Jason Fiske: Metlakatla, Alaska
Metlakatla, Alaska. USA
Time / Date:
Camera Body: Pentax ME
Lens: 28mm fixed
Shutter Speed: unknown
Focal Length: 28mm
The strongest influence on my photographs is the family photo album. I never thought I would show any of my photos to anyone besides those who I loved.
I think I had to be about 10 years into this sub-conscious narrative before trusting it enough to show anyone I did not know.
I’ve never thought of myself as a photographer, I still don’t. Since I was old enough to be trusted with a pencil, I’ve been drawing. A photographer is someone I admire from afar.
Metlakatla is on Annette Island, which is home to the last federal reservation in Alaska. My friend Michael, the subject of this photograph, was born and raised there. He comes from a fishing family, so we travelled by way of his family boat, the Valero IV, up the inside passage to the island.
A native woman who just about everyone on the island referred to as “Grandma Ruth” or “The Fish Slayer” set us off to camp with a two-day supply of Devil’s club, which has been used by the Tsimshian tribe for centuries as a cleansing medicine.
Michael and I had been on the island for a couple weeks at that point and had become very accustomed to wandering in these woods. We were on our way to find a cave that was rumored to have shamans living inside of it.
Michael was wearing his work clothes, which were very useful in an environment where absolutely everything is wet, and he stopped to observe some of the more understated organisms around us. I watched him, thinking that it was a moment I felt that no one else should ever see, simply because it was so special to me. Sometimes the presence of a camera in these moments, or the need to document them in the first place, just becomes a distraction from something far more important.
I had enough time to allow myself to live in this moment before returning to the world to take this photograph.
I find the largest advantage of using film not even in the image itself, but the elimination from the distractions that can arise from digital. You take fewer shots. You wait to relive your moment.
Making the Shot:
It is imperative to me that I can take a photograph without thinking at all. I take pictures that feel important. If I have to spend more than a few seconds finding a composition, it’s not worth it to me.
In this photograph I remember looking through the lens and my feet were squishing in the mud below me. It was the loudest thing I could hear at the time.
Editing & Processing:
I brought the film to a shop in town called Citizens Photo (Portland, OR). My main goal with editing is to tell truth with the colors and recreate something I felt.
My friend Michael being partially native means he descends from a beautiful and generous lineage. The natives on this land were some of the kindest people I have ever come across. His family has been fishing long before it was even considered a job and they were gracious enough to let me be a part of their travels to their great and mysterious home state of Alaska.
Having such a preserved and fragile culture and being willing to share it with a me is why this photograph is so important to me. Friendship & trust.
It was an honor to spend time with these people and to live on and appreciate their majestic island with and among them.
Don’t ever forget the photographs are yours. They are your memories. They are what you are choosing to document. If you choose to share them, choose wisely.
My desire to take photographs is representative of my desire to know every second of the day that I am alive.
About the Photographer
Born and raised in North Brookfield, Massachusetts.
I am an artist, musician, and furniture maker living in Portland OR.
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