FAYETTEVILLE — A Robeson County native and member of the Tuscarora tribe has used art and film as a way to help heal himself and others battling drug addiction.
John Whittemore, 34, has been recording videos for four years. To him, filming and seeing anything in its simplest form affects us all.
“Images and visuals are powerful and can direct viewers anywhere, in their thoughts, mannerisms, decisions, etc.,” Whittemore said.
AS he battled drug addiction, he would constantly feed himself positive images and videos in a desperate attempt to change his lifestyle, and his way of thinking and living, Whittemore said. He now uses his films to motivate and heal American Indian communities, and all communities, of drug addiction, and to bring attention to effects of colonialism and to the environment.
His journey into videography began years ago when he started playing with his phone and made a short video and was surprised that he could add music and create an overall good vibe.
“I gave doing a full music video to powwow footage a try and it was really fun, and the results became a thing,” Whittemore said.
He is always in search of things that are beautiful but usually overlooked. But mostly, he wants to use his favored way of communicating to make people feel positive about themselves and their existence.
Video is not the only way Whittemore fights addiction and tries to help people.
Whittemore, who knows firsthand how hard recovery is, is a North Carolina certified peer addiction coach and is the lead counselor for Live Twice Movement. He uses his position to link people with the resources they need.
In a related addiction-fighting moment, Whittemore filmed the North Carolina Longest Walk. His goal was to show people stepping up to fight domestic violence and addiction.
“I met a lot of people I now consider family. That was an awesome couple of days,” Whittemore said.
Whittemore is a member of Native Organizers Alliance of The Coalition of Woodland Nations and of EcoRobeson. He filmed a protest of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that took place in Robeson County. He was there to protest but also wanted to highlight people working to protect their community, Whittemore said.
“The work we are doing is educating the public on local environmental issues and resolutions,” Whittemore said. “People needed to see others doing work to be reminded they can actually have an impact. It was an amazing feeling being around some really awesome people that came together for a cause.”
Some of Whittemore’s most recent films are the Haliwa-Saponi powwow, the Lumbee powwow and the Tuscarora powwow.
“I honestly love doing powwow videos,” Whittemore said. “I’m always super happy because I’m around family and everything is unplanned and literally in the moment.”
Whittemore is the son of Sandra and Charles Whittemore, and he often dances alongside his sister April Whittemore in powwows. He started dancing at age 3, stepped away from powwows at the age of 17 but came back to the culture to try and lift people up and to heal himself.
And making videos was one way to lift and heal.
“I started with 10-second clips and then on to 15- ,20-, 30-seconds clips, literally watching and studying all types of early foreign art films and 80s and 90s music videos, trying to recreate certain shots and feelings with my phone and how I edited it all,” Whittemore said.
Whittemore tries to convey the overall feeling of each event he videos, along with undertones projected through symbolism and the mannerism of the the people in them.
“We don’t see a lot of imagery or visuals that convey our existence in the right now, especially in the indigenous communities in North Carolina, and I want people to see us and understand all the aspects of our individual communities, but I also do it because our people are incredibly beautiful,” Whittemore said.
American Indian communities convey so much good energy, and the people wear their stories on their faces that can be felt in seconds, he said.
Whittemore also uses the Earth and all of its beauty in his videos.
“In my own way I’m fighting my own inherit domestication, so to speak,” Whittemore said. “I love nature deeply and really feel at home outside in it.”
He jokingly said, “It’s my therapist. But in all seriousness, it is.”
Whittemore also paints portraits that are sold at Alter Egos Gallery in Fayetteville.
“I love painting faces because they show emotion the best and clearest,” he said.
Whittemore said his journey of becoming a father to his son, Parker Lewis, has helped him care more about everything in life.
“I really want to be someone he is proud of, but more so someone capable of being able to teach and show him things,” he said.
Michelle Adujar can be reached at [email protected]