I photographed Jason (34) in Wales in 2009 before he had met Liam's Mum - Liam is Jason's third child. They are just returning from Anchorage where Liam (2) has been to see a cardiologist for a hole in the heart.
In such a vast land it is unlikely that humans have been everywhere and some rivers and mountains still remain largely unexplored.
The land from Anchorage to Nome, the hub airport out to all the Inuit villages, is totally impassable save to dog sledders in winter time. The terrain is so vast and inhospitable that building roads is impractical and only air transport allows movement around the country. The land comprises of mountains and tundra. Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in the United States stands at top of the photo. It is 20,320 feet tall (Photo taken from 32,000 feet).
Liam sleeps traditional Inuit style on the back of his Dad Jason after landing in Nome from Anchorage. All flights out to the small Inuit villages leave from Nome. Here Jason is dialling a cab to get into town from the small airport on the outskirts. All cab fares are a straight $6
Jimmy was born in Seoul, south Korea and moved when he was 14 to Alaska. 'Mr.Kab' is a taxi business started by him and his brothers in Nome because "it's a nice place to make money". When asked about the nuclear threat from North Korea to the USA Jimmy says that "even though the North Koreans are threatening it's just a threat - that's all" and it doesn't make any difference to him that North Korea is so near.
Peter is one of Jimmy's brothers and also drives in their Nome business 'Mr.Kab'. John is the other brother and lives in California.
Peter first went to live in Columbus, Ohio after leaving Seoul. His brother Jimmie called Peter up to work in Nome. In turn Jimmie came up to Nome after a friend, who was working as a taxi driver in nearby Bethel, suggested he do the same.
I get on in town and have to wait whilst others get picked up and dropped off before I can get out to the airport.
Despite the bleak location Nome is a busy and vibrant hive of activity as people go about making money and living.
Every single item including food gets flown into Wales - there is no other way
Jesse (29) recently moved up to flying this single prop Cessna 208B. He's my pilot for this day and cannot believe that I have journeyed all the way from the UK to go to Wales especially. In fact most people have advized me not to go back and think I'm crazy because they have nothing good to say about this village at all. I feel it's my job to make sure people see what kind of place Wales is and get all the positives to stand out.
Carl White is a Truancy officer for the Bering Straight School District and grabs a quick sleep on the way to Brevig Mission to help the Principal check out
On this flight Carl gets off at Brevig Mission and also many cans of soft drinks are delivered. Many of the Inuit villages are 'dry' and alcohol is banned so these beverages are very popular.
Carl is asleep in the back as Jesse and I both look on concerned about the worsening visibility
Jesse follows the coast at 600 feet. The plane is fitted with GPS
Visibility gets worse and worse the further north we head so we have to drop down to get under it
Tommy the pilot and 'Sook' (Luther Komonaseak) flying with Frontier Airlines to Wales in 2009. Tommy was cool, allowing me to sit up front and move around the cabin as I pleased. ERA airlines are now alot stricter and I had to stay in my seat. 'Bush Flying' is usually alot more laid back than it is nowadays.
Spring is late this year and, near Nome, only now the sea ice is breaking up
Brevig Mission where we land first before heading onto Wales
After Brevig the sea ice gets thicker
Visibility gets worse as we get closer to Wales so Jesse drops to under 400 feet. It was Carl, Jesse and I to Brevig and then just Jesse and I to Wales. Shame I didn't have a parachute with me.
PAIW at bottom of GPS screen is Wales airstrip. You can see we are heading back south east to Nome at 9,542 feet and will try to fly again this afternoon - weather permitting!
Jesse makes the decision to chin the flight off and head back to Nome as visibility is too poor to risk landing at Wales despite getting within a few miles of the airstrip. We climb up to 9000 feet for a tan
Above the clouds there are blue skies and a brief respite from the Arctic below
Return to Nome airport
One week after flying from London I take off from Nome for the second time. This time it's a twin prop and the weather is better. We are bound for Brevig Mission again, then Teller and lastly Wales.
Bob was born in Wales but lived in Brevig Mission for a few years with his wife and 3 children. He is returning back to Wales where he now lives with his family after visiting Anchorage.
It's a very late spring and the sea is still frozen. I heard someone ask "Are you having a good winter this summer?"
The view from a twin prop to Wales in the summer of 2009 shows ox bow lakes whilst cruising at 800 feet.
This is Teller. The airstrip is about a mile out of the village. At left it's possible to make out the sea edge.
Aerial view of Wales village, from helicopter, in 2009.
Looking north east towards Wales village, its airstrip and Razorback mountain at right in 2009.
Full moon over Wales village looking south in the summer of 2009.
Wales village is close to 'Cape Prince of Wales' (the westernmost US mainland point) which in 1778 was named by Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy for the Prince of Wales George Augustus Frederick. I photographed the current Prince of Wales - Prince Charles, in 2011, awarding a medal to Private Liam King - a double amputee who served in Afghanistan with The Parachute Regiment (2 Para).
Teller airstrip. The pilot Doug did a good job of landing on the frozen surface.
We approach Wales from the north east after flying over mountainous terrain.
The weather is extremely changeable and clouds spring up in the blink of an eye.
Old friend Razorback Mountain shows clearly why it is called so. Despite the harsh environment this mountain with its spine of rocks brings back happy memories of familiarity. Inuit ancestors were placed behind the rocks of Razorback because permafrost makes the ground too hard to bury people in. On my last visit, whilst going up Razorback, I came across a human skull.
Razorback mountain in 2009. It's almost always within view wherever you are in the village.
Helicopter view from 2009 of Wales along the shoreline and Diomede on the horizon.
My first view of Wales since leaving in 2009. Taken through the plane perspex window which is old and blurry. The shadows at top are from low cloud and move over the frozen sea which starts immediately above the village buildings. 150 people live here and out of those about 12 are fluent Inupiaq speakers. Like everywhere at the moment cultures are rapidly dying off. I'd like to make a book of this work (and from 2009) if I can find a mature enough publisher to understand the projects importance. Unlikely but not impossible.
Turbulence makes it's hard to take a level photo and we're travelling so fast there aren't many opportunities to get a better shot! At top centre of the image, between frozen sea and cloud, there is a small dark area where it will soon be free enough of ice enough to launch boats from for hunting.
Coming in to land at Wales airstrip. This is facing south west and looking towards the sea in the distance which is frozen. None of these images have been re-touched yet and only roughly tweaked for contrast. I'm using one PENTAX K5IIs and have two backups - a 10 year old *istD and 7 year old *istDL2. Both of these cameras refuse to work in sub-zero temperatures so I have to hope the K5IIs stays safe. I don't have the budget to buy more kit and despite having been sponsored by PENTAX cannot get any more free equipment. The whole of Wales village can be seen it its entirety in this photo.
View of Wales approaching the airstrip from the south in 2009.
We land and at first no-one is there to meet us so we sit inside the plane. It's too cold to stand outside and too windy. Soon a fleet of ski-doos comes out of the village towards us to pick up people and supplies. Luggage is taken off the plane and in-turn the people leaving pack their kit into the aircraft's holds.
Bering Air twin prop in 2009. A direct competitor to Frontier Airlines (Now ERA) in 2009 on Wales Airstrip.
This is a quick shot of Randy whom I photographed inside a White Alice radar dish in 2009 (see the 'Wales, Alaska - 2009' Picasa web album). Behind the ski-doo is a wooden sled being towed to carry luggage and people.
This is the south view from the house in Wales where I stayed in 2009 and am staying at again in 2013, facing the village. A ski-doo and sled whizzes by whilst the sun thaws out ice which hangs down from the roof.
As soon as I arrive Sherman and I go out to get water. There is no piped, running, mains water in the village so we go on snow mobile and quad to where there is a spring. Sherman opens up the hole from ice.
This is fresh spring water which is a mile from the house. We fill two buckets and carry one back each. In the Cold War there was a nuclear plant on nearby St.Lawrence Island and this was decommissioned and dumped at Tin City which is on the other side of the mountains. Now uranium is leeching into some of the local water supplies and a 'ZERO water TDS' (Total Dissolved Solids) reading reveals that instead of a digital readout of 6 the water is 217!
Back where Sherman lives the spring water tops up a plastic bin used for water storage in the kitchen and this is used for all drinking and cooking needs.
After collecting water I go to the school to deliver a carton of Tapioca to the principal Roxie. I was asked to fly it out by a stranger who bought me lunch in Nome, a friend of hers. Sherman then takes me up to the side of a hill overlooking Wales and I take a quick shot. I'm not allowed to get off the snow mobile because I haven't yet paid the fee for permission to walk on this native land. I've been here a couple of hours and have much to do.
I am extremely fortunate that the friend I made here in Wales in 2009, Dan Richard, gives me a place to sleep in his house. Last time I slept in a tent and then in Dan's workshop. This time I am welcomed back as one of his family. Dan built this house himself and it is strong enough to withstand the harshest of arctic winters here in the far north of Alaska.
In 2009, when I first arrive, Dan Richard allows me to put up a tent, I borrow from a friend in Fairbanks, outside his workshop.
Sherman and I head up to the airstrip to meet Dan off the plane after I pay $100 to the Native Corporation for permission to walk on their land. Funny to think that I was jokingly thrown my Nato spec 'Berghaus Yeti Wilderness gaiters' by a soldier in Afghanistan in 100 degree temperatures and never thought I'd use them.
Self portrait outside Dan's workshop, where I was sleeping, during my 2009 stay in Wales.
