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.
It was one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life to speak at National Geographic in Washington DC before an audience of my photographic heroes. I used the platform of the 2019 NatGeo Photo Seminar to speak about my story on the Iñupiaq, and about the importance of representation for marginalized peoples in photography.
The world is full of stories. How many of those stories don’t just repeat what we already know? How many stories teach us to see the world from a truly different perspective? Indigenous peoples are cast as tragic victims, of colonization, of climate change. Yet the views from the inside are not ones of despair, but joy. While the dominant cultures continue to gaze at us as they always have, Native storytellers work to offer our own perspectives through modern mediums.
I had long thought I was in my ‘Indigenous shoes,’ but in order to do photography that is meaningful and deep, you have to really, really own it.
Last year, I spoke with Dzana Tsomondo, a fellow immigrant who grew up in the same county that I went to school in. We connected immediately, in part because we shared so much parallel history– his family swept up in the civil war in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), my family swept up in the cultural revolution and border wars between China, Russia and Japan.
Thus, when Dzana wrote a feature story for CommArts on me and my work, he understood many things that were not easy to speak about. We spoke about the travails of family, my love for traditional boatbuilding and photographing in the dangerous environments of the Arctic for National Geographic. Find out more.
Excited to announce that my series Îslandia has won Best Series in ASMP’s Photo Contest. It’s an honor for these to get past the discerning eyes of the judges, including Gregory Heisler, who is a hero of mine.
I’m excited to announce my first story in National Geographic Magazine (in print) is out! A great big quyanaq to all of my Utqiagvik friends that made it possible, and for inviting me into your lives. This issue focuses on stories from all around Native America and it’s a great moment for it. Thanks to my fabulous editors Julie Hau and Jennifer Samuel.
I’m happy to announce that my short film Anaiyyun: Prayer for the Whale is now in the National Geographic Short Films Showcase. This is the official online release of the film after a year of screening at film festivals around the world. Quyanaqpak to all my Iñupiaq friends that helped to make this film about their lives on the sea ice.
On the sea ice in northern Alaska, the Inupiat wait for the whales. The tradition spans 1,000 years, and a successful catch will feed an entire community for the winter. During whaling season, crew members spend their days watching the icy Arctic water for the right moment to strike. It will take courage and skill to achieve their mission, and they must avoid desperately hungry polar bears along the way. But in the long moments they stand on the ice, protected from the wind inside a fur-lined parka, a timeless gratitude develops. In those moments, the patient act of waiting transforms into a prayer for the whale. Anaiyyun: Prayer for the Whale,from filmmaker Kiliii Yüyan, tells the story of an Inupiat whaling crew that hunts where the vast plain of ice meets the waters of the Arctic Ocean.
Recently I spoke with Ted Alvarez, host of the Explorist podcast, a well-crafted podcast on the interaction with nature and people. The first season of the podcast is all about hunting and gathering in modern times, from looking at non-natives those who are involved primitive skills, to subsistence indigenous communities. My interview closes out the season with hair-raising stories from the sea ice, and major themes in my work as an indigenous person from an extant hunter-gatherer culture. It’s one of my favorite interviews.
Thanks to Glazer’s camera for a successful talk and exhibition opening last weekend! It brought a lot of people in from the NW who were interested in the stories of the indigenous Arctic, and I think it stirred a lot of people’s deep curiosity. Special thanks to Will Kutscher and Dana Rasmussen for their efforts, as well as Nikon and Moab Paper for sponsoring the exhibition. The exhibition will be open until the end of December 2019.