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.
PDN has awarded my series ‘People of the Whale‘ in the 2017 World in Focus Travel Photography Competition. It’s a set of images that give you the feeling of being out on the sea ice in Arctic Alaska. From my statement about the series:
Far out on the ice, under the never-setting 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 maktaq is eaten. The hunters watch the horizon. We wait. There is no need for words. The mind is still.
Many thanks to my Iñupiaq friends and crew who made it possible to tell the story of life in the far North, and to the mystery of the sea ice.
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.