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Know the West

'I Am Alaskan'

The surprising diversity of the 49th state, through Brian Adams’ lens.


People have always captivated Alaskan photographer Brian Adams, and he focuses on the human element in his work, even when photographing landscapes. His book, I Am Alaskan, is a celebration of Alaska’s diverse human landscape as well as a personal exploration of his own identity.

“Most people think of Alaska as either a white man with a beard that is pioneering a mountain, or a Native man with a fur ruff around his face,” he says. “Those people are here, and they’re definitely beautiful to look at, but I also wanted to showcase the diversity in Alaska.”

His colorful portraits show people on the snowy tundra in Barrow, Alaska, as well as on the streets of Anchorage, Alaska, and inside their own homes. Most of the subjects look directly into Adams’ lens. Each roll on his Hasselblad film camera produces only 12 shots, so he cannot afford to be careless in his shooting; every picture he takes is thoughtfully and deliberately calculated.

Adams has lived in Anchorage, Alaska, for most of his life, but he has also visited many rural villages on assignment for clients such as the Alaska Native Medical Center and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. He says that his own Iñupiat heritage has made it easier for him to capture intimate scenes of Native people. “I could go to any village on the northwest area, and we’re all connected somehow,” he says. “The first thing they ask me is, ‘Who are your grandparents?’ and, depending on their age, they probably know or have some kind of story that goes along with who our families are.”

Alaska is still a young state  — just over 50 years old.  It’s often romanticized, but Adams gives a unique and raw view of life in the Far North. “What I want people to see in the book is that we are a very welcoming, fun, friendly, diverse state,” he says. “It’s a place I’m very proud to show people.”