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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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World Sees Alaska Through Inupiat’s Lens
by Tamar Ben-Yosef
At 23, photographer Brian Adams has pretty much reached what most would consider the peak of his career.

With a portfolio featuring Gov. Sarah Palin only months before becoming the Republican Party’s vice presidential running mate, and freelance work for clients such as the Wall Street Journal, the London Guardian and Getty images, he’s pretty much climbed to the top of the ladder.

Adams, Inupiat from his father’s side, was raised in Anchorage and Girdwood and has family ties in Kivalina.

In 2005, during a visit to Kivalina for his grandmother’s funeral, Adams was struck by the beauty of the village and its residents, and decided that from then on he would make it a personal project.

He had been to Kivalina twice before, once when he was too young to remember. In 2007, Adams returned to the village on assignment for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. He spent two extra days walking around, taking photos of land erosion and village life.

“Eventually this place will move and I will be there taking photos when it moves,” Adams said.

Since the visit to Kivalina, Adams has gone on assignment for The Guardian to Newtok, a village relocated due to erosion. Those two visits to the villages affected by global warming awakened in him a passion for following climate change with his camera’s lens.

This was one of the long-term goals Adams thought of off the top of his head during a morning interview at Side Street Espresso — an Anchorage landmark Adams is considered a regular, much like other Alaska coffee lovers.

For the most part, Adams is pretty content with where he’s at professionally.

“Everything I have wanted to accomplish, I have done,” he said.

Unlike many struggling freelances, Adams needs to work days off into his busy schedule or he won’t have any.

It just so turns out there is plenty of work for photographers in the Last Frontier.

“Alaska is an amazing place for photographers,” Adams said. Quoting his mentor and first photography employer, photographer Clark James Mishler, he said there is always room for one more photographer in Alaska.

One of the shoots Adams is most excited about these days is that of vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin, several months before the grand announcement.

Adams was commissioned by the Wall Street Journal to follow the governor to Juneau where he photographed her jogging with her newborn, Trig, and portraying her athletic self with the Mendenhall Glacier in the background.

Since the McCain campaign announced her as his running mate six weeks ago, Adams’ photos of Palin have sold to three different sources.

Adams was in kindergarten when he got his first camera. It wasn’t until after high school though that he realized what role photography would take in his life.

He wasn’t that interested in photography at first. He was more into film. And skateboarding.

A junior at Dimond High School, Adams took photography classes because it was the closest thing to video, he said.

His first was an old-school traditional photography class that used black and white 35-millimeter lenses and a dark room.

The following year he took a couple more classes at King Career Center in Anchorage and photography became more than a hobby. It was his art.

“It didn’t even occur to me that I could work and make a living off of photography,” Adams said. “I thought it was just something you do for art.”

One day, sitting around his home doing nothing in particular but taking occasional photos, Adams’ brother Roland got frustrated with his younger brother’s idleness and threw the classifieds section of the newspaper in his direction.

Thinking nothing would come out of it, Adams decided to give it a scan anyway. The first listing was for a photographer’s assistant, working for Clark James Mishler. Adams had heard of Mishler in his photography classes. Most every one in Alaska with an interest in photography has heard of Mishler.

Adams followed Mishler around for two years, learning about lighting and mostly how to feel comfortable taking people’s photos.

During his free time he worked on a portfolio and shot photos for his first clients – Kaladi Brothers.

Today, Adams will never be caught without his camera. Or two. One small Leica strapped across his shoulder and a large 50-millimeter Hasselblad in his bag. Both cameras are newer versions of the style of cameras used in the 1950s.

Ninety percent of his work is done on film. He pulls out the digital equipment only when clients require it and Photoshop is something he prefers to stay away from.

“I try to shoot as perfect as possible the first time,” Adams said while laughing at his own statement.

Sticking mainly to 50-millimeter lenses, Adams is also not a fan of telephoto lenses – those that allow you to stand hundreds of feet away and still produce a close-up image.

“I call it sniping,” he said.

Adams’ portfolio is a varied selection of fine art, portraits, street photography and editorial shots. Aside from a long list of publications and local clients such as NANA Regional Corp. and the Alaska Native Heritage Center, his work his featured can occasionally be seen in various venues around town. His Website offers a generous sampling of his work.


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