Randy again. It's one of his jobs to go to the airstrip to pick up and drop off people and luggage. That's a home-made beaver fur hat. No beavers are found this far north so the fur was flown in.
We watch as Dan's plane does a fly past at less than 100 feet before heading back to Nome. The pilot wasn't happy with the condition of the runway, so didn't land, as it is rutted and boggy in places despite the gravel earth being coated with a special treatment last year to bind it together.
Rachel Seetook is 26 and was born in Nome. She lives in Wales because she has family here and poignantly explains that there is 'not much drinking here which is good'. Some villagers vote to be 'wet' with alcohol or 'dry' and without. Wales is dry and Rachel grew up with alcohol in the family which is common and causes huge disruption to childrens wellbeing. "It's better to be here than somewhere that does drink". This small Portakabin is the Wales City Council office and buried in deep snow at the moment.
Bob adjusts wiring on his snow mobile to get it to start. It's so cold nobody spends anytime outside especially to work on a vehicle. If there's a problem it gets sorted just enough to get you home and can plague a vehicle until the weather is warm enough to fix it properly.
Oliver jumps up and down while Nirvaea digs with a pole she found nearby to try and get through the ice to water under this frozen lake. In a weeks time they will break for the summer holidays. Everyone goes out wearing sunglasses as otherwise you go snowblind.
There are many more dogs in Wales than I remember. A friend called Jason calls them the 'Guardians of Wales' as they give warning of Polar Bears which are a threat to humans. 'Homey' is the Rottweiler at right and 'Ninja' walks home with his master.
White Alice Radar dish at Tin City. Amos and his son Richard take me up to this old US Airforce base which stands on the other side of the mountains to Wales. I'm looking forward to making a comparison in the next Wales book with my older images of White Alice taken in the summer of 2009. For more information look here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tin_City_Air_Force_Station
I miss using film and must get back to it again. White Alice Radar dish in 2009.
Randy Oxereok climbing up inside one of the White Alice radar dishes in 2009.
White Alice in 2009. Since then the mast at right has been removed, to be used in the village to hold a satellite dish.
Another view of White Alice radar in 2009. Taken from the top of a neighbouring antenna (which stands in the front of the radar dish).
I ride on the back of Amos's Yamaha through thick mist. Richard is 9 years old and rides his own 600cc machine. White Alice can just be seen through the gloom.
Amos Oxereok splitting wood in 2009.
Amos Oxereok used to work as an analyst for City Bank in NYC before returning to his home community Wales. Now he is a whaling captain in the village, a teacher and adept snow mobiler.
Father and son play on the mountain side. I'm sure that is an 'R' for Amos's son Richard.
Richard and his machine - he has a talent for riding snow mobiles and is allowed to give lifts to adults but not other children.
Molly Mazonna enters the gymnasium of Wales school on the evening of her graduation to great applause from a large audience. She is the only student to graduate since there are no other pupils in her class to do so. Remember the population of Wales is small.
Ellen Oxereok, a village councillor gives an uplifting speech about Molly.
Carl White, whom I photographed on his plane to Brevig Mission gives a speech in Wales school for Molly Mazonna's graduation. Carl works out of Nome and is 'special assistant to the school superintendent' for the Bering Straight School District (15 villages). He is making a huge difference working with truant children and helping to prevent suicide. The school districts strapline is "Programs don't improve schools... people do".
Molly watches a slideshow of photos of her life so far being shown to a large audience of family and friends together with her principal Roxie, Carl White and Gilbert, Wales' pastor. I don't want to annoy by using flash so bump ISO to 128,000. It's totally dark in the gymnasium save for light from the projection and a happy moment for all.
All ages from many families are present but, when bored, gadgets are brought out and as popular as anywhere else in the 1st world.
Molly (18) and her Mum 'Met' pose for photos in front of many wellwishers from Wales village.
Met and daughter Molly Mazonna (with a baby - Coleen?) at the Wales Dance Festival in 2009. Met's Auntie Irene made the squirrel parkie for her Mum Martha who handed it down to Met. Albert's Mum made the Mukluk boots. At right is a portrait photograph of an Inuit lady taken in 1987 by Myron Wright, an Anchorage based photographer whom I met in 2009 at Keller's photo lab. He spent a week in Wales photographing many people who have now passed on. I am the first photographer to go to Wales for any significant length of time to document the people and their village. The only thing stopping me from making a complete study of Wales is getting the appropriate visa so I can stay longer. I will have to pause this project soon so that I can spend as long as it takes to successfully get this visa and then carry on.
Stacey is from England and has worked at Wales school for over 2 years now. She had worked in the USA before because her parents both live in the 'Lower 48' (States). Her love of children is clearly felt.
After the graduation I start to walk on the sea ice towards people working at the edge. Amos picks me up with his snow machine as there is the ever present threat of Polar bears and I don't have a firearm - a Polar Bear was shot only a week before in the village.
We stand in silence and listen as the ice flows fast northwards. Soon it will clear and allow the 18 foot aluminium boats to get out onto open water to hunt bearded seal, walrus and bowhead whale.
This is the sea edge 'Pressure Ridge' where thick ice meets water. I am told it's about 50 feet deep here and the currents are dangerously fast. In the Inupiaq language there are over 100 different names for sea ice to explain changing conditions.
Ellen Oxereok heads out of her house with refuse bagged clothes loaded onto a sled bound for the village 'Washeteria'. To get in and out of the house you have to pass through 3 doors which keep the interior warm and draft free.
Since no house has piped water the villagers uses the 4 washing machines provided in the communal Washeteria. It's not too far a walk and the plastic sled makes it easy to carry clothes in one load.
Ellen loads up all 4 machines whilst a neighbour sits down to have a chat. The building also has 2 showers, one for male and one female - the only place to wash in Wales apart from a few tin baths and a couple of saunas.
Wales village Washeteria in the summer of 2009. Inside there are 2 flushable toilets, 2 showers for male and female, 4 washing machines but the driers no longer work so people have to dry their clothes back at home.
Wales Washeteria in 2009.
Dan Richard, Wales Postmaster (at left) and Dan (Seetook) Omedelena are the only two Dans in Wales and the only two Vietnam veterans left. Dan Richard explains that locals don't think about being "on the closest mainland USA point to North Korea and the nuclear missile threat" since there is no TV and no news. "If it doesn't have anything to do with drink or drugs they don't care" he explains. Dan also says that everything is 'weather driven' here - moving, blowing, poor visibility. The only difference to the desert is that instead of everything being brown it is white. The fur around Dan's hood, at right, is wolf.
Sonny Oxereok comes to visit Dan Richard, his brother-in-law at Wales Post office. Sonny's sister Ellen Oxereok is married to Dan. Sonny and Dan have been buddies for over 30 years and were both elected to their council recently but haven't been sworn in yet due to Wales City Council politics. (Wales is known as a 'City' despite being a village of 150 people).
Sonny kindly invites me back to his house for Sour dough hotcakes made by his wife Ronni which are made from scratch, not store bought. There is either maple or homemade blueberry syrup, butter, spam and coffee. Sonny explains that when the family had no other food hot cakes were a staple which kept them going.
Ronni checks out DVD's a friend brings round to hire as Randy (Sonny's eldest son) sits at centre and his uncle Stanley to his left.
A pump action .22 rifle (top), 12 gauge shotgun and at bottom - an Indian made Enfield .308 (7.62) converted from a .303 line Randy's wall of his bedroom. His Mum brought back the female figurine cup and straw from Vegas the year before as a present.
Randy and his Dad Sonny check out photos online from my last visit. Glare from snow outside gives an idea of how bright it gets. Broadband is provided by satellite which the sun interferes with causing a slow and unreliable service. Villagers are hoping for a cable provider soon.
Randy Oxereok works for the local airline ERA hauling freight to and from Wales airstrip with his snow mobile and he provides the main income for his family - "keeping the lights on". It's mostly morning work which gets pretty slow in winter.
Sonny carved this Polar Bear head when he was a teenager. It is tied to his harpoon which he uses for bearded seal or walrus and stops his hand from slipping when throwing the wooden shaft which was made from an old rowing oar. Since there are no trees all wood comes from the sea which gets washed up on the beach. They used to be able to find bamboo and hardwoods from Japan but nowadays there is more and more plastic.
Sonny holds up his harpoon. Kingikmiut (on his t-shirt) is the native Inuit name for Wales. The engraving 'FKO' stands for Frank K. Oxereok, Sonny's actual name.
Sonny in 2009 with harpoon.
Sonny's Polar bear head carved from ivory and before strict laws came into effect banning it's use.
Study of Sonny's harpoon in 2009.
Sonny plays the Inuit game 'Yo-Yo' in his living room. Ronni, his wife, made the two tiny Mukluks (native fur boots) which are tied to strings and swung in opposite directions for as long as possible.
Sonny's dog Musuq stands guard outside the house in the freezing air. His name means oatmeal because his coat is a similar colour. The word 'Musuq' is similar to Muzzuk which means 'sunshine'. I'm told he lives off household scraps of food and some dried dog food.
Raymond Seetook builds a new sled to tow behind his snow mobile outside his house.
Sherman shovels snow away from his Dads digger to get to a heater plug which will warm the engine overnight. This will make it possible to start it the next day and power out of the snow as it has work to do. Wales City Council has overspent its budget and cannot afford to clear nearby roads so Sherman will have to do this himself around his home to make access easier.
Everywhere I look there is some beautiful artform or sculpture waiting to be photographed. The snow and lack of natural features makes it hard for my mind to calculate distance and scale. In the last 48 hours since I arrived my days have been spent getting dressed for the outdoors, walking around in freezing temperatures, taking photos, cooking on a multi-fuel stove in Dan's workshop and doing this web album. It doesn't sound like much but it is quickly draining.
