Jen Samuel, a photo editor at National Geographic, and NatGeo photographer Kiliii Yuyan talk about the process of making photographs, researching and pitching stories, the editor-photographer relationship, and more. Filmed at the Museum of Art Fort Collins, CO, in conjunction with Yuyan’s exhibition “People of the Whale”, and National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Photographs, made possible by the Center for Fine Art Photography.
A big thank you to Jen Samuel for flying out to Colorado to talk with me at the opening of my exhibition, People of the Whale, at theMuseum of Art Fort Collins. Additional thanks to Hamidah Glasgow of the Center for Fine Art Photography and Lisa Palmatier of the Museum.
My work serves as a counterpoint to the other half of the museum, which has an exhibition titled, “50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic.” Curator Hamidah Glasgow thought it would be a great way to show, in a sense, the fading mainstream world of photojournalism juxtaposed against the new breed of photographer that is seeking to de-colonize journalism. In this case, it also serves to highlight that National Geographic itself has made big changes to how it tells stories and who is telling them.
Opening & Talks, Friday Nov 8th
The opening reception is Friday, November 8th. I’ll be doing an artist talk about my work with Arctic indigenous peoples, then leading up to something quite amazing: Jen Samuel, a photo editor from National Geographic, and I, asking each other questions and talking about photography and journalism!
Many thanks to Hamidah Glasgow and Jen Samuel for making it all come together!
Excited to announce I’m running a Drone Storytelling Workshop at Photo Center NW, Seattle, Oct 26-27. It wasn’t long ago that drones, or UAVs, came onto the scene, and we began seeing the same photos from directly above, of a beach or a forest canopy. Let’s move beyond! Today UAVs, are best thought of as flying lenses. While you can get epic landscapes with them, you can also use them to get to a human height over difficult places. Master the technical details and you can widen your ability to tell phenomenal stories.
UAVs seem simple, but they are dangerous to aircraft, and pose ethical issues with wildlife and people. How do you fly in zones near rural airports? How can you use them to build relationships with people rather than conflict? How can they improve your photographic stories? Join us October 26-27 in Seattle, at Photo Center NW.
Last winter, Jason Mark of Sierra Magazine asked me to work on a story on conservation in Chile. This particular story would be on the largest land donation for conservation in history, by the former CEO of Patagonia Inc, Kris Tompkins. I immediately had concerns because I understood that the gauchos inhabiting the land had been removed it became a park. As history has shown, evicting local and Indigenous peoples from their land proves to be a terrible idea in the long run.
There were all these stories about this mysterious project that was going to take possession of the lands and waters of Chile.
-Dago Guzman, superintendent of Patagonia Parque Nacional
But by the time Jason and I had trekked over a hundred miles over the sweltering and mountainous terrain of the new Patagonia Parque Nacional, we had seen a puma, herds of guanacos, countless birds, and I had changed my mind. In that time, I had come to understand the unique dynamics of the situation, the people, and their history. Central Patagonia’s new national parks have become a huge win for conservation.
Before it came to be though, Chileans were suspicious of the Tompkins gringos. How did it come to be? Why was the establishment of these parks nothing like the genocidal establishment of the national parks in the United States and elsewhere? Find out in Sierra Magazine.
When it comes to the wildlife, this is the best that could have happened, the transformation into a park.
-Daniel Velasquez Romero, former sheepherder, known as Patagonia’s “deer whisperer”
No place in the Arctic is less famous yet more important than the wetlands of the politically named National Petroleum Reserve. At the junction of several migratory bird flyways, it’s the densest concentration of birds in the Arctic. I spent a month over two seasons photographing this epic and intensely living landscape, and I am forever changed by it.
For birds, it has been called “Heathrow at the top of the world.”
Unfortunately, the reserve also has sizable oil and gas deposits, in particular around the critical wetland areas of Teshekpuk Lake. And the special protections put into place previously are being dismantled by the Trump administration.
It is more important, there are more birds, of higher density, in the NPR-A than in the Arctic [National Wildlife] Refuge.
Many people know that I’m a staunch supporter of conservation by local Indigenous communities, and that foremost I believe in the importance of people on the land. In a world manipulated by powerful forces, the land and its local guardians can use a helping hand. Legal protections can make a huge difference for a landscape and its wildlife. At Teshekpuk, there is a caribou herd that thousands depend on for subsistence, plus that critical bird habitat for migratory birds.
