Brian Adams – Environmental Portraiture Documenting Alaska Native People

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Brian Adams (Iñupiaq), a 2018 NACF National Artist Fellow, was featured in the North by North Festival this past April as part of a two-part presentation. The Festival brought innovators from across Alaska and other Arctic regions for four days to collaborate, and address local and circumpolar challenges. Adams is a photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska who specializes in environmental portraiture documenting Alaska Native people and villages.

Adams and his fellow presenter, Dutch photographer Ellis Doeven, are both field photographers who document life in remote areas of Alaska. Their presentation titled, People of the Arctic: Conveying Pace & People through Photographs, explored the intimacies of daily life in remote coastal Alaska amidst the threat of rising sea levels.

Adams presented his work documenting life in several remote coastal villages, a combination of photos from two series I Am Inuit and Disappearing Villages. There is an intentionality to his portraits and landscapes that lend to his photojournalistic style. Adams tells a story with his photographs, one that breaks through stereotypes of Alaskan Natives to present the authenticity of people and places. In them, you see that life for Alaska Native people is changing dramatically. Most notable are the images of eroding shorelines that threaten the habitat and infrastructure of Native villages today.

As a non-native artist, Ellis Doeven explained that she experienced a strong sense of cultural confusion as she tried to make sense of the oil industry juxtaposed with whaling practices and animal harvesting, and similarly the effects of extreme poverty and cultural suppression. But, after marrying a local man and becoming part of the community her photographs took on a deeper understanding of the culture. Doeven presented her work based in Point Hope (Tikigaq, Alaska) highlighting the small Iñupiaq village and its people amid a push-pull among cultures. Doeven’s work is currently on an exhibit at the Anchorage Museum through September 15, 2018.

Brian Adams’ upcoming project will take him to other countries documenting the beauty and complexity of Indigenous life for circumpolar peoples.

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