Sherman's store. Amos, in white and his son Richard at centre call to visit Sherman (Amos's brother) in his home and store. There are 2 other stores in the village selling food but Sherman specializes in selling pop, candy and gaming. The black box around the chimney at left is called a 'Stack Robber' and uses a rear mounted electric fan to blow hot air through 10 small pipes and speeds up heating the room. Sherman order his goods through Walmart with COD (cash on delivery) and because it's flown in has to charge at least double to cover his costs. A tube of Pringles is $5 and a can of Coke $1.55.
Alicia Chrisci (17) left, Reuben Oxereok (18) and Cynthia Chrisci (19) right visit Sherman's store at midnight. Alicia has just left the gymnaisum for Eskimo Dance practice hence the 'DC' shoes she is clutching and which she bought for their bright colours and to wear at school. She buys Skittles and then heads for home with her sister and friend. It's still bright daylight outside.
At 2am people cease to visit Sherman's store for pop and a group of young men visit to start gaming against each other with 'Modern Warfare 3'. They explain that "there is nothing else to do in this place" and the very early morning suits them all because some of them work during the day. Casey Tingook (24) sits at left. He says his surname means 'Liver'.
View from out of Sherman's store past midnight. It's actually very light outside and the blue is only because I have set my camera's "white balance" for fluorescent light (for the overhead light bulb). Walls are 12 inches thick using wood and insulation and all homes have at least 2 front doors together to help keep cold air out.
The house that Roxie and Stacey share who both work at Wales school. It was grey in 2009.
Teacher's accommodation in 2009. Shaun Komonaseak cuts up wood outside for renovating the interior.
Stacey Mueller (34) stopped living in the UK when she was 12 and moved to Michigan as her Father was in the US Air Force. When she was young she noticed she had the ability to explain things to people. The benefits to teaching in such a small community are that you create closer bonds of trust with the student and understand their needs. The downside is, because there are only 2 teachers, that the students exposure to other teachers is limited. "Education is a vehicle to a better life".
Stacey Mueller in her bedroom. This is Stacey's 2nd teaching post, the first was for 2 years at a school in Portland, USA and she has been at Wales, Alaska for 2 years as she "wants to make a difference and do something that helps people". Being here is about adventure, new places and to live a meaningful life without monetary things.
Roxie Quick (66) the Wales School Principal. Roxie comes from Kelso in south west Washington, has been here for 2 years and will probably do one more and then retire. She explains the kids have a harsh life here because of diversity and how they are raised - if they don't have their coping skills they do whatever they want. Expectations of children were higher in the past and now they need to grow up knowing what their destinies and purposes are. The work ethic is not as strong as it could be - the people are good but hardships are just tough on them - "they have a right to have a choice, to see the whole picture". Roxie can imagine an invasion from N.Korea (r.e. the nuclear threat) but says they woudn't want to mess with any of the guys from here!
Roxie in her bedroom with laptop. Using wifi and social media helps greatly with staying in touch with the outside world. "The people here have to have a mindset which is in sync with one another where everyone can work together - people carry too much baggage. You can see them connect to their past when they catch a whale and they all come together as one".
I photographed this shed on my last day in Wales in 2009. On the left side it is coming open and starting to fall apart.
The same shed, in better condition, in 2009. I hear it will soon be purposefully taken down as it is falling apart. I ask why it cannot be repaired?
The house on the left is where I am staying. On my last visit I welded in the satellite dish mast and soon I will help replace this setup for an even bigger one. I will have to start walking around the village with my 'Wales, Alaska' book (from 2009) to show to the locals which I hope will warm them to my cause and allow me better access to their lives and homes. Naturally there is a tendency to encounter indifference to white men here due to the natives early encounters with Christian missionaries - many of whom where actually criminals and on the run from the law.
The entrance to Dan Richard's house and where I am staying.
Another photo of Dan Richard's front door with more wind blown snow today. This is Spring time in mid May and only half as bad as winter.
Stacey Okpealuk (27) lives here with her boyfriend Shaun Komonaseak (47). Stacey was born in Nome and raised in Teller and Brevig and came to the Wales (Eskimo) Dance Festival in 2007 and met Shaun then. She doesn't miss Nome which is a wet town "I don't like to get in trouble so much anymore - my partying days are over!"
Stacey Okpealuk makes beaded Polar Bears and Angel key rings, zipper pulls, pins and hair berets. She bought the beads from the late Victor Goldsberg's Chukota store in Nome and charges between $10 and $25 for a Polar Bear depending on the person. If you are a poorer person she charges less money and does a deal instead.
Shaun Komonaseak (47) is from Wales and spent 3 and a half years in the 82nd US Airborne Division between 1985 and 1988. He jumped from C-130's and Huey helicopters.
Shaun Komonaseak dressed up and ready to head outside to work. He mostly does voluntary work at the Native Corporation office in the village to help others and keep busy.
Josh Ongtowasruk (50) stands with the skin of his first Polar Bear kill which he shot a week ago in the village. It hangs just within his front door, inside the porch, to cure as it is so cold. Josh gave the Polar Bear as a gift to his Mother, Faye, as first kills are given to elders out of respect. We have never met before and the first thing he asks me when I knock on the door is "Have you got a Green Card?". (Apparently he means by this 'You're not from around here!?')
Warren Olanna (from Shishmaref) at left holds a Walrus skull and Stanley Oxereok a Polar Bear skull in 2009.
In Faye Ongtowasruk's living room. Most houses are diesel heated but Faye is one of a handful who still uses wood which is found on the shoreline around Wales and over at Tin City. I photographed Faye in 2009 on the beach as she collected wood. She is a fluent Inupiaq speaker, not 'Upiq', and was born on 30 December 1928 - speaking only her native tongue until she went to school. She was born in an "Igloo house' (a sod-house) which was built from driftwood, lumber and whale bones. In the summer they would travel locally and live in tents picking 'greens' to supplement their meat diet - sura, eveaqlak, sour docks and alualak [check spelling]. "My Daddy hunt from the ocean - fish, seal and Oogruk" (Bearded seal and way bigger than seal, 10 foot long)
Faye (84) taught her teachers how to write and speak in Inupiaq and attended up until 4th grade when her Father died from flu on 02 or 03 December 1943. Faye tells me to wrap up warm, keep all exposed parts covered up, not to get frost-bite and eat well - I mustn't get ill. "I like Wales, it's a good place - they don't drink".
Faye collecting driftwood on Wales beach in 2009.
Faye is well known for her knitting and making 'Parkies' (Parkers from fur, hide and wind proof cotton).
One of the many "Parkies", wind-proof Parkers Faye has made. Some fur and wools gets flown in but most of it is sourced from animals nearby. Faye owns over a 1000 head of reindeer and is an elder of the village.
Faye's kitchen. I ask her how she spends her days - "Snow, ice, water and honey bucket" she says laughingly. 'Honey bucket' is the toilet, a bucket which has to be emptied everyday since there is no running water.
Aileen Witrosky (38) is a State Trooper who works out of Nome and is assigned to fly to Savoonga, Wales and Shishmaref. Her prime responsibilities are the people in the villages and travelling but she doesn't get out to Wales as often as she would like to. Investigations, complaints, drunks shooting guns, assaults, stolen property and breaking and entering all fall under her remit. Demanding jobs which require her to be extremely personable, understanding and have a great sense of humour.
Aileen's work jacket. It's far too obvious to photograph Aileen in her uniform and I'm instead fortunate to be given an insight to her off-duty character whilst she relaxes having just got to Wales from Nome. Everyone seems to respect and love Aileen as a good friend of the village and who clearly has the best interests of each person in the community at the forefront of her work ethic.
Aileen's gun belt consists of Glock 22 handgun, Tazer, Pepper spray, baton, 2 spare magazines and pink handcuffs "It's super entertaining when you put them on a dude!'
These whale jaw bones were photographed and put on the cover of my first 'Wales, Alaska' book. http://www.blurb.com/b/1121067-wales-alaska 2 more have been added since 2009
Same whale jaw bones on Wales beach in 2009.
I'm re-photographing buildings I shot in 2009 which look far more beautiful in the snow. In the background is Razorback mountain.
Same lone house in 2009.
View from Wales across the frozen Bering Straight to US owned Little Diomede Island and behind it Russian owned Big Diomede Island. Inupiaqs live on Little Diomede and have a runway on the ice in winter for light planes. In summer only helicopters can gain access (Big Diomede stretches out on either side behind Little Diomede which is in the centre of the photo and whose edges you can just make out).
Alaskan State Trooper Aileen Witrosky walks along the beach in the morning, from her overnight accommodation, to Wales school where she will talk with students before leaving for her next visit to other villages in her juristiction.
Aileen carries 2 backpacks which total 60 pounds in weight. Her hat is made from sea otter (brown front) and seal (grey sides) and is warm enough for the harshest arctic winters.
Christine Komonaseak (56) has been the cook at Wales school for 17 years. "Wales is a wonderful place to live - it's safe, it's clean, the safest place in the world". She has 4 boys, 2 girls and 10 grandchildren with one more on the way.
Kayden Komonaseak (6) - one of Christine Komonaseak's grandkids gets to school at 8am in time for a free meal of hot breakfast pockets and apple or orange juice.
Parents are welcome to eat breakfast at the school with their children too. Stanley sits with his two daughters.
Cousins Richard and Charles are ready for the day ahead even before they have eaten. Temporary tables are set up in the gymnasium for breakfast and lunch.
