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.”

 

Meeting a Modern-Day Cowboy

Photographers Lola Paprocka and Pani Paul introduce the 80s Marlboro Man who became the subject of their latest series, shot at the Grand Canyon

As one of the faces of the iconic Marlboro adverts of the 1980s, Ed Forbis played the role of a stunt-riding, chain-smoking cowboy. He was a leading man in the Malboro Country advertising campaigns that aspired to give the filtered cigarette – at the time considered too feminine for the average American worker – a masculine edge. Nowadays, Forbis lives and works at the Grand Canyon, packing mules and caring for the horses used by the local tour guides and rangers.  

Photographers Lola Paprocka and Pani Paul met Forbis when their car broke down as they were travelling around the Grand Canyon. Waiting for it to be fixed, they spotted him outside one of the local shops. ‘We asked him if we could just take a portrait of him and two minutes later he came up to us in the shop and offered to show us around,’ explains Paprocka.

They ended up spending the day with him as he gave them a tour of the surrounding area and a rare glimpse into the life of a genuine cowboy. ‘He was excited, I think, about us taking pictures, and that we found him so interesting,’ says Paprocka. ‘He ticked all the boxes of what you’d see in the movies. He made me believe that cowboys really exist.’ 

The resulting images document Forbis at home, on the southern rim of the Canyon, where we see him living a far simpler life than the action-packed images from his days as a Marlboro Man. They show him in the great outdoors, among nature and wildlife, and against the backdrop of one of America’s most dramatic landscapes. 

The pictures also touch on themes that address man’s relationship with the natural world, while exploring a fading way of life. Once a symbol of Ronald Reagan’s America – masculinity, freedom and individualism – the rugged protagonists of the Wild West now seem forgotten by the wider world. And yet, though the shadow of ‘Marlboro Country’ permeates Paprocka and Paul’s joint series, it’s often overshadowed by the humility of Forbis himself. Looked at from a distance, Forbis becomes a nostalgic hero of the Western ideal; a rare symbol of authenticity in a post-digital world. ‘He’s just very real and pure, in an almost poetic way,’ says Paprocka.

Ed Forbis is on show at The Print Space from June 15 

The accompanying publication by Lola Paprocka & Pani Paul is published by Palm Studios