BANFF – Nahanni McKay has always been around photography and the natural world.
From the days spent at her grandfather’s photography shop on Banff Avenue, to spending time in the backcountry with her mountain guide father, her current career was born.
She is now receiving both national and international recognition for her photography which she uses to bring awareness of the need to co-exist with wildlife to prevent further environmental harm.
“I want to get across the human impact on the environment. I really have a connection to this land and my hometown,” McKay said. “I just want to make people aware of the impact tourism has on the environment and what impact we have on the wildlife here.”
McKay was presented with the Lt. Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award on June 9. She would find out about the award while exhibiting her art in Venice, Italy.
“It feels great. It just feels like I am on the right path, and this is what I am meant to do,” McKay said. “I was ecstatic.”
The exhibition in Venice was also her first international exhibition.
“To be in Italy with my family and friends, it was a surreal experience,” McKay said. “I am still trying to get over it. I can’t believe my work is still in Italy as we speak.”
Growing up in Banff, surrounded by the natural world, would have a strong influence on McKay.
“I feel like a lot of artists get a lot of inspiration from the mountains,” McKay said. “Being outside and growing up with my dad as a mountain guide, I was introduced to the backcountry at a young age. That is where I felt free. I just fell in love with it, and I feel like that is why I came back after school.”
McKay graduated from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver and has also completed her Photography Practicum at the Banff Centre. She now works full-time as an artist.
“It wasn’t until I moved away from Banff, and I found myself and got to take a breather and meet new people and attend this amazing school,” McKay said. “It offered me every opportunity to explore my artistic side. I wouldn’t be the person or the artist I am today without that school.”
Receiving the award and gaining international recognition including another exhibition in Italy next year, has helped McKay change as an artist as well.
“I felt like when I was starting out, I just had fans, and now I have developed my artistic style a lot and now it is a more controversial topic,” McKay said. “It is hard getting used to and I am getting thicker skin with it, but I am making work about what is important to me.”
In the end, McKay hopes her work helps influence others to be mindful of what we do to the environment as tourists.
“I really love going to the wildlife corridors and seeing what is there. I feel like that is where I find inspiration as that is where the people and wildlife meet,” McKay said. “I hope people are more mindful with what we do to the wildlife and environment. I feel like whenever we vacation, we don’t have an awareness and we are distracted by the beauty.”