To Become A Person
Artful storytelling holds the power to broaden perspectives and drive dialogue. This year, in partnership with Access Ventures, VSCO Voices equipped five creators with funding and mentorship to tell the stories of marginalized communities in the United States through art. Ash Adams shares a look into her photo project documenting adolescence in areas impacted by climate change.
To Become a Person is a project that looks at what it’s like to come of age in indigenous rural Alaska. For this specific chapter, funded by VSCO Voices, I worked in communities that are severely affected by climate change. The goal was to paint a visual picture of what it’s like to live in a quickly changing landscape while navigating teen years — where everything is quickly changing on a personal level as well.
This project is important to me for many reasons, including that my children are Iñupiat. I wanted to make work that this population feels is representative of their communities and spark conversation about some of the issues that these youth face. My hopes for this project are simple: to raise awareness to the ways in which climate change affects these communities and the ways in which colonization, industrialization, and climate change are interconnected in indigenous communities in the Arctic.
This chapter of the project started as more of a reportage body of work. I was making images on digital 35mm, with wide angles everywhere. Somewhere in the middle of working on it, I made a conscious decision to change my approach to better reflect the more abstract concepts I was exploring and slow things down.
Climate change is slow, but it is often documented with the same visual language that we document loud, fast-paced events or crises. Part of why I wanted to do this work in the first place was to demonstrate that generations have grown up watching climate change. They were born into the conversation about the sea eating away at their land.
The villages I spent time in for this project — Kivalina, Newtok, and Shishmaref — have all known that they would need to move for decades. The government has known too. Documenting it with the same visual language that I’d document breaking news felt off to me. A lot of the issues that these communities face socially are similar to the slow erosion of land and the slow rise of sea levels — they are the echo of trauma, which continues to ripple through each community in systemic ways.
I traveled to these three villages and spent time in the communities talking with people, making portraits, and documenting the landscape. I attempted to make work that shows what these places look like — and feel like — in the context of cultural hybridity, while also showing the effects of climate change.
Ash plans to continue documenting coming of age stories in rural Alaska, furthering conversations about climate change and indigenous communities who are fighting to keep their cultures alive. After publishing a first run of this specific chapter of work, she will be exhibiting the images in Anchorage next spring, where indigenous adolescents and many of the “deciders” in the state will be able to interface with the work in a gallery setting. The photo series will continue to live on in publications, exhibits, and ultimately, in a book of the larger umbrella project.