Stanley Miligrock (31) wears coloured contact lenses. All Inupiaqs have dark brown eyes so occassionally a male or female character will buy lenses to wear which certainly stand out. Stanley also has blue, red and white 'eyes'.
Harvey Miller (64) is from Golovin but has been working in Wales on and off for 3 years rebuilding a fire damaged house. He is a carpenter and also has the job of 'opening up' 6 other disused houses in Wales under the Federal Housing Program run by the Bering Straights Housing authority. This morning he is giving a quick talk after breakfast to the students about the frame he built for this stained glass window. Harvey explains that 'frames' are all around us - animal skins stretched over frames, window and door frames and that they are easy to make with wood anyone can find on the beach. A practical, inspiring and enthusing talk that paves the way for the day ahead.
Roxie the principal gives gratitude to Harvey on behalf of the students for coming in to talk and staff do the 'Wales Wave of thanks'. Harvey tells me that Wales is the 2nd oldest community in Alaska versus the many fish camps which were migratory and non-permanent. (The oldest community is in the Aleutians). His Mum's Dad was a reindeer herder from Lapland who came over to find work and his Dad's Dad came from Kansas.
Aileen allows me to take her portrait whilst in the school. We spend a while seeking out a suitable background and then talk about finding the right expression which shows her business side - dynamic, tough, and no-nonsense (despite Aileen prefering to show off her lovely smile).
My TTL flash and PENTAX '*ist D' die so I have to ask a teacher to help with alternative lighting. So much for being sponsored by PENTAX and working as a professional photographer. It would be nice if I could earn a proper wage from my work and rely on sponsors to treat me with respect.
Brian Miller - State Trooper, one of Aileen Witrosky's colleagues in Nome. I told Brian I would walk to Wales from Nome but he wouldn't allow me to unless I bought a firearm to protect myself from bears. I didn't have an Alaskan driving licence so couldn't buy a .44 pistol so got a free flight to Wales instead.
Creedence (8) at left and Chelsea Ongtowasruk (8) - cousins, do extra 'reading comprehension' in Wales school library after an expository test on "Cherry Blossom Trees".
Jade Milligrock (7) - 2nd grade reading in Wales school library. I'm seriously impressed by the high level of teaching at the school and energy that is put into varying the curriculum.
Stacey Mueller gives an informed afternoon lesson using an overhead projector about the country Mexico and asks her pupils to question what is different between that country's cities and their own communities in Alaska.
"Never Ever Ever Ever Ever Give Up!" Everywhere you look there are examples of success stories from former students with messages of encouragement and positivity. Absolutely every effort is made to show pupils all the opportunities they have in life and that they can do anything they like.
Students and kitchen staff take a break in the school corridor from making tissue paper flowers to be used in the 'Walk for Life' - Raising Awareness and Educating People about Depression and Suicide Prevention.
Students run through a fun activity that focuses on the physical properties of air by blowing away from the open end of a plastic bag and seeing how fast it fills up.
The air is so clear and sharp overhead seagulls become solarised against the sky.
An old motor 'grader' used for levelling ground (like the airstrip) adds to the landscape of Wales and tells the story of this community's long history.
Christine Komonaseak prepares another breakfast of 'Variety' - sweet, low fat, low in sugar muffins. The school is re-supplied once a year of all its food. Christine took over from her Mother-in-Law when she retired after 35 years working in the school kitchen when it was run by Bering Internal Affairs (BIA).
Judy Standafter (56) is originally from Kentucky and has been working at Wales school for 15 years. She was hired for special education and regular education to teach middle and high school regular education students. Originally interviewed for a position at a school in Elim Judy was told Wales had opened up, looked at the map and wanted to be there instead. She teaches about 'Oobleck' - a classic science experiment using water and corn starch.
Roxie Quick - Principal of Wales school, Alaska in her office.
The front door as I open it when I leave before 8am for the school and think this is a little extreme - but wait for my return this evening!
I close Dan Richard's front door behind me and take a shot. This is meant to be Spring time!
I walk down Wales beach heading south. This is the last week of Wales school before they break for the summer holidays so I am making the most of the invitation to photograph the pupils and their classes. Then I will resume photographing everyone else again in the village. The meat drying platform and whale jaw bones are at far left.
Close up of meat drying platform, at right and whale jaw bones in 2009.
Looking south down Wales beach in 2009.
The sticker, in foreground, makes me grin - 'CHILL'.
Michelle Ongtowasruk (49) has worked at Wales school for 23 years. She is secretary and media clerk and has lived in Wales since 1976, spent 2 years in Nome but born in Oakland, California. Her Mother was sent there to learn a trade as part of a programme which sent Inupiaq teenage girls from Inuit communities to the Lower 48.
I'm asked to give a quick talk to the students after breakfast about my photography in Wales and then everyone pledges their allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
2009 Wales annual dancers in the school and in front of the US flag where each morning pupils pledge their allegiance.
I hope I will be here for this August when it is the annual Wales Dance Festival (if I can get a visa to return). I took this photo in 2009 in a corridor in the school. These dancers are dancing a section of 'The Medicine Man' which is a dance that traditionally lasts for 3 days non-stop. It hasn't been danced in its entirety since the 1950's as a death would always 'coincidentally' occur after it finished. Superstition means that the dance is only enacted in part these days.
3 lnuit ladies wait patiently at the 2009 annual Wales dance festival, in the school gymnasium, for their turn to take part. The village trebles in size once a year for the dance festival and many people arrive by plane and small boat from islands and along the coast. It's a very happy time when old friends get reacquainted and the young pair off to, hopefully, form lifelong bonds and make new families.
Nevaeh Richard (6), Kaylynn Pelowook (6) and Mary Jane Ongtowa (5) blow bubbles in Kindergarten during an action packed day.
At left, Clyde Ongtowasruk Jr (28) and his brother Dave Ongtowasruk (27), both Maintenance Custodians jokingly call themselves 'Thing 01' and 'Thing 02' (like from Dr.Seuss) in the Janitors Storage room. Their grandmother Faye owns the largest Reindeer herd with almost 1000 head and at the end of June they will have to travel up to 60 miles away by four wheeler (quad) to begin herding them all back to the village corral.
Melinda Oxereok (42) runs an SFA class (Success For All) for her 3rd and 4th grades - a Co-operative reading programme. Melinda first came to teach at Wales school in 1993 for 3 years and then from 2010. Soon she leaves for another teaching post in Alaska, one of many so far, to continue doing a great job.
Laura Evans (48) from Portland, Oregon shows her Kindergarten class my Patagonia book. Laura has been at Wales school for 3 years and retires this week to go back to the 'Lower 48'. Molly Mazonna, 2nd from left, who recently graduated is now working at the school as a teacher's assistant.
Nancy Dean (62) from California, asks to keep her privacy and not to be photographed so we negotiate and agree that her earing will have to represent her for a shot. The purple colour of this jewellery matches her 'Kuspuk' - a long-sleeved hooded slip-over shirt with a large pocket in the front, like a hooded sweatshirt without a banded bottom that is traditionally worn by Inuit women. Nancy is leaving after 8 years at Wales school to retire and look after her Mum. "I don't like cities, I like to be able to see what I want to see and know all my neighbours, to know what's around me". She respects people who are resourceful in their environment and likes to eat food indigenous to her.
Nancy is leaving Wales school so arranges a Pinata for her pupils. Their last assignment of the term is about Mexico so this concludes their hard work - "I don't want gold, I don't want silver - all that I want is to break the pinata".
Everyone gets a go at hitting the Pinata and once opened the pupils dive for candy on the floor of the gymnasium.
The USDA - 'United States Department of Agriculture' supplies schools with salmon fillets and because it is the end of term whatever is un-used in the freezer is handed to the children to give to the elders of the village.
Wind Bags fly after Judy gives another lesson in air physics (www.stevespanglerscience.com). Names of other neighbouring communities line banners on the gymnasium walls behind them.
Stacey Mueller gets in on the action with 2 Windbags and begins to battle Judy
...who then turn their attention to another attacker - Henry Seetook (9).
Walk for Life. Students and teachers brave freezing conditions outside Wales school. It's too cold and the snow too deep to walk the intended route so a hurried team photo has to suffice. Walk for Life raises awareness about depression and suicide prevention. The children have paper flowers and posters they made.
Sonny, Ronni and their grand daughter leave the school after watching this years graduation.
And when I return back to Dan's at the end of a long day the door is now half covered! I hear that Elders are saying a storm is coming in.
I step down and try not to knock too much snow inside the house so I can close the door alright. I've been back in Wales, Alaska for 6 days and have had my warm up session. Next week I start some serious photography.
The same view as an earlier shot from inside the house I stay at. This is after a 2 day winter storm (in Spring).
Wales School, Alaska
The last day of Wales school before the summer holidays there are games in the gymnasium with pedal trikes. I photographed many classes, many great students with their teachers and witnessed the excellent teaching which helps the future of the community to excel.
Judy's High school class on their last day head outside to light Chinese lanterns which soon catch a breeze and speed into the distance.
Judy Standafer returns home on her last day teaching at Wales school after 15 years in the village - she is retiring and heading back to her native Kentucky. Her 'parkie', fur ruff hood and gloves are traditional Inuit outdoor wear. Countless people from Wales will miss her caring and fun and she surely deserves tribute for all the time she has spent shaping future generations lives.
At 3am it is still this light and doesn't ever truly get dark. The village generates its own electricity from diesel generators and wind turbines since there is no power coming in from any external suppliers.
