Edmund Carpenter with Oblate missionary, Fr. Marcel Rio, Igloolik, Canada, c. 1951

Carpenter spent six months of 1950 and the winters of 1951-52 living with the Aivilik Inuit, experiencing a life that would inform his innovative perceptions of anthropology throughout his career. His journals and notes of observations during his time, spent with an Aivilik family in a traditional sod hut, formed the basis of numerous books and articles throughout his career, and helped him define certain concepts of how media parallels the variety of perceptions of the environment by cultures in different places.

Father Marcel Rio, a missionary in the Nunavut Inuit territory of Canada, was Carpenter’s first guide to the region. But the biggest influence during these visits was his friendship with the Inuit hunter Ohnainewk (aka Harry Gibbons). When Carpenter later turned to the use of experimental film in his anthropological work, his friend Ohnainewk served as an important source and model. Carpenter’s unfinished film project of the 1950’s features the hand of Ohnainewk prominently, holding in his palm a series of miniature ivory carvings from the Dorset culture, a paleolithic arctic society which preceded the arrival by Inuit in eastern Canada by several thousand years.

Carpenter’s books Eskimo, 1959 and Anerca, 1960, and his well-known reworking of these books into Eskimo Realities, 1973, all reflect the experience, poetry and influence of these early field explorations.

Still from Carpenter’s unfinished film, Eskimo, circa 1953. Cinematography by Fritz Spiess.