James (Jim) Jerome

The promising career of one of the first Dene professional photographers in the Northwest Territories ended abruptly on November 17, 1979. Jim Jerome was only 30 years old when he lost his life when his Inuvik home burned down.

Jim Jerome was born in Aklavik on July 31, 1949, at the traditional Gwich’in place on the East Channel of the Mackenzie River called Nichìitsìi diniinlee (Big Rock). He attended residential school in Inuvik and later attained a Northwest Territories welding certificate. As a welder, he was able to afford the high cost of his true passion, photography.

At 12, Jim was given a ‘Brownie’ box camera and began photographing his environment and people. By the mid 1970s, people noticed his extraordinary skill in working with light and form. He worked with the Native Press newspaper for eight months in 1977, followed by a freelance career in his studio and remote locations.

During the years just before his death, Jim had embarked on a significant photo-journalism project “to document the lifestyle of the Dene Elders along the Mackenzie Valley.” As a Dene person, he was readily accepted into the daily activities of the people living in these communities; they were at ease with his presence, which shows in his remarkable collection of photographs.

Many of Jerome’s negatives were damaged in the fire that killed him, and it was only through careful conservation treatment that some of them were saved. His photographs, a collection of more than 9,000 negatives, are a unique record of traditional Gwich’in activities on the land taken at a time when the North was rapidly changing. They show a way of life deeply embedded in traditions that continue to be practiced today in the Northwest Territories.