Powder snow makes walking difficult and covers vehicles quickly.
Dead of night. Snow covers outside windows reducing interiors to darkened caves.
Looking south at Wales village at 4am.
Ellen Oxereok spends alot of her time making sure that her front door is clear of snow and has to continually carve steps out of the ice for better access.
Ellen says that this duty keeps her young and she enjoys it. The air is freezing but dry.
Ellen Oxereok holding Labrador Tea in 2009 dressed in traditional Inuit clothing.
"Government help is the genocide of our people" Ellen Oxereok says. "Over the past 10 - 15 years food stamps have stopped people from hunting. We used to catch 500 seals a year and now just a few. Why hunt when you can go to the store?"
Clyde Ongtowasruk (27) relaxes on his snow machine at Wales airstrip and waits for the 6.10pm plane that is about to land to take passengers to Nome. He has luggage in the sled of Stacey Mueller, a teacher at Wales school, who is leaving to go on her holidays for 12 weeks. Clyde says "I'm glad it's a south wind, it's nice and warm!" despite it being -17.
Dan Richard with .44 Magnums. When Dan hunts he leaves his rifle at home and gets up close to Polar Bear, Brown Bear, Moose and Walrus. "If you want to be a hunter, give the animal the same chance as you have - it makes hunting a little more eventful. I like to keep them loaded - keeps people on their toes...keeps all animals in line, including humans". Dan's cap 'Vietnam Veteran' and flag on ceiling 'POW-MIA' speak for his experiences in the early 1970's. Notice how the window is completely covered with snow.
Dan Richard with Scrimshaw in 2009 (taken with Ilford HP5 film and Pentax 67II medium format camera. 400ASA pushed to 1600ASA).
Dan with scrimshaw and Parkie that his Mother-in-law made for him. Notice the Whale and Polar Bear designs on the Parkie hem.
Dan Richard in his office, taken in my first hour in Wales in 2009.
Stanley with his home made face mask for use while riding snow machines.
Wesley Komonaseak (31) works at the largest store (out of 3) in Wales - 'Wales Native Store' which also sells gas and heating oil from this red shed.
Inside Wales Native Store Ryan Ongtowasruk (31), behind counter, looks at my Wales, Alaska book from 2009 as Stanley looks on and Raymond walks past. It's possible to buy most things here from soda to food to mosquito repellant.
Out the back of the store Wesley stock checks and Ryan stands in the office. Customers can go into the chest freezers, at right, to find whatever they like.
Ryan shows me store records which go back to 1951.
Wales Native (Village) Store which I photographed in 2009. This door isn't used at all anymore.
Outside Wales Village (Native) Store in 2009.
Hanging about in Wales in 2009.
The entrance to the store is this side. Stanley has gone inside to ask Wesley to fill up the black can being dragged behind the sled with gas.
Wales Playground in 2009.
Gene Angnaboogok (53) is known as one of Wales' best carvers and stands with a Moose antler he engraved with seal and whale. "I don't have cable (TV) , just having a radio makes you more productive". Gene started to carve at the age of 6 years old - his Dad was a reindeer herder and employed to kill wolf pups but poverty forced him to sell Gene's work, occassionally handing him back 50 cents now and then.
Carvings made onto the spine plates inbetween whale vertebrae. Gene is a real talent but when I photographed him he had no money and no food stamps so is hoping to sell his work to visiting oil company officials soon who will be in Wales to talk about the increase in shipping up and down the Bering Straight.
Gene holds up a Ptarmigan he was working on as I enetered his house.
Gene Angnaboogok in 2009.
Kitchen table doubles as work area for drill bits, animal claws, teeth and tools.
In 1980 Gene went hunting 18 miles up the coast on the sea ice. He got off his 'Snow-Go' (snow machine) and walked up an iceberg to get his bearings. Gene fell through the berg into a Polar Bear den which he had no idea was there. He landed on top of the Mother Bear who held him down by his leg with one of her paws for about 10 seconds (he doesn't recall exactly how long as he was too 'excited'). Gene got away but the bear tried to bite him and punctured the other leg with her claw - he didn't feel anything as he was in such a hurry to get away. Mother Bear climbed up onto an iceberg and was preparing to launch herself at Gene when he shot her dead. He then found she had two cubs so his Father tied a rope about each of their necks and led them back to Wales where they lived inside a cardboard box until they were taken to Nome and named "Nanook" and "Norton". Then the cubs went to Anchorage and finally Wisconsin zoo. Gene ate the Mother and sold her skin to his brother's friend. He want
Gene holds out a hand chisel for etching scrimshaw in one hand and a bead holder in the other. At his feet is a vice mounted to portable bench and under the window all of his tools.
I photographed the same frame to an old seal skin boat in 2009 and it still sits here slowly rotting away. Roland 'Kokatuk' Angnaboogok Sr built this skin boat and he was the last person in Wales to build one. Made in 1985. The Native Corporation wants to take it to the dump but I personally think it should be preserved as it is, if not recompletely restored.
Skin boat in 2009. No-one knows how to build them any longer so they have all gone or are rotting away. In the far distance, at sea, is a tug boat pulling a barge.
Several older houses still stand at the south end of the village. They have wooden roof tiles, 2 floors, traditional chimneys, clapperboard walls and sash windows.
Thick snow covers the buildings which are no longer used since nobody is around to clear it away and there is no point.
The hide to a Musk Ox hangs on the side of a building, to cure, next to Wales school. The beast was shot, skinned and butchered in front of the school children to teach them about hunting. The Musk Ox had strayed close to the school and it was an opportunity to add to the kids learning.
I walk out onto the sea ice to photograph a lone boat in this beautiful white desert. It's blowing hard and the open water has closed up again so there is no chance to go hunting at the moment. I stand still for long moments taking in this harsh environment and really feeling alive.
Everyday views change and the snow retreats quickly. This is the same boat now minus it's outboard engine and thick white surroundings.
Larry Sereadlook (43) is Water Plant Operator for Wales. First job of the morning is to check water and temperature levels on the 500,000 gallon water tank which feeds the village and is situated on the side of the Washeteria. Larry points out the areas in dire need of overhaul. Once every summer water out the back of 'Razorback' mountain is drawn from 2 wells that are drilled to 60 feet which feed a 4 inch HDPE water line, just shy of a mile away, to this tank.
Checks completed Larry washes his hair before having a breakfast coffee. He got his tattoo when in the National Guard in 1985 which he left to get a job because it didn't pay. The village uses 400,000 gallons of water a year but some, like Larry, choose to draw water for their families from the 'Village Creek'.
There is Uranium in the ground water used to feed the village and it is above the limit. No-one quite knows if it occurs naturally or is from dumped nuclear waste but soon Wales will go back to using surface water.
Larry with Moose and Musk Ox heads which he shot in 2009.
Mike Ahkinga (47) is Wales Powerplant operator and earns just $266 every 2 weeks. Once a year a barge brings 59,000 gallons of diesel to Wales for its 3 generators - a 350 Kva and two 200 Kva's which between them use 80-90 gallons a day. The 2 wind generators stopped 7 years ago because they were placed in the wrong location where it is too gusty and need a steadier wind. One wind generator is enough to power the whole village so they need to be re-located.
Mike goes to the Washeteria to rest his back which he hurt by slipping whilst cleaning inside a fuel tank up at the tank farm. "It's very quiet here, no law here, only gets bad with a little bit of mouth talking and when people are home brewing". He's from Little Diomede island originally and used to come across to Wales in a skin boat. He met his wife Terri 'Goldie' in 1991 on one visit.
Freezing rain and 40 mph gusts don't deter friends from playing outside. Kami, at right, winds up her chained pals Chloe and 'Kimik' (Inuit for dog).
Gilbert Oxereok, the Wales' Pastors house.
Pastor Gilbert Oxereok dressed in his hunting clothing outside his house in 2009.
Gilbert Oxereok (56) sits next to his new dog Darby - a Husky/Malamut cross who is 3 months old. Gilbert became Pastor in 1996 when Pastor Matt Littau was leaving and who asked Gilbert to take over "because of the questions he was asking". The church is Lutherian but Gilbert wished religion had no demonination because it's the same God - "church is all about the money".
"The better you feel about yourself , the better you treat people. You enjoy it more. People are scared of religion, too look at themselves, to face their own evil, but each one has to do it - how you do it is up to you. I'm at peace but my mind questions 'why'? How can I improve so I don't feel that way?" Gilbert recommends humming a tune in your mind so that the sound will give you comfort, it will remind you of yourself and who is God and what you mean to each other. "He is still there whether we like it or not, it's up to us".
Gilbert's bedroom - it's small to keep the warmth in. "I'm a loner, that's why I like preaching, I like the contact with God but you have to talk with people otherwise you go cuckoo". Gilbert explains that "he's short of change now" [an analogy] and tobacco smoking keeps him sane as long as it doesn't become his God. Oogruk (Bearded seal) is Gilbert's favourite animal to hunt, shooting cranes, geese and using rod and reel for fishing "If I get serious I use my net". He gives 90% of his catch away to cousins so they have what they need and in return Gilbert is blessed more. Church is in the 'country' where he finds God and solace alone - he didn't understand until he was older, a simple life is what he wanted. If life get's too much Gilbert grabs the "good book" and finds a positive outlook - his advice is to remember what your grandparents said, that it is the truth and to make them proud with your actions.
