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.
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.
PDN has awarded my series ‘People of the Whale‘ in the 2017 Photo Annual. It’s a small set of images that give you a glimpse into the deep community of Iñupiat village Utqiagviq, Alaska.
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.
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.
I just had the pleasure of speaking with Ibarionex Perello, host of the Candid Frame podcast and a well known-street photographer. Ibarionex and I were recently co-presenters at the photo expo PIX2015. I’m excited to be on the show since I’ve been a long time fan of the Candid Frame, which is really the best podcast on photography out there– it focuses on the art and process of photography rather than gear and technique.
We talked primarily about the Living Wild project, my long-term project on modern hunter-gatherer practitioners, as well as bit about my background growing up as a Native/Chinese kid and learning self-reliance. You can play/download it directly here.
Scavenging Guatemala began as an accident. In March 2015, I was working Glen Cooper, Photojournalism Director of the New England School of Photography. He had asked me join and help instruct at a workshop in Guatemala, where American photographers worked on documentary stories for 10 days. Since it was my first time teaching in a workshop, I anticipated that I wouldn’t have any more than a few hours to shoot my own work. But the truth is, in documentary photography, much of the work happens without a camera in your hands…
While on assignment in Iceland last October-November, I took the time to shoot some footage of the bleak yet beautiful landscapes of the arctic. Being here in the autumn is taxing physically– the climate vacillates around freezing but the rain/sleet is constant and the wind whips across this treeless land at 25mph without a break.
Nonetheless, I hope you get a feeling for the starkness of the treeless tundra, a land of arctic foxes and lichens, volcanoes and the dancing of the Aurora.
Remember to click HD on the video to see it in HD!
This last year I traveled extensively around the North Pacific rim to photograph indigenous people I call ‘modern traditionalists’. Here’s a behind the scenes look at all the amazing people and places and the stories I found along the way.
To be native in the year 2012 is to be modern. As a whole, we are both modern and traditional, full of culture and spirit passed down from many generations, but seeking to live in this new world and embrace it.
I began the NATIVE project, taking portraits of modern indigenous people last spring, not knowing it would evolve into a huge undertaking. It’s taken me from the cold interiors of traditional houses in Alaska to the bright summery forests of Oregon. I’ve learned so much about what it means to be a modern traditionalist native myself, as well as more about all the diversity that surrounds native attitudes from the big city to the remote village.
There’s so much to say about this kind of portraiture, steeped in sepia tones and shot with artificial light, but I’ll let you, the viewer, have the fun of diving in yourself. Thanks for letting me share.
Many thanks to the NW Portland Indian Health Board, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and Daybreak Star Cultural Center for their help in making these portraits.