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family on rocky beach with net stretched on buoys. boat in instance leaving shore
Naknek Annette Caruso and her crew leaving the beach to go set netting in Naknek, Alaska. On the beach a family is emptying their subsistance net. Bristol Bay has one of the last great salmon runs in the world. Each summer, towns along Bristol Bay are filled with fishers who earn a significant amount of money for the salmon caught. July, 2019. © Brian Adams

Magazine Articles

The Art of Film Under the Midnight Sun

Film photographer Brian Adams focuses his work on life in his native Alaska.

Dustin Solberg Writer/Editor

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man stands on rocky shore with camera looks away in the distance
Self Portrait Photographer Brian Adams. Adams photographed Bristol Bay using traditional film and his medium format camera. He is an Alaska Native whose work centers around life in Alaska and other northern climates. © Brian Adams

When photographer Brian Adams came to Bristol Bay in July 2019 to see the fishing season in full swing for a story in Nature Conservancy magazine, he watched a brown bear stroll past his campsite and tuned in to daily reports of fish counts on the local radio station. To document it all for a story about the the renowned but threatened salmon runs in the Bay, the Anchorage-based photographer brought along a beloved—some might say outdated—companion: His boxy medium-format film camera. The camera’s reliable mechanisms—there’s nothing digital about it—endure the bumps of remote travel, says Adams. 

Plus, the format of the film is a spacious 6 cm by 6 cm square, considerably larger than the typical 35mm frame. All that space helps Adams, who grew up in an Inupiaq fishing family, better capture the people he photographs, he says. “I want to have as much Alaska around them as possible.” 

It’s also a camera built for an Alaskan winter. “It doesn’t take any batteries, so you don’t need to worry about any batteries dying in the cold. You know it’s going to work,” Adams says.

Yet he’s found no camera that can perform in the face of one occupational hazard of photographing in remote Alaska: A friendly invitation to step inside the warm interior of a hospitable home on a cold winter’s day.

“Your stuff fogs up right away,” he says. “You can’t even photograph when you go into the house.” 

close up of a gray-blue older car covered in brown dust, a smiley face drawn in the window dust
Daily Life Adams captured this smiley face drawn into the dust on a car in Naknek, a small fishing town on the shores of Bristol Bay, Alaska. Bristol Bay has one of the last great salmon runs in the world. © Brian Adams

Adams’ work for magazines such as National GeographicThe Atlantic and The New Yorker has led him into the heart of Alaska in all seasons. His ongoing body of work, “Ilatka: The Inuit Word for My Relatives,”  is a series of environmental portraits from throughout the circumpolar North, a project to promote understanding and dismantle stereotypes. “I Am Inuit,”  a book of portraits from Alaska, marks the project’s first stage.

While Adams hasn’t worked commercial fishing, it’s a tradition in his own family. “My grandpa was a commercial fishermen,” he says, and most in his family have had a stint as crew.

But Adams can recall a day from his boyhood that lives on in family memory. His squirms and shrieks at the sight of a flopping fish he reeled in showed he might be better suited to a different life path.

The Anchorage-based photographer brought along a beloved—some might say outdated—companion: His boxy medium-format film camera.

“That’s when they decided not to let me into the family business,” he says

Nonetheless, Adams’ film photography was a natural fit for a story about the fishing culture in Bristol Bay, where people live and work amid lush open tundra, a seemingly limitless sea and Alaska’s fabled midnight sun.

“Alaskan summer light is exhausting because you can just keep going and it keeps getting better throughout the day,” Adams says. “You just get to a point where you’re just, like, I have to stop. I have to go to bed.” 

Scroll for outtake photos that Adams took in Bristol Bay in July 2019. And read the magazine story, "Last Run," to learn more about the lives of the people in Naknek and the larger Bristol Bay region. 

Brian Adams' Photos of Salmon Fishing in Alaska


Fisher in red jacket holds silver-colored fish up to her face and almost kisses it. In boat on water
Up Close & Personal In July 2019, Annette Caruso holds a salmon she and her crew caught in the waters of Bristol Bay, off the coast of Naknek, Alaska. Bristol Bay has one of the last great salmon runs in the world. © Brian Adams
a small boat is silhouetted on water with waves, sky is sunset colored, no land on horizon
Fleeting Sunsets At sunset one night in July 2019, a set netting fishing boat floats in Bristol Bay off the coast of Naknek, Alaska. Photographer Adams went out on boats with his film camera to capture the fishing season in action. © Brian Adams
a large brush of white flowers bloom in the foreground, green grass stretches behind to the horizon
Alaskan Summer Arctic cotton (Eriophorum callitrix) blooms on the outskirts of Naknek, Alaska, a small fishing community along the shores of Bristol Bay. The summer, along with the fishing season, is short but lucrative in this part of the world. © Brian Adams
by the side of a road, a crane holds an American flag vertically that blows in the window below the top of the crane
Independence Day Salmon fishing often his its peak near the 4th of July holiday in the offshore waters of Bristol Bay, home to one of the greatest sockeye salmon runs in the world. With the help of heavy machinery, an American flag is displayed in Naknek, Alaska, in July 2019. © Brian Adams
Two men and one boy hold a net stretched across a boat with several silver-colored fish in the net
A Day's Work Hans Apokedak (middle) and Greg Andrews III (right) pull salmon out of set nets while first year deck hand Adam watches. © Brian Adams
Two men and one boy stand in waders on the edge of a boat, backs turned, one with an arm around the boy.
Closing Time Greg Andrew III, Hans Apokedak and Adam Andrew head back to the Naknek, Alaska, shoreline after a day of salmon fishing in Bristol Bay. © Brian Adams
a small cabin, made of a mix of wood and metal with many plastic buckets nearby
Local Industry Salmon fishing is a way of life in the small town of Naknek, along Bristol Bay, and many of the businesses within the community are in service to this industry. In this backyard smokehouse, local Carla Harris smokes fresh salmon. © Brian Adams
close up of hands and wrists with multiple silver rings and bracelets in the shape of fish
Salmon Style In July 2019, Carla Harris shows the photographer her silver fish-inspired jewelry outside of her backyard smokehouse in Naknek, Alaska. © Brian Adams
several pieces of sliced red fish meat lay piled on a wooden board
Sustenance Outside the smokehouse of Carla Harris, dried salmon rest. © Brian Adams
Woman stands on sunny day holding large black net bag that is several times wider than her and nearly as tall as her
For the Fish Catch Diane Hill of the Bristol Bay Brailers holds up one of her finished brailers. Brailers are large bags that hold salmon catches. Brailing one of several industries connected to the salmon fishery in the Bristol Bay region. © Brian Adams
a boy in a yellow fishing coat sit on the edge of a boat in the water with a net nearby
Looking Ahead First year deck hand Adam Andrew on the boat of Annette Caruso. Caruso is a descendent of a multi-generational fishing family and is teaching the next generation the same traditions. © Brian Adams

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Dustin Solberg is a writer and editor for The Nature Conservancy.