Gilbert says "This is me, this is my family, the village is my extended family all related through. I love it here, I grew up here, all I wanted to do is hunt from an early age - since then I was addicted. My Dad taught me, he said "What do you see?". I looked at the water and how to watch the weather. "It's not about being a good hunter or a good Pastor, it's about being a good person and whether you like it or not you have the instinct to hunt for something that has meaning". "(A village) suicide changed me, it made me question myself, I felt worthless so I don't question it. I didn't see it coming". "Shoulda, woulda, coulda is not in my vocabularly".
Spring time finally arrived. Now the snow is melting it's easier to make one last attempt at a snowman before it goes.
Elinor Olanna (26) moved to Wales in 2011 from Brevig. Jason, from Wales, had seen her at the annual Wales Eskimo Dance Festival and had 'tried to work her out' for 2 years by just watching her. They met by chance in Nome and Jason finally talked to Elinor so they started to talk for 2 weeks. Jason then asked Elinor to come to Wales because he wanted to be a family with her but she was scared of committment, they discussed it and "Everything just fell into place, we were just comfortable". Jason had 2 kids already, Elinor none - now they have Liam who is 2 (1st photo in album).
Elinor picks up her mail from Wales Post Office. It's possible to hire a PO Box in the wall here. Elinor is Administrative Assistant at the Health Clinic in Wales and still wears her Garfield 'sweats' (pyjama bottoms). "I just got up and went to work, we don't have running water here so I just get up and go".
Raymond Seetook (66) takes a break from building his sled to come into the Post Office to check for mail.
Breaking a sweat after a hard afternoon at work Dan Richard, Wales Postmaster dries off with a towel before heading home. The US Postal Service has just sent him a computer and screen, on desk, linked by phone line to their HQ. Before all communication was done via fax. Satellite links don't work well because Wales sits in front of mountains nearby which prevent signals getting this far north from satellites following the equator around the earth.
Dan's commute home involves leaving the Post Office, in background, climbing onto his four wheeler and riding 100 metres through 'hard to walk in' slush.
Neveah (6), Oliver (4) (Mouse ears) and Freddie (2) (on box) play in their bedroom inbetween watching movies. Neveah is 'Heaven' spelt backwards.
Sherman Richard with his young children (Neveah alseep on bed and Oliver), his wife Mellia, her sister and boyfriend and children.
'Y Ddraig Goch'. The Red Dragon of Wales on slate in Sherman Richard's kids bedroom. A gift from a previous visitor to Wales, Alaska.
Melting ice that covered the village lake all winter flows out to sea.
Every hour the view changes as the winter snow thaws.
The same view but during the summer of 2009.
Wales chapel before the thaw in 2013.
Wales chapel in 2009.
Dan (Seetook) Omedelena (71). I visit Dan whilst he was eating his lunch of dried Caribou. "God opposes the proud, I want to be humble. Too many kids are going hungry in the world, we have a chance to accept God or reject him. This whole world is getting worse, like the Bible says. If you hold a candle on it's side and let it burn it drips and gets a build up of wax and that's what is happening in the world - a build up of wax". Dan was drafted into the army in 1966, jungle trained at Fort Carson, Colorado and shipped out to Vietnam. He was an M60 chopper gunner for the 1st & 61st 5th Mechanised Division and flew 298 combat missions.
There were 5 Vietnam veterans in Wales. 1 died from cancer, 2 committed suicide and there is Dan Seetook and Dan Richard left. Dan has mood swings and nightmares where he dreams of a 'skeleton chopper gunner'. "People don't understand what it was like. 58,000 guys died and for what?" Dan was adopted by a passing dog sled team aged 6 months from a sod house his mother lived in on the coast in Teller. "I've been affected by people since I was 2 years old. I remember going to a children's home, to wrangle, I was treated like a slave until I was 18. Coming back to the world from Vietnam was too quick a change, that's why I don't seem to trust nobody. I try not to dwell on it, I try to keep my sanity".
"I didn't have a reason to be afraid in combat. I just didn't think of it. You either got killed or you don't. Too many guys suffer that part. I can't sleep in the dark as I have nightmares". Dan worked as a carpenter and carver after his 2 Vietnam tours and had a son called Thomas W. Rock by a woman in Brevig Mission whilst he was working there but the son committed suicide a few years ago. "People don't know how to forgive each other - we mustn't let the sun go down on our anger".
Dan with a section of Walrus penis he found on Wales beach
Dan has turned his hand to carpentry, carving and snow machine repairs to get by in life. Wales village was without electricity or airstrip until the late sixties so people used woodstoves and gas lamps, planes landed on the beach. People got around in seal skin boats and by dog sled. A ship - 'The North Star' would bring up provisions to last a whole year. When they ran out of milk they would go to Teller by dog team to stock up. "Too quick of a change, in a sense, from the old to the modern".
Dan's memorial to his time in Vietnam on the wall of his 'Savvy old shack'. Dan carved $250 worth of ivory and exchanged it for this cabin which he has lived in since 1976.
Dan Seetook photographed during active combat in Vietnam. 6 choppers were going in on one operation, into the hot zone. They were lined up, inserting Marines. I saw a head pop up, a guy shot at me and then we were suppossed to go up to 2000 feet to circle above the action. The pilot said "We're hit" and we had to rotate to a nearby field to land. There was a hydraulic line on the engine that got hit a foot from my head. We had to wait over an hour before a gun ship picked us up".
"I try to occupy my mind but I don't have anyone to talk to. I ease that feeling once in a while by taking a walk out in the mountain. I don't trust anybody. I isolate myself".
"I had to obey authority" Dan says modestly about receiving The Air Medal. His chopper sometimes carried French, Australian and New Zealand soldiers. "I used to like to listen to them talk - "You bloody bastards". I used to get a kick from listening to them". Dan's favourites to operate with were US Navy Seals and Mercenaries because you'd go into 'Free Fire Zones' for 'Seek and Destroy'. Anything that moved you could shoot it, he found it kind of exciting, something different.
"A blonde haired, blue eyed kid" (above) was Dan's best friend in Vietnam "I loved him more than a brother". "He was protective of me and took my place one day since he hadn't flown for a few days and I'd been flying non-stop. He asked the Platoon Sergeant if he could take my place and never came back. He got shot. A Head shot. I can't remember his name, I'm getting so forgetful. That's why I wear my headband - in memory of him".
"The whole State of Alaska is affected by drugs and alcohol, 75-80% of all people. It's something that can't stop - just learn to live with it like anyone else in this world. Too many parents aren't raising their kids right, they baby them - they don't tell them what to do". "Satan's fault for suicide. He don't want to suffer in hell alone. Too much of that going on in this world as it is".
Dan's cabin in Wales which he exchanged $250 worth of ivory carving for in 1976.
Creedence laughs at a joke and shows her silver fillings which nearly all children have in the village. There's lot of pop and candy at the store.
Jason Oxereok 'water skipping' across the lake in Wales. When the snow thaws and turns to slush, or straight water, people continue to use their snow machines until all the snow has gone. Here Jason returns home after picking up a parcel from the Post Office and takes a short cut across the lake as the snow has melted over the bridge. It's a dangerous activity as you have to go full speed to keep up momentum. If you slow down the snow machine will stop being bouyant and sink straight away.
Jason Oxereok and colleague (find name) running Wales generators in 2009.
Ryan Ongtowasruk (24), Kira (2), Louis (2 months) and Merissa Oxereok (23) in their bedroom. Merissa works at the Health clinic and Ryan at Wales Native Store.
Ryan shows me a 'seal oil lamp' which belonged to his grandfather. Apparently it's rare to find them still intact as they mostly all get broken. It's been made out of granite and very heavy.
Stanley grabs some air. The snow is too hard during winter to do this so when it starts to thaw there's a chance for playtime.
View looking south over Wales village. In a matter of 48 hours a quarter of the snow has gone.
Whale bones point downwards into the ground which show how many whales the hunter has caught.
2009. Look closely right now, from underneath the snow, and there are signs everywhere of the past whales that have been caught and their jaw bones which either serve to show how good the hunter is or simply that there was nowhere else to place them. They're too big and beautiful to take to the dump. This jaw bone came from a 58 foot whale caught by Vietnam veteran Vincent Okpealuk in the late 1980's and who later committed suicide by shooting himself in front of his whole family.
Reindeer skulls and antlers.
Meat drying platform. Since there is so little hunting nowadays these are now mostly unused. The meat would be placed on these platforms to cure naturally and keep it away from predators. The wood I am told is too rotten and dirty to place meat onto as they haven't been maintained.
Looking north up the main street through Wales village. Soon all of this snow will have thawed.
Sherman Richard climbs down into 'The shop' (workshop) owned by his Dad, Dan Richard. Now it's getting warmer and there'll be no more snow so it's time to shovel it away from doors and vehicles to get access back.
The idea is to take away enough snow to get to the battery box on the loader and it will do the rest of clearing away the snow. The wheels also need a build up ice shovelled away from either side of them since the cold is that powerful it can stop a beast of a machine like this in its tracks.
2009 and summer. View facing south of Dan Richard's 'shop' and the orange loader. Dan needs it soon to help erect another mast, brought over from Tin City, which will have a satellite dish fitted to it and make it possible to receive 100 TV channels instead of just 20. Taken with the Hasselblad XPan 35mm panoramic camera made by Fujifilm. It's lenses, despite being 35mm are better than the Pentax 67 - with alot more quality.
Dan inside his 'shop' (workshop) in 2009. He has everything he needs in the way of tools and machinery from building bearings to engines. A lifetime of working with heavy machinery and having to 'get by' in the Arctic means that Dan can turn his hand to anything.
Whale bones litter the beach and signify the extent of hunting that used to exist in the village.
