Behind the Frame: Kiliii Yüyan

The photographer shares the story behind his Living Wild series, a project that saw him trek through Washington’s North Cascades with modern-day hunter-gatherers

“The camera is an excuse, it is an excuse to go deeper than a tourist in a new land,” says Kiliii Yüyan, his words lingering on something between his experience as a photographer and his sensitivity to nature. It is here that Yüyan, a descendent of the Nanai people of Siberia, strikes a balance. Skill and technique are tempered with deep understanding, and vice versa. Maintaining this seems an easy task for Yüyan, whose photographs appear effortless, as if taken on a mere whim and with click of a button, but behind his work lies years of careful fine-tuning and a desire to show others a world outside of their own. 

Below, he tells us about one of his photographs from his series Living Wild.

“I was walking up a ridgeline with the Living Wild group to look for the positions of encroaching wildfires. At this point in the season, the North Cascades had devastating wildfires that were all over national news — three sides of our camp were enclosed by those wildfires, but the wind was low and the fires were staying in place. Even so, we made a walk up the nearby ridgeline twice a day to scout the fires and check their location.

On this particular walk during the evening, the mood was buoyant and the sunset began to look spectacular. As I was taking photographs of everyone moving along in the sunset light, the group stopped and Lynx Vilden pulled out a blunt arrow from her quiver. Quietly and wordlessly, everyone stood to face into the wind as Lynx strung her bow and then quickly fired a shot out over the valley. The arrow vanished into the smoky haze but for a long moment there was no other movement.

Lynx is a modern-day hunter-gatherer who is part of the Paleolithic skills movement. Every year for the last 10 years, Lynx has organised something called the Stone Age Living Project. During the project she prepares a small group of people for a long-term foray into the wilderness to see what they can learn from living with primitive technologies.

Lynx and the Living Wild group say they are trying to recover an ancient way of life that can resolve the tensions between human technology and wild nature. They’re hoping to return to the Pleistocene from the postmodern present. As Lynx likes to say, ‘After four months preparing, we go time-travelling.’

I’ve spent the last fifteen years involved with this movement. As an indigenous person separated from my original community, I have spent my life seeking out ways of living close to the land by learning from both Native communities and non-Native peoples. Today as a photographer, I find myself in a position that allows me to lend a voice to those who are otherwise voiceless in a modern world.”