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It has been a very cloudy and cold winter so far in Pinehouse Lake Saskatchewan. Most days and evenings have been cloudy and not the right settings for night photography.

"It has been really tough waiting everyday and every night to go out" says Dre Erwin, President of the Pinehouse Photography Club (PPC). "Photography gives myself and others an opportunity to not only learn a new skill, but gives us the opportunity to seek beauty and find happiness" says Erwin. "Not having the lights really does impact my own mental health as well".

The last 3 nights Pinehouse saw clear skies and northern lights!

"Finally" says Charlene Halkett, PPC member and volunteer.

Over the last 3 nights, 5-6 members of the PPC were able to get out and do night photography, some of them for the first time ever. 9 year old Aliyah Smith was one of them.

Along with other members, Aliyah quickly learned how to take pictures of the northern lights. "It was so much fun. I just didn't wanted to stop even though my toes were really cold the first night" said Smith.

"Doing night photography can seem intimidating at first because it requires some different equipment and techniques. But what we want to do to teach youth that it isn't that hard with the right direction" says Erwin.

The PPC organized in Pinehouse Lake and a branch of the Canadian PhotoHealth Authority, using therapeutic photography to help teach photography to youth and use the skill to help them answer questions such as "How does taking this picture make you feel? What do you want other people to think/feel when they see this picture? How does taking pictures and being apart of this club help with your own mental health?

For Aliyah, "photography makes me feel happy!!"

"I want other people to think how amazing it is up here and I want them to see what I have done and I am just 9 years old", Smith. "We want youth to be proud of their community and we want them to practice seeing the good in life," says Erwin. "The more one looks for positivity, the more they will attract it in their own lives". For the youth and members of the PPC, this is what they aim to do not only in Pinehouse, but all over the country.

"Being in the club is awesome! I love photography especially with the northern lights and it makes me feel happy and I forget about any bad thoughts or feelings I might have", Smith. "When we were ready to leave, it was Aliyah who didn't want to stop lol" says Erwin. "She really enjoyed it!". "It is what the youth in Pinehouse are asking for...more of this!"

Situated in Pinehouse Lake, the PPC aims to provide cameras, equipment, and training to anyone in the community. "It's been a long, tough uphill battle at times" says Erwin. "Often we don't have enough volunteers to help either!" "It doesn't matter where I go, the gym, to the store, or messaging me on Facebook, youth are

constantly asking me "When is the studio open?" When can we go out and take pictures?" says Erwin. "As a primary care nurse I have my own commitments and obligations but I see what the club is doing for youth as such an innovative way to help prevent mental health issues in the future!".

"It is the youth that really matter and their mental health so even though it's often very challenging, to me it is so worth it!" says Erwin

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Both 12 years of age, friends Jaredan Smith and Caleb Smith from the Pinehouse Photography Club, join elder Donald Boyd while he checks on his snares near Pinehouse Lake. Donald Boyd, 61 years of age says he has been trapping since he was 20. "It was taught to me by my parents and "it's a way of life for me" Boyd says, " I usually set my snares and then go check them every 3-4 days".

Boyd uses the rabbits and what he catches to feed his family, friends and elders. "It has been a part of our culture for thousands of years...to live off the land and share with others", Boyd.

An important part of trapping and hunting is sharing with other people from the community. "When someone has food, everyone shares".

Connecting youth with culture: "we wanted to help youth connect with traditional ways of life, by using photography," says Erwin "By taking pictures, not only do the youth have the opportunity to experience things they might not see everyday, but they are able to create something that will help preserve tradition that might be lost with time" Erwin. Boyd eagerly invited the youth to join him as he went to check on approx 50 snares and traps he set out.

"It gives us more appreciation and respect for our culture" Jaredan Smith

During there walk, the group found a rabbit still alive in a snare. "I have only seen this happen once before" says Jaredan, " But I have never seen a live rabbit caught before." During their excursion through a dim lit trail about a km long, the youth were able to find 3 rabbits caught by snares, one of them was still alive. "It was shocking to see how the rabbits were killed" says Celeb, as they witnessed Boyd quickly kill the rabbit. "It's a part of our culture, sometimes the rabbits or animals are still alive and have to be killed", Boyd.