View looking south east from the beach towards the Native Corporation office, the green building.
Sherman and I head out to get ice for drinking water in the house. We find Randy stopped in a field waiting for the heat to subside from his air-cooled snow machine. Stanley sees us while out riding on his machine so comes by to joke. At this time of year, when it is so much 'warmer', you need liquid cooling otherwise engines overheat.
Sherman enjoys a shard of ice of lake spring water which is the best source of fresh water available in the village.
It's a case of digging up the ice which comes out as shards from the lake surface, putting them in a bucket and letting them melt back at home.
The ice is hard so Sherman has to use his full force to dig the shards out. Razorback is in the background, again.
On the last day of the summer holidays in 2009 friends gather at the top of Razorback mountain to enjoy the view and share their hopes and dreams for the coming term. From left to right: Tim Miligrock, Cecilia Tingook, Greg Oxereok, Janelle Cothern, Casey Tingook, Ryan Ongtowasruck and Sherman Richard.
I take a four wheeler with ice in two buckets back home. It's a way out of the village but a good excuse to get some air and see wildlife. Windchill still bites the hands after a minutes exposure but it finally feels as though Spring is here.
Robert 'Bob' Tokeinna (30) on a sunny Sunday with his partner Octavia Wilson (24), son Walter (4) and Iris (3) at their home in Wales. They have 2nd son called Dezmond (14 months) who is at relatives. "We're related to the whole community here, we spend all our time together, riding around, we've got a real strong bond with our kids - we like to go everyewhere with them".
Bob Tokeinna is President for the Native Village of Wales and was elected this February. "I want to lead and oversee the tribal membership and speak for the community on their behalf. Resolve any issues that may arise, watch funding, make decisions in emergency situations, hire employees and make sure everything runs well for the entity. Annual budget is $40,000 for the village and it's getting tighter and tighter every year".
Octavia moved from Brevig Mission 2 years ago and was already working as a Health Aid but didn't travel. Now in Wales she moves between the 15 villages within the Bering Straight District. "The federal government has got to try and retain the 'Health Aids' - it gets pretty tough, there are lots of emergencies which cause burnouts, weather factors, call outs - it gets stressful. We depend on community members to help out but we need our own vehicles so we can do it on our own if we need to".
Octavia's half brother was from Brevig Mission and called Thomas William Rock, the son of Daniel (Seetook) Omedelena. He was 26 at the time he committed suicide by shooting himself and had said he was having problems at home. He couldn't provide for his family and (it is said) his girlfriend didn't appreciate him. This is a tattoo Octavia has on her inner forearm.
Clifford Seetook (60) in 2013. He has spent 45 years in this house and was born in Wales. "There was 11 of us in this one room, 10 kids and 1 adopted kid [Daniel (Seetook) Omedelena] and our 2 parents. Our Dad did what he had to do, to raise the family. He was mainly a plant tender at a tin mine in Buck Creek. In 1980 he bought a 'shoulder gun' and we started whaling and formed a crew only from family. We were blessed on that year with a 25 foot Bowhead whale. Since then we've only had 8 whales and I struck 3 or 4 myself".
Clifford Seetook (56) in 2009 in same chair, identical room, even same jacket on same chair.
Clifford takes me in 2009 to collect spring water, with the school in background. There is no piped running water for the villagers so you have to collect your own. The Inuits are a race of 'hunter gatherers' despite most food coming from stores these days. "I like to carry water, it gives me exercise".
"The second last whale I struck (not this one) I lost the dart gun". It's a gun with a 'dart bomb' in the barrel which gets fired out into the whale. The bomb is fused and it has to travel into the whales belly to work effectively. The bomb explodes and collapses the ribs and heart of the whale, killing it instantly. "I struck a whale and was so close that when I fired the gun the barrel got stuck in the whale's body. The whale sank and took the gun with it. Next time we will have 2 guns, one as a back up". The drawing is of the whale they caught last year which drew many people from other villages to arrive to help pull it out of the sea. Every available person has to help and it is one of the rare moments when all people work together. In the old days (1940's) if a person refused to help they would be fined $5 (12 cans of milk cost $1). Clifford points to the list of names in the whaling crew who only comprise of family members.
Cliffords stove set up consists of 2 metal drums home made to burn wood. The bottom one joins to the top at the rear. "I use the top one to light my cigarettes from".
"I've enjoyed my life because we've got the ocean for the food we need. On top of that we've got 'greens' and 'salmonberries'. The ocean is mainly my life which I've really enjoyed - mainly for subsistence hunting. We get Chum, Dog, King and Red Salmon, Humpies (6-8 inch long pink salmon) Tom Cods which we use a 'jigger' for, Flounder which we use a lure and a spear for. We don't use a trap for Crabbing, we just use a line".
Cliffords house which was built in the 1940's.
Larry, his partner Marie and daughter Ida leave their 4 wheeler down on the beach where the snow is harder and walk back up through soft snow to their house after a Sunday morning outing. Spring is here.
Inside Larry's porch hangs snow shoes and a tiny tobogan. Larry served in the National Guard and the discipline shows - everything has its place.
Larry and Marie's home. Rooms are small so contents build up but they are cosey and secure. A good family environment.
Marie Ningealook (29) and Ida Sereadlook (1) her daughter - in the Wales Native Corporation store in 2009.
Marie Ningealook (33) 'packing' Ida Sereadlook (4) her daughter - still being carried on her Mum's back but more grown up in 2013.
Ida cycles, with small umbrella hanging from left handlebar, around the front living room whilst shouting "Honda, Honda" which means that she wants to go back outside to make another journey on the family 4 wheeler. All 4 wheelers are simply known as "Honda" even if that isn't their make. Honda make the most reliable, best quality of all 4 wheelers available and the name is easier to say than 'four wh-ee-ler'.
Lena Sereadlook, Larry's Mum works the morning off by shovelling snow away from her house. At church she says she it tired which isn't surprising since she was working hard. Notice Moose heads and whale bones on the roof which Larry caught.
Larry has a sauna which are used for friends to wash in also. There are only the two showers at the Washeteria and 2 home made saunas in the village. Larry says that the house needs to be jacked up to re-angle the floor because water builds up down one side. To wash you get real hot and sweaty, sit on the wooden floor, add shower gel, wash all over and rinse off with a cold bucket of water over the head.
The other sauna in the village is no longer used as its owner Tony Keyes has moved to Anchorage. I was told that I smelled and got invited in so I could wash. It was so hot that the air burned my tongue and throat - I couldn't talk because I had to focus on pushing away the pain and afterwards got told I was the first white man never to run out because of the extreme heat. Hats are worn to keep the head from burning. If the room interior looks red it's because it's akin to being in an oven!
Tony Keyes and his daughter Shawna pick 'Salmon berries' on the outskirts of Wales village during the summer of 2009. Quantities of picked Salmon berries are measured by the 'gallon'. They are much favoured as a treat from nature and many people look forward to June onwards when it's possible to go out and collect your own food. Tony was in the US Marine Corps in Iraq, working as a sniper. "I'd much rather shoot animals than humans". He has moved from Wales to Anchorage with his family.
2009. Amos Oxereok, wearing a sweat shirt from the 9th Wales (Kingikmiut) annual dance festival, tucks into a bag of Salmon berries. They are slightly sour so some opt to add sugar to sweeten them up.
Jason Oxereok, left, calls by Larry's porch to enjoy a cigarette in between clearing snow for the council using a large loader.
Larry Sereadlook enjoys a cigarette in his porch. On the front door, at left is an old tail flap from his snow machine which stayed on for about 3 years before falling off. I guess from all the overtaking he was doing!
Wales is known as a 'honey bucket village'. There are only about 4 flushable toilets I know of in Wales, two are in the Washeteria and 2 are in the teachers accommodation. Everyone else has to use 'honey buckets'. Because human waste is dumped in a nearby lagoon it shouldn't be bagged up but villagers prefer to be able to dump it into skips in bags because it is more hygenic and there is less smell. Here a skip has fallen over due to the weather and the bags have spilled out. The village council has budget problems and sometimes the skips aren't emptied for long periods.
Jason Oxereok in 2009 empties a bucket of human waste from the house bathroom into a small skip which is collected and towed by 4 wheeler to a nearby lagoon and dumped. The waste shouldn't be bagged up, like in this photo, but allowed to dissapate naturally in its raw state into the lagoon. Human waste dumped in plastic bags slows down, almost stops, the biodegredation and isn't so eco-friendly.
A honey bucket - you get used to the smell and it sure isn't honey. If I can stay longer it is my hope I can build compost toilets as used by communities I have photographed in the UK. These would be used to compost fruit trees I'd like to grow in polytunnels. I am also hoping to build Mongolian yurts for Wales school so the kids can go out and camp far out into the country towards the mountains and use wood stoves to keep warm. I have many plans and they are all possible - mud ovens for bread baking etc. It's just down to US government visa policy whether I can come back for longer. It also looks as I will get a book commission from an Alaskan publisher to make a photography book of my work. 'Powers that be' please take note that my work is worthwhile.
I watch Gilbert leave his house and enjoy a minute of fast snow machine riding where he takes off into the air over a snow bank before pulling up outside the church, which was completed on 04 July 1890, for this Sunday's service.
Gilbert Oxereok in his church for Sunday service at 7:30pm, 26 May 2013. Gilbert's words seemingly flow out from God with intelligence, caring, humour and sincerity but to just a congregation of 4, including me. It's a shame the whole village isn't here to enjoy the wisdom Gilbert has to share. "Character produces hope and hope does not dissapoint us".
