Kiliii Yüyan

Photographer Kiliii Yüyan uncovers the hidden stories of polar regions, wilderness and Indigenous communities. Informed by ancestry that is both Nanai (Siberian Native) and Chinese-American, he explores the human relationship to the natural world from different cultural perspectives. Kiliii is an award-winning feature contributor to National Geographic Magazine and other publications.

Archival inkjet prints

@kiliiiyuyan (Instagram)


Confluence, Chukchi Sea
A wave of blood from a recently harvested bowhead whale washes onto the sea ice north of Nuvuk, or Point Barrow, Alaska in late spring. For Westerners, the perception of traditional subsistence whaling is often negative; for hunter-gatherer peoples like the Alaskan Iñupiat, it is seen as a joyful and indelible part of their culture that brings everyone together.


Brown Bear on Foam


Teshekpuk Hopscotch
Caribou from the 50,000-strong Teshekpuk herd jump through deep snow at the edges of Teshekpuk Lake in May. The herd is an important to Alaskan Iñupiaq subsistence hunters from the nearby villages of Utqiagvik and Nuiqsut. Says Iñupiaq hunter Jonah Nukapigaq, “Pretty much all of us depend on our caribou.”


Yugu Ningeok, Qatiginisi
16-year old Yugu Ningeok, a member of an Iñupiaq whaling crew, wears his ice camouflage cover, or qatiginisi. Yugu is named after his uncle, the original founder of the whaling crew.


Nalukataq Blanket Toss
At Nalukataq in Utqiagvik, Alaska, the Iñupiaq whaling festival, the village comes out to celebrate a successful whaling season and to give thanks to the whale for its gift. Phoebe Kippi flies through the air during the blanket toss. She and other successful whalers are thrown up to thirty feet, and depend on everyone’s hands to land safely. This trust goes back millennia, and ensures intimacy among the Iñupiaq community.


Lorino Container, Lorino Fishermen
Indigenous hunters and fishermen from the village of Lorino, in Russia’s Chukotka province, gather to wait out the pouring rain and stormy weather of a summer’s day in the Arctic.


Road and Pipeline, Tundra Crossing
An access road outside of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska intersects a set of pipelines. Seemingly insignificant oil support infrastructure can alter the dynamic of the relatively flat and featureless tundra in surprising ways because of the sheer unbroken length of roads and pipelines.


Waiting for Sea Ice, Herald Island
A polar bear waits by on a beach near sea stacks on Russia’s Herald Island in August, for the return of the sea ice. The retreat of the summer ice in the western Chukchi Sea has concentrated hundreds of polar bears on this island and nearby Wrangell, so personal space for these non-social bears is limited.


Umiaq and North Wind
Traditional whaling is practiced in tune with the unpredictable weather of the Arctic. Wind has pushed floating ice near the shorefast ice and the whalers must wait until it shifts again, sometimes weeks later.


Glacial Portals
This wonderland of ice is an ice cave which recedes hundreds of meters into the Breidamerkurjokull glacier in Iceland. Ice caves like this are the runoff route for meltwater further up the glacier.


All images © Kiliii Yüyan




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CURATOR | Joelcy Kay