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Women Explorers: Sharon Grainger

…Asia to Europe, Africa to the Americas, I’ve immersed in vastly different cultures. I’ve spent time among the Seri Indians of the Gulf of California, and the Tarahumara or Rarámuri of Copper Canyon in Northwestern Mexico. Now, it’s the Pacific Northwest…
Certified Photo Instructor and Naturalist, Lindblad Expeditions

A fifth-generation artist driven by the power of creative images

Sharon’s degrees in psychology and anthropology from Eastern Washington University established the base, and her extensive travels have widened and focused her awareness. Self-described as an ethnobotanist and a photographer, she has developed a portfolio of images encompassing her many interests, including travel photograph, herbal medicine, indigenous cultures, and natural and cultural history. Her travels with Lindblad Expeditions have taken her around the world. Get Inspired By Photos, Videos, Webinars, Stories, And Exclusive Offers. Sign Up


These days, she spends a significant time on the Northwest Coast, as a certified photo instructor aboard our ships in British Columbia and Alaska. In 2019, Sharon, along with our Director of Artisan Development, Stacy Rivett, and our Director of Conservation and Strategic Initiatives, Amy Berquist, was responsible for uniting “her Northwest family and her Lindblad family.” A multi-generational group of Kwakwaka’wakw chiefs, elders, and artists from Alert Bay from the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, British Columbia came to our New York office to share their appreciation for our longstanding support of their community. They were also in town for the opening of an exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center (BGC) Gallery in Manhattan that held a great deal of personal meaning for them: “The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology.”

Against a backdrop of the magnificent natural beauty of the Northwest, Sharon has learned about the richness and drama deeply woven into the daily lives of these native peoples who consider their land and territory as part of their community. As she explains: Northwest Coast native people focus on transformational beings as their ancestors. These beings illuminate their origins, links to families living today, and vital narratives about the connectedness between the land and the people. Through the pageantry of celebration and dance, native peoples of the Northwest Coast recreate the spirit-filled world and the encounters their ancestors had with the supernatural.

And through Sharon, we were carried to understanding, as the Kwakwaka’wakw filled the Lindblad West Village office with drumming, dance—and the ineffable.

We asked Sharon Grainger:

What is your favorite Lindblad Expeditions destination?

The Northwest Coast, all the way from Seattle all the way up to Southeast Alaska. That area is very much about indigenous people, and I have very strong lifelong connections on this coast. So, that is my favorite place to be.


What destination would you most like to explore?

One of the Nations I’ve not been too, but about whom I’ve heard a lot and would like to visit, are the indigenous people of Greenland.

Name your female hero/es and why?

Imogen Cunningham. She was a local Seattle photographer who had worked in Edward S. Curtis’s dark room early in her career. She approached photography with a passion for the craft, strong character, ready and willing to work hard, but also understood how to take life as it comes. One of my favorite quotes from her is “One must be able to gain an understanding at short notice and close range of the beauties of character, intellect, and spirit so as to be able to draw out the best qualities and make them show in the outer aspect of the sitter.”

Very few women in the early 1900s were portrait photographers. She is described by many photographers of the time as an “independent spirit.” Through my study of her work, I observed her development of a distinctive and strong photographic style. To this day I can look at old black and white photographs and immediately spot an image made by Imogen Cunningham.

I understand her approach and have mixed the ‘working’ part of the task with what I feel is critical, the exchange that happens between photographer and subject… how, I as a photographer see my subjects. This creates the image—the image that marks that exchange.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am a fifth-generation artist. I come from a line of portrait photographers. The first picture I took when handed a camera was of my Polish grandfather, and I was hooked from then on—on portraits. 

Find out more about U’mista and the Kwakwaka’wakw at umistapotlatch.ca.