a love of photography from his grandfather, Peter Pitseolak, his adoptive mother's father. Pitseolak developed film at his outpost camp.
"I used to watch him," Manning recalled. "One time my grandfather said it was very important to document or take photographs of the people of your area. He loved doing that, so I've kind of done that and I still do that... it has to be part of our history."

In the early 1980s, Manning also developed black-and-white film in his own darkroom. He learned the hard way that chemicals in the local water were hard on the negatives, which would often turn out purple instead of the customary black.

He's now using digital technology and also shoots videos. When he returns to Kimmirut he spends time with some of the knowledge keepers to chronicle their memories.

"We're trying to connect a bit more with the remaining elders for some of the stories that they may give to us. I was able to do a few videos of that," he said, adding that he shot Super-8 format film as long ago as the 1970s.

Growing up in Cape Dorset, "art was always in my mind," he said. He recalls observing elders sculpting with small axes and other hand tools while working outside.

The Co-op provided him training in Cape Dorset and Toronto to put value on artwork. After 15 years of buying art, he was promoted to studio manager, a job he held for more than 25 years.

He was transitioning into semi-retirement a few years ago when he was asked to take over as manager of the Co-op's retail operations in Cape Dorset. He accepted.

"I enjoy it. I love talking to people," he said.

He has done some sketching, printmaking and carving of his own over the years – and he also enjoys making qamutiik and going out kayaking – but photography remains his passion. He still has his father's aging Polaroid camera as well as his own old Kodak Instamatic model.

"You had to send the film out in the mail to the south, to Toronto. It took so long and when the slides came back you forgot what pictures you were taking," he said, chuckling.

Many of his historic slides are in Montreal to be digitized.

"With my work, I'm more than happy if anybody wants to use (the images) for children's books, and they have been from Vancouver and other places, yep," he said.