If the northern lights are out, Alysa Ferguson will be too. Taking pictures of the dancing lights is her passion and her therapy.
For months she had been waiting for the perfect night to take photos of a red dress beneath the aurora borealis outside of her home in Thompson, about 760 km north of Winnipeg. And when it arrived she was ready.
On Feb. 11, the self-taught photographer shared two of her photos on social media to raise awareness about Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people in Canada.
“We need to bring awareness to this topic cause it needs to be talked about and their stories and names need to be shared,” she said.
Ferguson was inspired by The ReDress project, by Jaime Black. The art installation project displays red dresses in public spaces to raise awareness of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada.
Last fall, Ferguson was given the red dress and mannequin seen in the picture because she often raises awareness of the topic. She said she had to use the gifts in a meaningful way.
The aurora chaser originally planned to take the picture later in the year but when she looked up at the sky that night, she knew it was time.
“I had this vision in my head for a while,” Ferguson said, adding she wasn’t sure how to create it.
So she went to the outskirts of the city to capture the full glow of the aurora borealis. She’s always heard that the northern lights are spirits trying to connect with us.
She intentionally stopped along highway 391 because it’s the only road connecting Thompson to a lot of remote and northern Indigenous communities.
She then used the lights of cars traveling by to illuminate the red dress.
Ferguson, who is also a kindgergarten teacher, talks to her students about MMIWG2S. That’s how she met her friend, Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, the chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle, an organization that advocates and provides guidance for MMIWG2S people.
“Hilda was a really big inspiration to me,” Ferguson said, adding that Anderson-Pyrz helped school children heal and talk about the issue in a very respectful manner.
Over the span of six or seven years, the pair collaborated to raise awareness of MMIWG2S. And during that time, Ferguson said Anderson-Pyrz shared bits and pieces of how her family was affected.
In November 2011, Anderson-Pyrz’s sister, Dawn Anderson, was found dead near her home. The family was told by police that her death was caused by hypothermia but they know that’s not the case.
After losing her, Anderson-Pyrz said she had a vivid dream of the northern lights all around her.
Ferguson didn’t realize when she took the pictures that she had recreated Anderson-Pryz’s dream.
“I really wanted to do something in honour of her family,” Ferguson said, adding she intentionally doesn’t watermark her images so people can use them and share them if they want.
“I’ve always been taught that when you have a gift, you’re meant to share it with others. That gift is never meant for you to keep it. So this is my way of gifting it.”
The photos also raise awareness.
“It’s really important to promote that all Canadians are part of the solution to end the genocide,” Anderson-Pyrz said.