How I Made It

Tenille Campbell, Photographer, Poet & Writer

Tenille Campbell is a Saskatoon-based storyteller whose work takes many forms, including poetry and photography. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Tenille Campbell sits backwards in a chair in long thin feathered earrings, black top, and blue jeans

Tenille Campbell; @sweetmoonphoto

How do you describe what you do to your parents?

I’m a storyteller, I often tell my parents. My storytelling just takes multiples forms—be it photography, poetry, blogging or research.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

In 2008, a couple of my friends needed headshots, and asked me to photograph them. While I still cringe at my uber-saturated and contrast-y editing at the time, I remain in love with the feeling of my clients loving their images.

What’s the worst gig you’ve ever done solely for money?

I’ve worked retail throughout my undergrad. Soul-crushing work, but necessary if you want to live beyond KD and noodles.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

I don’t think there was any ‘big break’ for me—I’ve always just maintained a consistent presence and worked with like-minded people on projects. I knew what I wanted to photograph, what I wanted to write, what I wanted to present and have stuck fairly close to those goals when saying yes to gigs or freelance projects with others.

What would you say has been your biggest fail, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

I haven’t really ‘failed,’ which sounds so privileged (ha) but for every mistake I have made, there’s been a learning curve. Dropped a camera, now I always carry a backup. Lost files, now I double upload when backing up. Upset a client, realized not every client is my client.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

Know your finances. I say this after having spent years fumbling around every tax season, trying to gather receipts and papers and never feeling steady. Finally, I hired an external tax person and accountant, as I never felt secure in doing this side myself. It is not wrong to recognize a weakness in your business and to take the steps to fix it, even if it means recruiting outside help.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

When my social media presence began to get a bit more notice, I was told to be “more inclusive.” This was obviously by someone who did not understand me. I write Indigenous poetry. I photograph Indigenous experiences. I walk through this life as an Indigenous woman and this affects everything from how I approach education, kinship, relationships, photography, intimacy and so on. I just nodded, smiled and moved on.

When you’re feeling low about your work, what’s the one thing you always do to bring yourself back up again?

When I’m low, I text my girls. I am surrounded by powerful, creative Indigenous women. These are artists, musicians, beaders, singers, writers, academics, mothers, grandmas, aunties. I reach out, I let myself be vulnerable, and always, I am lifted by their support and encouragement.

Who are your three favourite social media follows from your industry? What do you love about them?

Indigenous Goddess Gang is a group of Indigenous women from the United States who have an Instagram feed and an online journal that explores what it means to be a modern woman.

Chief Lady Bird is a Chippewa/Potawatomi artist whose work consistently makes me sit back and reflect. [She’s also a #HowIMadeIt2018 honouree, and the artist behind this year’s #HowIMadeIt illustration!]

Nadya Kwandibens is one of my original role models in Indigenous photography, and her work has always captured the true reflections of our people.

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?

As a photographer, I would say that the image of “Indian” is often very stereotypical and negative and it takes constant work to challenge these images. For every beautiful portrait of an Elder, there are a hundred Beckys wearing a headdress to a festival. That being said, I am one photographer and artist in a rich field of Indigenous artists who have the talent and means to make waves in Canadian society.

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it?

I think it’s the same problems in almost every profession. Childcare. Equal pay. Safety in unfamiliar environments. Being taken seriously on the job. What would fix it? Ha—put a woman in charge. She’ll get ish done.

Have you ever disclosed your salary to a colleague in the name of transparency? Why or why not?

To my women colleagues, hell yeah. Of course. We raise each other up, we are here to build a community.

  • Click here for more work-life inspo from the awesome people on our #HowIMadeIt List