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.
I’m again honored to be chosen as one of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers. It’s one of our industry’s most notable achievements for early-career photographers, and I’m amazed to be a part of a group of heavyweight photographers that have been named over the decades. They include: Lynsey Addario, Alec Soth, Taryn Simon, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Norman Jean Roy, Ami Vitale, Aaron Huey, Olivia Bee, Jonas Bendicksen, Wayne Lawrence and Daniella Zalcman.
We published our first PDN’s 30 issue 20 years ago. Despite significant changes in the markets for editorial, commercial and fine-art photography, a lot of things have stayed the same. As we look through hundreds of portfolios of photographers recommended to us by editors, creatives, curators and some of the leading voices in professional photography, we are still drawn to striking images, unique stories, original perspectives and a consistent vision.
One of the favorite people I met in 2018 was Aline Smithson, of Lenscratch. We spoke at the conference PhotoNOLA, about searching for one’s home everywhere you go– and that’s certainly true for me in my artmaking.
Many thanks to Aline for being so curious and lifting the lid on the driving forces in my life.
Aline interviewed me for Lenscratch and we spoke at length about what it means to be a person driven by stories– not stories in the contemporary journalistic sense, but mythology from the culture of my ancestors.
The Guardian has long been a bastion of news about global indigenous issues. I’m pleased to say I worked with editor Jehan Jillani on a story on modern Iñupiaq culture and traditional whaling. It’s not easy to do a story on something as ostensibly controversial as whaling, but the Guardian understands the big difference between commercial and indigenous whaling. I hope it’s an opportunity for their readers to see the history of systematic oppression of the indigenous perspective.
By 2011, the Iñupiaq had quadrupled the population of the bowhead, while hunting them for subsistence. The story of the Iñupiaq is a vision of successful conservation using indigenous knowledge.
One thing I have begun to explore lately within photography is going beyond changing the narrative we tell of indigenous peoples. I’m trying to show the dominant culture what it is like to see the world from a Native point of view, yet even that’s not quite right. In this interview for the Strange Fire Collective, I speak about making photographs as looking at the contemporary world, strange as it is, though indigenous lenses. That’s what Hamidah Glasgow has pulled out of me in my many conversations I’ve had with her over the last several months. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I’ve enjoyed talking to Hamidah.
A great way to illustrate this is the reaction to an image of a butchered seal. From an indigenous viewpoint, that seal meat is a gift from the seal, and it’s nourishing food. From the colonial gaze, it’s either seen as quaint and exotic or as a repulsive tradition.