Jonathan Blaustein, a writer for the NYTimes Lens Blog as well as for APhotoEditor, is one of my favorite photography writers. He’s got a stream-of-conciousness style, taking us on a journey into his life, and out back out again through the art and photography. I met him briefly at Review Santa Fe, which is an amazing place to meet photographers working at a high level, as well as editors and gallerists at the top of their game. Jonathan featured my work on APhotoEditor as well as some other excellent photographers (check out Adair Rutledge, a transplant to Seattle as well).
The PX3 competition is one of Europe’s largest photo prizes, despite being only a decade old. This morning as I was logged into the PX3 website to enter for 2018, I made a surprising discovery– that my work Tuvaq, had won the Gold award in the Press and Nature/Environmental category for 2017. I suppose their email notification had disappeared into my junk mail box?
This edit of images from People of the Whale has a distinctly fine-art perspective, and is a look at what sights and sounds you encounter when living on the sea ice in Arctic Alaska with the Iñupiaq. Quyanaq for looking.
His documentary work reveals the interdependent nature required of those who want to live,not just survive, in the wild. The frankness of the portraits, against black backgrounds, offer an up-close look at the serious, often weathered, faces of those trying to dedicate themselves to the land.
Writer Loren Talbot of The Week interviews me and takes a deep dive into my project, Living Wild. She lifts the curtain off what it takes to live with people in the wilderness without modern conveniences, and looks into what brought me there in the first place.
In the farthest reaches of northern Alaska, aboriginal hunters carry on ancient traditions of kayak-building, fishing, and subsistence hunting, all of which are under threat from rapid changes to our climate.
Author Gina Williams delves into my photography and recent story ‘People of the Whale’ to find out more about what made it happen and what it’s all about.
The World Photo Organisation, which hosts the Sony World Photo Awards, did an interview with me and asked a few questions about what I’ve been up to since being shortlisted for the 2016 awards.
In a sense, my story ‘People of the Whale’ forced me to step up as a photographer because suddenly I found myself with a subject I cared about deeply, and understood more than an outside journalist could. The real challenges came from learning how to craft the beautiful images I was already known for, from the real-life situations of an Arctic subsistence culture. It is at once far more difficult and infinitely rewarding.
You can read the entire interview at the World Photography Organisation Blog.
My selection of images for PDN focuses on an Iñupiaq concept called ilitqusiat, or that which makes strangers into family. In a sense, I found this idea to be compelling because I was a stranger when I initially arrived in the Arctic villages where I did this work, but more so because the Iñupiat are at their core, about community.
ilitqusiat– (n) that which makes strangers into family.
I think if I’ve come away with any single observation, it is that Western cultures have a difficult time even conceiving how deep and different the indigenous concept of community is. Rather than some kind of single collective mind consuming all individual will, the Iñupiat are just individuals that believe in individualism, but whose highest callings are to serve their communities.
Qunayaq to all the friends who have made me their family there, and to my ilitqusiat experiences on the North Slope.
Although I originally shot these as separate stories, I have begun to see some themes in my work with non-native people that are close to the land. It’s an easy connection to see between Jim Gnapp, the Canadian trapper, and Aaron Allred, the American falconer.
The desire to be close to the natural world by participating in it is inherently human. It is likely universal. Yet what that connection looks like continues to change over time, with most of the industrialized world moving towards the outdoors for recreation. But far from the simplicity and safety of the recreational outdoors, both Jim and Aaron have found a deeper reward through their patient diffusion into ancient arts. Neither trapping or falconry is for weekend warriors– indeed both are some of the last living skills that require apprenticeship in this day and age of YouTube learning.
My film short, Tuvaq: Edge of the Ice has won in the Multimedia category of the 2017 Communication Arts Photography Awards.
Communication Arts magazine, a professional journal for those involved in creativity in visual communications, has announced the winners of its 58th annual photography competition. One hundred and forty-one projects were selected by a jury of creative professionals; 3,736 entries were submitted to the competition.
On the great expanse of sea ice, under the eternal sun of Arctic spring, time evaporates. The mind calms and you begin to inhale the world around you: the cold, the wind, the ice, the quiet, the wait.