This last contest season I had many stories that had not yet been completed or published, but I entered anyway, and my story and images for Vogue on Women of the Iditarod won awards through both PDN and IPA. Many thanks to the jurors!
I’ve also been working on more fine art, trying my best to tackle some of the issues about indigenous culture in a colonial world through photography. PDN and the Photographic Center Northwest separately awarded my image ‘Confluence’, from my new series, Myths of the Indigenous Arctic. It will also be shown in my upcoming exhibition People of the Whale at the Center for Fine Art Photography in October.
It’s often difficult to understand why sacred grounds are important to another culture, yet easy to see as a metaphor. Why is Arlington National Cemetery sacred ground? And indeed the bones of Menominee ancestors are buried in the same location as the Back Forty Mine site.
Rebecca Bowe at EarthJustice has written a great piece on the Menominee fight against the Back Forty mine. Earth Justice provides legal help for the Menominee, and I’m proud to wield artistic tools to support the people of fellow First Nations.
A question I get all the time is “How do you deal with polar bears?” And my response, after talking about how it works with polar bears, is followed by an extra thought. Polar bears are not, by far, the biggest problem I face in the field. The biggest thing I face is failure, and often it takes everything I have to keep pushing through the things I dislike.
Come visit me and the other speakers, come play with cameras at the Glazer’s Photofest. It’s Seattle’s biggest photography event and there will be lots happening both Saturday and Sunday.
Date: Saturday, June 1, 2019
Time: 10:15am -11:15am
Description: Great photographs transport us to the moment the shutter clicked. Yet truthfully, all the work happens in the hours and months before that moment. We rarely hear about the obstacles that stood in the path of great photographs.
National Geographic photographer Kiliii Yuyan takes us behind the process of his favorite images, as he works through circling polar bears, sickness from botulism, and the initial distrust of an Alaska Native community. Kiliii speaks about the invisible things that give a photographer true grit— optimism, focus, and perserverance.
Usually when one hears the news of a community in the 21st century living in rough conditions, it’s far outside of one of the wealthy nations. Yet for, this story on youth suicide, I embarked on a project for Pacific Standard that took me to… the United States. Alaska, to be more precise, where Native Alaskan youth suffer from a rate of suicide 18 times what it is in the lower 48 states.
With indigenous communities, it’s been common practice for outside journalists to parachute in, find a story, and then depart a few days later. Yet for indigenous communities, the understanding of stories and who they belong to is completely different. Indigenous protocol dictates that stories are collaborative- belonging to the community as much as to the journalist.
In planning a story on indigenous suicide in the Arctic, it was my mission to begin by giving something to the community rather than taking something away from it. So I collaborated with the Bering School District to provide a suicide-prevention art therapy program for the community of Gambell, Alaska. This took place within high school as a voluntary program. In art class we provided a safe space for each youth to construct two paper-mache masks– one for their grief and one for their joys. Afterwards, I made environmental portraits of the students with their masks in the places they took me where they felt those emotions.
As indigenous people we want more than portrayal as victims. In Alaska, grief was not the overriding emotion I observed—it was the vitality of youth. Thus this project’s presentation is diptych portraiture—one portrait showing a young person with their grief mask, next to one with their joy mask. It is my hope that together they are moving and humanizing.
It turned out to be a good fit– I relied a great deal upon my experience shooting in the Arctic. I hung off of sleds sideways, rode snow machines while piloting drones, and battled the sleet and snow constantly obscuring my lenses and viewfinders.
The first woman to win the Iditarod was Libby Riddles, in 1985. While other teams waited out bad weather, she left the safety of the checkpoint at Shaktoolik to mush into a blizzard on the frozen Norton Sound. By the time the weather cleared, she had the advantage.
Blair Braverman for Vogue
It was a terrific experience thanks to the art direction and production from Emily Rosser and Nikki Krecciki, as well the hospitality of these talented mushers who invited me into their lives. Thank you Alison, Kristy, Blair, Alison, Magda and Jessica! Additional thanks to double threat Blair Braverman, who is not only a musher, but also an incredible writer.