British-born photographer Nick Hall may seem an unlikely source for the images in "Seasons of Subsistence," an ongoing film project documenting Native life in Bristol Bay, but his strong interest in the area and its residents is personal as well as professional.
Hall's wife Jenna, whose family owns a fish processing business based in Seattle and Dillingham, has spent her summers in Bristol Bay since she was 7; Hall adopted the area as his summer home after the two met in 2007.
"I married into an Alaskan life," he said.
"Seasons of Subsistence" is a five-part project that tracks the lives of Alaska Natives through the seasons. It highlights the year-round nature of subsistence life and draws attention to concerns about modern influences on traditional cultural knowledge. The first part, "Lewis Point: A Yup'ik Summer Fishing Camp," traced salmon fishing activities along the Nushagak River. Part two, "Winter in New Stuyahok," focused on hunting and trapping. The three remaining parts yet to be shot will focus on spring duck and geese hunting on the Nushagak River, summer fishing on the Kvichak River and fall walrus hunting near Togiak.
A biodiversity conservationist as well as a photographer, Hall became involved in the subsistence issue after getting to know people in the area, including Peter Andrew, a Yupik commercial fisherman from New Stuyahok. After Hall expressed interest in the subsistence lifestyle, Andrew suggested he go to Lewis Point to experience life at a traditional fish camp. Hall spent 10 days in the summer of 2009 in Lewis Point, photographing a handful of families and their activities, first as they prepared their nets and waited for the king salmon to arrive, and later as the fish were processed.
"I was certainly overwhelmed by the depth and the extent of subsistence life in Bristol Bay," Hall said. "I didn't realize it was such an important part of Yupik culture."
His experience in Lewis Point spurred him to take his photography project further.
"I came home and was inspired to really delve into the story a little more," he said.
More than an artistic endeavor, the documentary film project has been undertaken in collaboration with Trout Unlimited, a conservation group, to address the specific issue of the proposed Pebble Mine project.
Juneau residents will have a chance to speak with Hall about his art and his experiences in Bristol Bay tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the Silverbow. Following Hall's presentation, a panel organized by Trout Unlimited and made up of Bristol Bay residents and others will facilitate a discussion on the implications of the Pebble Mine. The event is scheduled to coincide with a legislative hearing, taking place tomorrow (see sidebar).
Trout Unlimited's Bristol Bay Outreach coordinator, Katherine Carscallen, is a third-generation Bristol Bay fisherman. She said the photography exhibit and panel discussion at the Silverbow will provide Juneau residents with a general sense of what life in Bristol Bay is like, as well as an idea of what is at risk and what could be lost if the mine were to open.
"Even if you know a lot about the mine, its not every day you get a chance to learn about the culture and talk to people from Bristol Bay," she said.
The Pebble Mine, still in the planning stages, has been widely controversial. Located on state land near Iliamna Lake, it would access deposits of gold, copper and other minerals. On Tuesday, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO John Shively sought to address concerns about the project at a Rotary Club of Juneau meeting. He said the mine will need to conform to high environmental standards and asked that people wait to find out the whole plan before dismissing the idea outright. Some of the allegations about the mine are untrue, he said.
For more information about the Seasons of Subsistence project. visit seasonsofsubsistence.com. For more on Trout Unlimited, visit www.tu.org. For more on the Pebble Mine project, visit www.pebblepartnership.com.