The Fire Inside: Photographer Kiliii Yüyan

an indigenous man wearing full layers holding camera gear in either hand standing on rocky arctic tundra

An aura of energy surrounds the award-winning National Geographic photographer Kiliii Yüyan as he gently leans forward, looking through the viewfinder of his camera. The frigid winds and waves of fresh snow ripping by seem to hover around him, trying to penetrate his quiet concentration. They have no effect. He is consumed in his mission to capture the stoic essence of a herd of musk oxen less than one hundred feet away. He doesn’t want to alarm them or alter their behavior in any way.

man wearing full clothing shooting with a large tripod and camera lens as the winds blow snow around him
a close up of a huge white camera lens with camouflage on the lens and tripod
"I feel like I belong out on the ice and in the cold—it is part of me."

Over four days with the Filson team, Yüyan spent hours in the field shooting images of these denizens of the north. Telling their story is just another part of his quest to tell the stories of some of the most remote regions on the planet. His pictures display an intimacy that speaks to his deep cultural connection with the Arctic and its people. Drawing on his ancestral roots with the Nanai/Hèzhé, a Siberian Indigenous people, he routinely spends eight or nine months a year embedded with tiny isolated communities. “I have built an intimacy and trust with the native communities in the Arctic, and that has made my photographs better,” says Yüyan. “I feel like I belong out on the ice and in the cold—it is part of me.”

The quest to document the musk oxen, a creature almost wiped out by mankind, grabbed his attention immediately when it was proposed. The fact that they exist on the margins of civilization means that most people don’t know their story. They can’t appreciate their power, something that his photos portray perfectly. “Filson has such a long history that they really look back toward traditions, toward their roots in the Arctic,” he says. “This project highlights that commitment.”

an indigenous man inside a tent feeding the wood stove as clothes hang above to dry
a portrait of a man bundled up in warm clothing holding his large camera as the wind blows snow around him

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