"It was a lot of fun" says Caleb. "I can't wait to go out again!". It was "really enjoyable. We were able to get outside, get some exercise, take pictures and be able to be a part of this!" Jaredan. "I want to get more youth from the club involved" Jaredan.

The Pinehouse Photography Club uses therapeutic photography to help youth talk about mental health. The club also uses the knowledge of photography to help youth connect with cultural experiences. "Kids have more of a purpose to go out and take pictures. They connect with elders and traditional ways of life while preserving those memories and moments forever," Erwin. "We find youth happier when they feel as sense of belonging," says Erwin "It feels good to be a part of this and be able to help by taking pictures," says Charlene Halkett, club member, "it helps us connect with tradition".

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When it comes to mental health problems, say depression and anxiety, most of what is offered are responses to the problems such as medications, support, and counselling. We look at getting verbal help when we deal with things like depression or anxiety. But most often, we are left after wondering "now what!?"

"If I didn’t find out about you guys I would probably be doing cuts on my arms and I would be probably still in my depression putting myself down,"

-Keara Tinker, youth photographer.

There are so many reasons why photography can be therapeutic.

Photography can be used as a way of expressing yourself with the use of a camera. Without even saying a word, people can take pictures to express their emotions and feelings.

Youth are encouraged to go outside, connect with nature and get physical exercise. "I love going outside and exploring, looking for things to take pictures of," Tinker. They come to the club, meet new people, make new friends and bonds with others. "It feels like our own little family" Louis Iron, youth photographer. Photographs often allow positive feedback from others, which can be huge when going through depression or dealing with anxiety. "Kids share their pictures on social media, they get likes and messages from people all over the country," Dre Erwin, President of the Pinehouse Photography Club.

"Having the club and all of you support me encourages me to do more and start helping others to do the same."

-Charlene Halkett, photographer

With so many youth feeling isolated and alone especially in northern and rural communities, "having this positive feedback, something they created, is such a rewarding experience for us all", Erwin.

“Keeping your emotions all locked up is something that’s unfair to you. When you clearly know how you feel. You should say it.”

— Taylor Swift

Those that practice therapeutic photography begin to see life in a different way. "I never seen Pinehouse the way I see it now" says Angelina Ratt, youth photographer. It provides a shift in perspective (you’re literally looking through a new/different lens, often seeing the world differently).

"Photography helped me a lot in life. Before, I was going through depressing and negative thoughts all the time"

-Louis Iron

Using photography helps give people a positive focus. It begins to help, especially youth, in how they perceive the world around them. Youth practice focusing through the lens, say to get a clear or sharp picture, eventually they begin to apply this technique to everyday life. "The more you look for beauty, the more you practice looking for the perfect shot, the more you see in even without the camera in front of your face," Dre Erwin, President of the Pinehouse Photography Club. Focusing through the camera leads to "increased ability to focus in your life and focus on what positive things that you want in your life. "It is the law of attraction" Erwin.

"What you think of the most is what you will attract,"

-Erwin

When youth begin practicing this, they begin to always looks for beauty and the perfect shot, "wherever they are and whatever they are doing, they begin to focus on what is good in life, and no so much on what is bad or maybe what happened in the past" Erwin.

"A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes." – Gandhi

Photography acts as non-verbal communication, which can be huge when dealing with issues like depression or anxiety that are hindered by stigma. "So many of our youth have never talked about thoughts of suicide or depression with anyone before. This is so enlightening to see how photography opens the door to talking about your thoughts and feelings" Erwin. Youth begin expressing themselves through their pictures, a perfect opportunity for self expression and reflection. "We ask youth questions like 'what inspired you to take these pictures; how do they make you feel and what were you thinking and feelings when you took them; how do you want others to feel when they see them.'' Erwin.

Therapeutic photography also works like a form of meditation for the youth. It provides them like a “flow” state with photography, but often it simply helps youth to focus externally — rather than getting caught up in the thoughts racing through their mind.

"Photography was my escape from the pain I was going through. Whenever I was having a bad day, I knew I could always go to my camera"

-Chris Triffo, Wavelength Director

Photography can be a connection to your subconscious mind, helping youth to discover powerful personal insights about the cause behind their depression. Often the answers we seek externally are found within us.

For more information, you can contact the PPC here or visit their Facebook group.

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