But underneath the damper of stillness, life boils. Out on the tuvaq–the expansive interface of sea and ice–everything happens. On the tuvaq, the whale breaches. The walrus is harpooned. The maktaq is eaten. We wait. There is no need for words. The mind is still.
Stillness of the mind, stillness that flows from quiet observation, is a concept embedded in every indigenous culture I have ever encountered. It’s a notion never truly grasped by a mind accustomed to the frantic pace of a modern world. For two years, I lived alongside an Iñupiaq whaling crew in the farthest reaches of Alaska’s northern coast.
For me, going north meant going home. I have devoted my life to reclaiming an indigenous heritage stripped away in a generation by communism, war, and stigma. Out on the sea ice, I found a comfort among a culture that was new, yet familiar: fiercely independent yet living for each other, grounded in tradition yet unheedingly pragmatic.
I also found stillness.
Tuvaq: Edge of the Ice is an exploration of the stillness and quiet mystery that envelopes and defines life on the tuvaq.
To start climbing Cyclops, you stick the middle finger of your right hand into a deep sharp hole in a smooth face of limestone. Then you bring your legs and toes up carefully, spreading them out like a spider on a wall, and heave upwards. There’s a moment of weightlessness as your body and left hand rise up above the tiny ledge big enough for just 3 fingers to slide across and jam into.
I watched climber Maria Birukova dancing and delicately stepping across the face of this limestone pillar as I hung weightless in space nearby, suspended by my rope and harness, my camera’s shutter tapping a staccato in the quiet canyons of El Potrero Chico, Mexico. I had met her just the day before, when she had arrived at the disorganized camp of young international climbers. She had been smiling happily at the camaraderie of others who understood her longing for the rock faces of the enormous canyon that loomed above, and dismayed by the apparent chaos created by fifty unkempt climbers that lived also out of their cars and ate in the single open-air kitchen.
My memory of her from a year earlier had faded into more of a general feeling, like a clean white flower on the wallpaper of life. But now her father, Konstantin, wrote me an email and requested photographs of recent memories. She fell in September while climbing Bear Creek Spire in the Sierra Nevadas. Her climbing partner had watched, stricken, as she plummeted a thousand feet to her death.
In browsing through my photographs from El Potrero Chico, I was brought back to that cold morning behind the giant pillar of Cyclops, lost in the shade of the mountain with the smell of the tiny smoky fire we had made to stay warm whilst climbing. And I recalled the feeling of determination that permeated the day—no one had been able to complete the route, which was rated at 5.13a, an expert climb. But Maria did.
I cannot imagine the feelings that my photographs of Maria will bring to her parents. She was a medical student at Stanford University, well loved by her professors, working on groundbreaking research with a mind for great ideas. Yet for me, the photographs of her working on this incredible rock face tell me the stories of the life lived beyond the tragedy of her death and the paragraph of her professional accomplishments. They tell me that her life was full of wonder at watching stars rise above a canyon at night, of focus as her fingers barely held onto textured stones, and release of having ascended climbs so incredibly difficult her celebration was delayed until her adrenaline had given way to elation.
Maria’s photographs are a reminder that documentary images are more than just records. The best photographs are gifts of our humanity.
The German Magazine Spiegel has done an interview on my recent project, Living Wild.
A group of Americans want to live in the Stone Age to be a part of the wilderness. Photographer Kiliii Yuyan accompanied them. But it’s not for the average adventurer– the project is really hard.
You can access the original article in German here, or see the translation below: http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/jaeger-und-sammler-leben-wie-die-steinzeitmenschen-a-1116477.html
Translation: Speigel Online
Roasted over a fire, Grasshoppers taste great
Kiliii Yueyan is a scion of two worlds. As a child of Russian immigrants, the photographer grew up in the United States. His ancestors belong to the Nanai, a popular Siberian primordial inhabitants. Today Yueyan is part of the “Stone Age Living Project”, a group that brings them back to the woods to live for a few weeks as the people of the Stone Age hunter-gatherers. On the project’s website states: “We do not want the wilderness about life to get back to civilization we want. Inliving the wild.”
Yueyan is already for more than 15 years of the group. In one of the last expeditions, the photographer took his camera. The photo series “Living Wild” are crisp glimpses of a life without the comforts of civilization.
