Brown: Your work is in lockstep with your approach and attitude to life. And when we talk about who should be permitted to shoot a story, I would say it’s bigger than applying a strict equity lens, than simply asking, “Which is the right ethnicity to shoot this story?”
Yuyan: It’s more complicated than that. There are different reasons to hire for diversity. One of them is for the perspective. Another is to make sure that we’re bringing people in to give them an opportunity. But then there’s one that we don’t talk about much, which is access. Someone like me can walk in and people are like, “You remind us of us.” I understand enough about the culture to know what to do and what not to do. I know how to just hang out with people. I have that slow patience.
I’m not sure why there’s been so many interviews as of late, but I’m always happy to talk with an Indigenous host. Alexis Sallee is a delightful and super-smart Inuk to hang out with, and we covered a lot of ground about being an Indigenous artist. This one’s a bit shorter too– Alex did a fabulous edit and got it down to the essentials. Check out the Native Artist Podcast.
An excerpt: “So there’s always this sense that whatever [Native community you’re covering], you bring your own bias into it. And so of course, people coming from the outside, who have long have these deep stereotypes about Native cultures are going to bring in their like romantic or a dystopian idea of what subsistence looks like. But you know that I think the thing about it is, I get to spend a lot of time. My process is a very sort of slow, laborious, Indigenous process, which is spending a lot of time with the people doing stuff, and getting to know what’s really going on.”
Just before the pandemic broke out, I was at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, where I met Josh Hyde, the man behind the American Filmmaker Podcast. We talked and had some laughs and a lot of excellent tea (that’s one of Josh’s specialities).
The resulting podcast is my favorite interview. We got into favorite animals (spoiler: polar bears and geckos), building kayaks, and the nature of creativity. You can listen to our banter below.
Jen Samuel, a photo editor at National Geographic, and NatGeo photographer Kiliii Yuyan talk about the process of making photographs, researching and pitching stories, the editor-photographer relationship, and more. Filmed at the Museum of Art Fort Collins, CO, in conjunction with Yuyan’s exhibition “People of the Whale”, and National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Photographs, made possible by the Center for Fine Art Photography.
A big thank you to Jen Samuel for flying out to Colorado to talk with me at the opening of my exhibition, People of the Whale, at theMuseum of Art Fort Collins. Additional thanks to Hamidah Glasgow of the Center for Fine Art Photography and Lisa Palmatier of the Museum.
My work serves as a counterpoint to the other half of the museum, which has an exhibition titled, “50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic.” Curator Hamidah Glasgow thought it would be a great way to show, in a sense, the fading mainstream world of photojournalism juxtaposed against the new breed of photographer that is seeking to de-colonize journalism. In this case, it also serves to highlight that National Geographic itself has made big changes to how it tells stories and who is telling them.
Opening & Talks, Friday Nov 8th
The opening reception is Friday, November 8th. I’ll be doing an artist talk about my work with Arctic indigenous peoples, then leading up to something quite amazing: Jen Samuel, a photo editor from National Geographic, and I, asking each other questions and talking about photography and journalism!
Many thanks to Hamidah Glasgow and Jen Samuel for making it all come together!
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.
There are interviewers and there are great interviewers. Lou Noble of The Photographic Journal not only has a distinctive vision in fine art photography, but he’s also a terrific interviewer.
We spoke at length about growing up as mixed-ethnicity child, about the struggles of Native peoples, and of course, about how photography has the power to illuminate and bring hope to those who are the most in need of it.
I would say most of the time, almost all of the work happens before I put my eye up to the viewfinder. I tend to be looking at light, I tend to be looking at gesture, at what people are doing, and of course the meaning of things. Meaning is always in the background, for me, so I’m always thinking about why is this important?
It’s a long interview. But if you have the patience to read it, it’s a great capture of how I think about storytelling and how our current storytellers will need to work to make the world hopeful for coming generations.
Today Survival International published a roundup of indigenous criticism of photographer Jimmy Nelson, and his book, Before They Pass Away. I get asked how I feel about Jimmy Nelson’s book all the time, and this is a deep conversation that often makes my day feel darker. Let me be clear– while I believe that Jimmy Nelson has good intentions, his work is classic colonization.
As indigenous peoples we are tired of being seen as having existed only in the past. We are still here, and suffering great traumas at the hands of settlers and colonial governments at this current moment. Jimmy’s work casts indigenous peoples as A) only beautiful in the past and B) nearly extinct. We are clearly nowhere near extinct (there are over 600,000 Maori living in New Zealand, and 150,000 Iñuit across the Arctic), and in the modernization of our traditional clothing and outward appearances there are the obvious signs of globalization’s effects on our communities.