Phylis Nicole Isham

Aaniin danaa! my name is Nikki Isham, I am 20 years old. I am an Anishinabe woman. I live on Leech Lake Reservation but I grew up in Nett Lake Village on the Boise Forte Reservation. I’ve been with Ogichidaakweg (Sisters In Leadership) Program since 2000. I live in Cass Lake, Minnesota in my east end pirate house. I teach youth from Leech Lake and Boise Forte Reservation. I am also a student at the Leech Lake Tribal College. 


In 2002 I was invited to screen my first video “Walking Alone On The Road of Depression” at the Sundance Film Festival. I took a long break after that and just started producing again in 2004. It’s rough trying to make your art when you don’t have any tools. So whenever I get the chance I bury myself in my work. It’s not often. 


Right now I am working on a GRIP of prints and old pictures getting them ready to bring to CA. I have worked with both video and photo, but i prefer neither...i just take more pictures. Creating videos and photographs is flippin' AWESOME, i love it. I have a lot to learn still especially in terms of getting more comfortable with the computer.


Philosophy as an Artist

I always seemed to remember things as momentary flashes, or when I had seen things that maybe I would have preferred not to see at all- the image, the moment has been forever burned into the visionary recollection part of my brain. When I remember something, the scene plays in my head like a sequence. Some call it a photographic memory, or play-by-play-playback. Either way, this strange sort of thinking led me to grow into an image saver, a video artist, a bit of a manipulator, and as of now, a philosopher. 


I remember wanting to be able to accurately describe to someone something truly amazing, to advocate for a feeling or a belief. To SAY SOMETHING in a way that could make eyes open and ears listen. To inspire others to embrace the chance to do the same. 


My high school offered photography as an elective class, and I took that class in 10th grade. Ms. Ross (Mrs. These days) taught the class, and she was a new teacher. On the first day of class, our instructor seemed excited as little by little students wandered into her classroom. The class was rambunctious at first, and it took her a bit to get everyone settled down enough for her to welcome us to photography. After a gradual hush followed Ms. Ross explaining the birth of photography, starting with the evolution of the pinhole camera into the 35-millimeter cameras we would be using during our time in this class. On the table in front of her, students were listening while observing an original pinhole camera that was very old. The instructor went on about the elements of the camera; how it worked, what made it work. While we handled the camera, she walked over to the windows and shut the curtains one by one-then walked to the door and shut off the lights. The only window left open was the one directly in front of where we studied the camera. When she came over to us, she explained that as human beings, we can store images in our heads in the same way that the pinhole camera was made to, and how that greatly influenced how the camera was made. She stood in front of the window, and told us all to close our eyes, that she was going to completely darken the room, and that she would tell us when to open our eyes. It was clear that she was going to show something to those that wanted to see, and others were simply missing out. I closed my eyes, and heard the curtains shut. She counted to three, and told us to open our eyes for 10 seconds, and close them immediately. Then she quickly opened the curtain and shut them. At that moment, I understood what she was showing us; after I opened and re-closed my eyes, the image of the window and what was outside was there in full sight even though my eyes were closed. The concept totally blew my mind, and I took that class two years in a row. I was completely smitten, the passion was fueled every time I cradled a camera or successfully developed my film. 


My grandma bought me my first camera, and loads of film. I had a hard time with those rolls of film, I know that some of those rolls of film are complete losers but it was a learning process for me. (I never developed ANY of that film.) At times I took that camera to places it probably shouldn’t have been, nor should I but that’s beside the point. I would always run out of film too soon.


The last time I took photography in high school, Ms. Ross told me about a lady coming here during summer, that she was an artist from the cities and would be accompanied by youth mentors to give a workshop on digital photography. (digital?) She said that if I wasn’t doing anything that I should stop by that maybe I might enjoy it. First of all, I had no interest at all to do digital photos, to me it seemed that it was cheating to be able to manipulate an otherwise permanent image on some computer program, it just wasn’t my thing. It also would mean that no longer would I be working in a darkroom where I observed the whole process of my images being developed. (Control freak) Later on that summer, I went to the workshop anyways, that was where I was introduced to Ogichidaakweg. The program was explained to us, and then a run-down of the equipment they were making available for us to use. It was there that I began my integration into digital art. I made a movie that summer about depression; its purpose was to show it in its truest form. I had problems in my life, and it seemed so difficult to tell the people that worried about me and loved me what was going on with me. The movie I made was way helpful, for those people and myself. Later more people would awkwardly give me kudos for my film, and to tell you the truth I never even thought it was that good.


The things that inspire me to take photos are the moment itself, sometimes everything just seems to fall into place with the natural photography that I do. A lot of times my intentions for digital manipulation inspires me to take photos of things that I can play with on the computer-other times with the digital manipulation, I am looking for something specific. Most of the time, I just get into the mode where everything that is around me is jumping out at me- colors, people, moments, everything. I travel around all over with my camera and just take pictures. When I look at them on the computer later, I get excited because I remember exactly why I took the picture, what I may have been feeling, I remember almost everything about them. So unless I am looking for something specific, my influences are everywhere and scattered about everywhere I look.