And, yes, they look in their stone-dresses as the wildlings in “Game of Thrones”, Kiliii Yueyan has heard this before.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Once a year, unplug and your colleagues to Stone Age clothes, go into the wilderness and live a few weeks as hunter-gatherers. Why?
Yueyan: When I started 17 years ago, I was looking for my roots. My ancestors are Siberian natives who still live very secluded and in harmony with nature.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How have you been?
Yueyan: What I have learned over the years is, above all, how many things we have forgotten about living together with nature. What is good for you, what is bad? How do you do a piece of forest floor to your sleeping place? I am a long time part of the project and now a pretty good hunter. But compared to someone who would be really grown up in a wild culture, I am perhaps at the level of a ten- or twelve-year-olds.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you still always driven in the woods?
Yueyan: If I go out and try to live by nature, I’m just learning to appreciate how easy things are today; about as simple comforts of water coming from the tap. In the wild, there are things that are hard to get in our world: For example, clean water that had not been clarified previously. Or a fresh salmon. So a salmon, which is fresh, because you caught him up in the river and has prepared a few minutes later on the fire.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: It sounds nice. But judging from the brochure of self-discovery trips for stressed top manager.
Yueyan: If you start with the preparations, there are already some who expect it is a survival adventure, a battle with nature. But it is the opposite. The idea is to find ways to live together with nature and of nature. Who just looking for a great outdoor adventure, leaving the camp after one, at least two weeks. There is just too hard.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is so hard?
Yueyan: The challenge to survive as hunter-gatherers. Cold, wet, injury, the long distances that one person makes each day – that alone brings a gentle to the absolute limit. But to do the little food that is what makes you ready out there.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are the meals like?
Yueyan: Mainly there are berries or salads from the herbs that we find. In addition, fish and grilled grasshoppers. Roh is the way disgusting. But roasted over the fire, grasshoppers taste great. But it’s hard to be away sick. After about ten days you can feel the consequences: One can not think as good, one is fast dizzy. It is generally more difficult to understand what is happening around you.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: hunger to know many homeless people who involuntarily outdoor life.
Yueyan: This is an aspect which we are aware. In the beginning when we planned the trip, I offered the story of the “National Geographic”. But one of the editors said, “What I take: There’s this bunch of people who live in the forest, because they have the privilege to which you simply do not see the poor people who live on the road and pull into the forest.. ” Therefore, they have rejected the story. They wanted to kindle no controversy.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And what do you think?
Yueyan: To say we live outside like poor people there, not true. In fact, this life is very rich. Rich in time, full of impressions and experiences.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did an excursion begins so? Agreed to in a parking lot and then go easily together in the forest?
Yueyan: No, as a beginner it takes months of preparation. You have to establish yourself and the food that you want to take to prepare, your entire clothes. Because with pre-dried food is your life there a lot easier – at least initially.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So you go in advance to the store and stock up with Stone Age food like dried meat and dried fruit?
Yueyan: No, everything has to be collected and dried himself.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: That is checked?
Yueyan: There are very strict rules, which mitdarf and what is not. Basically, you have to restore it from nature, with Stone Age tools and Stone Age techniques.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But have you doing a first aid kit and a cell phone for emergencies.
Yueyan: That’s all not allowed. Part of the idea is to learn to solve problems without the help of modern technology. The last time we had, for example, forest fires on three sides of our warehouse. Therefore, an emergency plan was very important.So we marched twice daily at a nearby mountain and looked to see if the fire had come closer.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And your plan for the real thing?
Yueyan: There was a lake nearby. To which we would have run if the fires had trapped us.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And then?
Yueyan: If we had been waiting in the lake, while the fire everything would have devastated around us.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are you talking on this trip, anyway? Only about Stone Age theme?
Yueyan: Not quite. In the beginning you have to speak a lot about practical things.Where do we go? Where to find water? Where food? Where is it safe? How do we find traces of animals that we can chase? Another dominant theme are sensory perceptions. It really speaks a lot about the smell of things or how they feel. Also because we run all the time barefoot. That’s as much information that we usually no longer perceive. About the smell of cold water.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Sounds pretty romantic and intense. But you have laughed at the question. Why?
Yueyan: Because you pretty much about excrement speaks: “Have you relieved there Ah, because I really wanted to sleep?” And: Hardly anything makes the other angrier than having done his business too close to the camp.