In a world where we can find clothes, food, and pretty much anything we want or need by simply clicking buttons on our phones, it may be hard to believe there are still people who aren’t interested in modern comforts.
But they surely exist and thanks to photographer Kiliii Yuyan and his series Living Wild following the hunters and gatherers of the 21st century we can explore their everyday existence from up close.
Yuyan is a descendant of the native Russian salmon people who live along Siberia’s Amur River, but he grew up in the United States. Yuyan remembers his native grandmother telling stories about her life, which caused him to feel attracted to helping bring back traditional knowledge, also known as primitive skills.
Yuyan does it through various ways. He works with native communities, like teaching the young Yupik children of Alaska to traditionally build kayaks.He also participates in projects where he’s required to use primal skills and tools to survive. The photographer tells Konbini:
"Primitive skills focus a lot on physical skills… There’s a lot of cultural knowledge in native communities but if you bring those two things together, then it becomes very powerful."
While he didn’t confirm his grandmother’s ancestry until he was 25, as a person with native roots he finds himself very comfortable with indigenous communities.
"When I started to pursue and work with indigenous people, it (being native) made it easier. I always felt really comfortable around native communities probably even more than other people. Being native helps build trust with native communities."
Yuyan's native heritage as his modern perspective on it led him to follow a group of 21st-century hunters and gatherers over the past 10 years.
These hunter-gatherers are a part of a group led by Lynx Vilden that invites participants to take "Stone Age Living" classes. Their goal is to abandon modern lifestyles and go back to a primitive way of living.
Yuyan, who has studied under Vilden for years, has implanted himself with the group for a month during which they lived in the North Cascades in Washington. In order to survive during that month, the group hunted, walked with bare feet in the cold, and in every way, lived primitively. The photographer recalls:
"They come in with expectations to live off the land and then they get in and realize it’s not that easy… I think we started at the bottom around 3,500 feet and we were camping around 7,000 to 8,000.
If you didn’t eat it’s because you didn’t get food, either because you didn’t have the skill to get food or no one else in your group got food."
Yuyan did not bring weapons for hunting food, though. He brought his cameras – a modern addition to the native living. He says that the hardest part is always to figure out how to pull out the camera and not ruin the intimate moments.
The photographs from his month of living "off the grid" resulted in the series Living Wild. Through HD photographs viewers can get an idea of the richness of primal existence.
No, the food and living arrangements are not luxurious. No, the hunter-gatherers are not wearing expensive clothes and rocking diamonds. No, Living Wild is not Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous... The subjects of Yuyan's series do not look rich with money, but rich with natural resources, traditional knowledge, and happiness from actually enjoying the people around them.
Of course, not everyone sees the positivity in Yuyan's photographs. The artist says that the main controversy is "wondering whether this is something important; is it a cultural phenomenon or just a bunch of privileged people running around in the woods?"
While Yuyan definitely thinks that challenging the choice to live wild is important, he also hopes other questions arise from the photographs.
"It’s a grand experiment of how things can be. What can be learned when people are put in this situation? How do people get along with one another? Can everyone get along well enough to survive? Is it possible to get that close to the land again even though we’re modern?"
Most importantly, Yuyan contends that learning traditional knowledge is important. Browse further to see more photos from the Living Wild series, and be sure to visit Yuyan's website to see more of his work.