The Drone and the REdress Photo

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The following story is adapted from my photographer friend, Mufty Mathewson, who began taking Red Dress pictures in early 2015 to honor MMIWG across Canada.  I was fortunate to meet Mufty in October 2015 at a Victims Services conference and have since supported and participated in many Red Dress activities as the Photography Project grew.   Many people submitted images; many were posted and shown at conventions, classrooms, galleries and various gatherings across Alberta over the following years.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the above event on July 26, 2021.

Steve Ricketts, the drone photographer, was a member of Mufty’s camera club.  She was impressed with his drone collection of backyard rink photos and they discussed the possibility of creating a big Red Dress at the Edmonton Legislature.  Mufty invited interested people and posted information on her REdress Photography Facebook page.  Here is her story.

“The day dawns cloudy and warm as we drive to the east side of the Legislature.  A security commissionaire allows us to park in the handicap parking so there is not too far to walk.  I bring three red dresses.  No one else is about.  I put my three red dresses on the ground so strangers can identify who we are.

A woman arrives and introduces herself.  She has five red dresses and puts them on the grass beside mine.  Two other women arrive, one from Camrose and one from Strathmore near Calgary.  The have six red dresses.  My friend Elaine and her daughter arrive with 12 red dresses.  They went thrift shopping and have a lovely collection of evening dresses.

My friend Wanda arrives carrying a large plastic bin full of red dresses.  She had been to more Goodwill stores as her original collection was circulating to schools through her Braided Journey programs.

Everyone gathers up their red dresses and treks to a chosen spot on a green grass hill.  Wanda suggests we begin with two straps for the top of the dress, form a bodice that cinches in at the waist, and follow with a full skirt.  The spread of red dresses includes tiny velvet and taffeta children’s dresses, cotton and linen day dresses, crepe, chiffon, and satin evening dresses, all in various shades of red.  Wanda’s plan begins to take shape.  The bodice fills out, the waist is created by a strip of black fabric, and the rest of the 51 red dresses create a beautiful A-line skirt on the green, green grass.  As a final piece de resistance, a little girl’s dress with lots of bling is placed as the belt buckle.  It is perfect.

At the same time, a rally to support Alberta nurses is happening 500 meters away on the grounds.  Journal photographer David Bloom is covering that event and comes to investigate our activity on the grassy hill.  He takes several pictures of the work in progress and records details of who we are and what we are doing.  He has no idea if his picture will run as this was not his assignment.

Finally, Steve unfolds the legs of his DJI Mavic Mini drone and off it flies above us all.  Steve controls it with his smartphone and can see what the drone sees.  He photographs the dress by itself and asks all the workers to join hands to make a halo around the top of the dress.  He asks them to look up with their hands in the air.  By then the drone is just a little bitty thing high in the sky flying above the action.

Twenty minutes later the shoot is over.  People gather up the dresses and give most of them to Wanda who puts them in her big bin for another occasion.  We thank everyone and disperse.  There is a sense of good will among the workers.  Honoring MMIWG can be a difficult subject with people feeling sad, outraged, and dismayed.  However, there is deep satisfaction in creating an image that will assist in bringing attention to this profoundly serious issue.”

The next morning page A4 of the Edmonton Journal featured a lovely picture of a red dress being created.  The headline read: BRIGHT COLOUR, SOLEMN REMINDER: Indigenous supporters used 51 dresses to create the outline of a giant dress in honour of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls at the Alberta Legislature.

Thank you, Mufty and friends.  The work continues!