A Nomadic Start To Photographing Inuit Culture Across Countries
Brian Adams has spent his photography career reconnecting with his own Inuit culture. Raised in Girdwood, Alaska, Adams is half Iñupiat but grew up largely disconnected from his indigenous culture. Iñupiat people are part of an Inuit group, which includes indigenous people in northern Alaska, arctic Canada, Greenland and Russia.
"Since 2007, [I am] really just trying to reconnect to my roots, my family and my culture," Adams said.
Adams is based in Anchorage and has created two bodies of work, I AM ALASKAN, where he focused on Alaska's diversity, and I AM INUIT, where he photographed Inuit people in Alaska. Now he is going deeper.
In Adams' latest project, Ilatka: The Inuit Word For My Relatives, he is planning to photograph Inuit people in many of the circumpolar countries — those located near Earth's poles — where they migrated and settled. He started the project in Alaska and Canada in 2018.
"I learned that Inuits span from Russia to Alaska to Canada and all the way to Greenland," Adams said. "How cool would it be to do a body of work that connects all of us?"
Because Inuit people were nomadic, Adams wanted to start the project by crossing a broad region of land and sea. "I liked the idea of traveling in the footsteps of our ancestors," Adams said.
When Adams heard his friend Bruce Inglangasak was traveling from Kaktovik, Alaska, to visit his family in Aklavik, Canada, he thought it would be a great way to start the project.
Inglangasak, who is Iñupiat, typically goes back to his Northern Territories hometown twice a year and travels either by boat or by snow machine, depending on the season. Adams and Inglangasak — as well as Inglangasak's daughter, her boyfriend and a few others — traveled by boat. It took about 15 hours to get to Aklavik, and there, Adams spent a lot of time meeting Inglangasak's friends and family.
"It was really fun being [in Aklavik], because it was mostly just an extension of family," Adams said.
Throughout the project, Adams is searching for family ties, language similarities and other things that are common between Inuit people across the different countries.
"We're all native, and it feels like our roots are so deep," Adams said. "We all connect and bond right away. I really just love that."
He prefers to photograph people one-on-one, and he usually avoids big gatherings or parties so he can make connections with people individually. Adams' images are often quiet moments or details that reveal that person's life or parts of their personality.
"I'm super introverted," Adams said, laughing. "That's a great thing about a photographer ... and it makes me get out there and talk to people."
Adams knew he wanted this project to be based on an Inuit word. He researched words related to family and the word ilatka came up, meaning relatives. Adams ran it by his friend who is fluent in Inupiaq, the language spoken by Iñupiat people, who confirmed it's still in use.
"I wanted to have a name that brought all of us circumpolar Inuit together," Adams said. "I wanted it to be something easy for everyone to say and understand and a clear meaning that brings us all together."
Later this year, Adams will photograph the Inuit community in Greenland. He expects to continue to travel for Ilatka for a few more years and then hopes to turn it into a book.
Brian Adams is a photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.