Gilbert gives us analogies which explain what we can do to improve our lives. "Wisdom and understanding comes from the Bible". I like Gilbert's style, at the end of the service he simply signs off by saying "Thanks be to God - I am doooone!".
Lena Sereadlook, at left, with many more congregational church members in 2009. Lena has a good singing voice and it quick to choose a hymn she enjoys for the others. Gilbert modestly sits at the back whilst a guitar (Stanley aka 'Echo') leads from the altar.
In 2013 Lena Sereadlook sits alone (I kept her company) in Wales church for the Sunday service. Nancy, the retiring school teacher who doesn't like to be photographed sat on the opposite pews and later Ellen Oxereok joined us, arriving on her 4 wheeler with grandkids Neveah, Oliver and Freddie.
The song 'Heaven' is sung in Inupiaq, amongst others, in church in 2009. The service in 2013 had one short prayer in Inupiaq and, as well as there virtually being no-one present in church nowadays, I realize that the native tongue is being far less spoken. I feel panic and fear that very soon, when the remaining knowledgable village elders pass away that so too will their language with them.
Freddie 'packs' on his grandmas back (Ellen Oxereok) ready to leave the church after the service.
I would like to go back out to the countryside and find Musk Ox. This one charged me twice in 2009 as it was protecting its herd. I used a wide angle lens so it is actually alot closer than pictured. I was casually told not to turn and run as it would knock me down, trample and kill me. Instead I closed my eyes and hid behind my Pentax 67II.
A Musk Ox gets butchered on the hill, which the then Wales school principal, Craig Probst at far left, had shot from his bedroom window in 2009.
2009. Fuel tanks lie abandoned on Wales beach, left over from US Navy days when they were based here with the Undersea Research Laboratory out of San Diego, studying how sea ice forms.
US Navy amphibious craft stand vandalised and inoperable in 2009 in Wales village. Remnants from the US Navy who were based here conducting research into how ice forms. Samples would be sent to San Diego, the ice DNA was then replicated, re-grown and US submarines tested against different types to see how well they could surface through thick ice.
Now there is no more snow and the thaw has come the village council loader has cleared paths to allow better access. I walk out on what feels like a summers day, west, towards the cemetary.
I methodically call in at houses, some people are busy and have no time and finally I meet Stanley aka "Echo" (52). He lost his home so lodges with his brother Amos (who is actually his nephew). "Echo is just a nickname, I got it when I was a baby I think". Stanley was born in Wales and has worked here and there, it depends, but he works outside. "I'm good at the guitar, I don't know, I try, I don't get to play much nowadays. I mostly played in church, in highschool, I like soft rock, Creedence...there's so many of them". He likes hunting but has only caught one seal this year. Stanley has been to Anchorage, California and Hawaii on a senior trip. "It was awesome".
Stanley 'Echo' Oxereok playing guitar in Wales church in 2009. He no longer plays and virtually the entire congregation has dried up.
Stanley used to carve memorials, figurines, earings, bracelets, cribbage boards from ivory - walrus tusks. He drew this seal and likes to include alot of detail. The sun is bursting through the clouds. He has 4 brothers and 4 sisters - Frank (Sonny), Gilbert, Clyde, Amos and Ellen, Linda, Janet and Anna. Stanley went whaling 10 years ago and could have gone more recently but chose not to. His favourites are seal, walrus, moose, ducks and geese.
Stanley with a carving he made in memory of Robert Tokeinna aka 'Biggie' who died of a heart attach while working in 2009 aged 56.
I see someone at the cemetary in the sand dunes. It's Pete Sereadlook (82), Lena's husband. He's come to visit his parents but cannot find them, the sand has covered their graves. But he did find his 4 sisters and 2 brothers here. He is getting old and concerned his parents are worried about him, I assure him they are watching him and he'll be fine. Behind Pete there is a large cross where 400 people were buried when influenza struck in 1918. "I love Wales, I'm going to die here, my parents are here, in the ground".
Pete looks at a grave and exclaims "Too many suicides. Maybe 20. Too many".
"I say to myself sometimes that white people are pretty smart now. They start using 4 wheelers - no more dog teams. One time they tell me 4 wheeler is kick start - I kick it, it never start!" Pete is a natural joker and we roar with laughter but then he says seriously "In my life I never taste pizza, I don't want to look at it - too much junk on top!"
A view of part of the cemetary looking north in 2009. Originally Inuits placed their dead relatives up on Razorback mountain and covered them with rocks. Then white missionaries made them bury their people in shallow graves in the sand. Permafrost forbade going deep and the graves would quickly erode.
A human skull photographed in 2009 up 'Razorback' from the days when the Inuit people laid their people to rest under rocks on the mountain.
Andrew Seetook (28) allows me to take a portrait out on the sea ice. He's doing voluntary work for his Whaling captain and Dad Raymond Seetook (65) to "help keep the trail in good shape for hunting".
Andrew drills through 3 feet of ice into sea water 200 metres out onto the ocean. This is to drain the water on top of the shore ice and helps to speed up the hunting crews to get out onto open water for bearded seals, walrus and bowhead.
A late Spring means that the sea stays blocked up with ice making it hard for hunters to get out in boats onto the sea at the pressure ridge. Now it's a case of waiting until the shore ice breaks up and goes out to sea before boats can start moving. Male Walrus have already gone by but there are still the females to come past.
The turquoise colour is sea ice melting and the white ridge on the horizon, the pressure ridge, where sea ice meets open water. Andrew Seetook is a tiny spec as he continues to drill holes through the ice.
The remains of a Walrus from last year lies on Wales beach.
Stanley is going to hunt for seal soon and will borrow a rifle from Amos who is out of town. Hunting season is here but the late Spring has caused a delay. Everyone is ready to taste seal meat again.
Pete (82) and Lena (67) Sereadlook in their house. "We've been married 45 years" says Lena. "Too many years. We had to get married because Pete's niece was going all over the village saying we were getting married - so we had to". I ask Lena to hold hands with Pete and she refuses. I eventualluy coax them to touch fingers "We see who's toughest - the older we get the madder we get at each other. That's the way life goes I guess". Lena had 2 boys and 1 girl and had the eldest, Pavey, adopted immediately. Larry and Peggy are her other two. "Wales has changed. There's no respect for elders nowadays. They don't like to help when they can carry stuff from the store. Too much games or phones or internet. Kids got no ears no more, they don't listen.
Stacey Tokeinna (21) on the same bed as I photographed her on in 2009 with her then boyfriend Herbert (next photo).
Stacey Tokeinna with her boyfriend Herbert Barr (22 then) in 2009. They had a daughter, Sarah, almost 2 years old now. They have since split up. Herbert moved back to Brevig and Stacey now goes out with Paul Weyann (22) who is from Teller and in jail for drinking.
Stacey Tokeinna's daughter Sarah shares a bed with her Mum's half sister Rebecca (15).
A photo of Lena's Mum Ida Oxereok standing in front of the sod house community hall in Wales before it was pulled down.
Lena's grandparents - Margaret and Clyde Ongtowasruk. The photo in the middle is of Lena's grandaughter Vannesa Johnson who lives in Nome.
Met, Molly and Albert's house - the oldest he says in the village still being lived in. Built in about the 1930's.
Albert and his wife Met in their living room. The two have been together since 1987 and have one daughter - Molly (18).
Albert Mazonna (68) "Not too much jobs in the village, I owned a store from 1995-2006 selling mostly pop, candy, gum, flour, sugar, coffee, tea, pancake mix - before that I worked anywhere running stores. I go fishing for King Crab. This is home, it's always been like that - it's changed some but hopefully it'll go back to normal. We had an election last Fall. There was a problem accepting council members. We've had the same people for 7 years and they won't budge".
Met is 'Cook 01' at Wales school and has worked there for 5 years. She's always lived in Wales and looks forward to picking 'greens', berries and clamming in the summer.
Sherman Richard out hunting for seal. A length of wood helps check for weak sea ice whilst moving forwards and for support if you go through. "We're spoilt here at Wales, we never have to go very far to get game. I've very rarely had to travel more than 50 miles away from the village. It's a bottlneck here, all the game passes by". Other villages have to travel great distances up and down the coast to get to ice where the game is when their own shore ice thaws.
Sea ice is 3 feet thick and thawing quickly. If it hadn't been so cold recently it wouldn't be possible to walk out here at all. Watch where you are walking at all times - "It's too cold to go swimming". Gaps in the ice like these are where seals surface and climb out onto the shore ice.
Sherman Richard scans the distance for seal. His 'Mukluk' boots are made from reindeer and typical of Inuit wear. Most hunters favour store bought clothes because fur clothing is highly prized. Many people now lack the skills to work with hide for outfits and those items that still exist are well looked after and only brought out for the annual Wales dance festival.
Sherman Richard performing at the Wales Annual Dance Festival in 2009. (I arrived in Wales in 2009 for a 3 week visit armed with 2 medium format film cameras, limited film with slow ASA and no flash. My typical work is of outdoor portraits so I had to 'push' the film to increase its sensitivity for photographing indoors hence the contrast and grain. The images still works though).
"I've been wanting to shoot with this scope for ages". Sherman was given his Ruger .223 rifle as a present when he was 11 years old by his Uncle Gilbert (Pastor) who taught him all he knows about hunting. The scope was taken off immediately he received the rifle to make him a better shot and after 18 years he's only just put it back on. "Water kills - 22 seals and 3 Oogruks (Bearded seal). Land kills - 1 Wolverine and 1 Moose with this rifle". Some hunters opt to wear 'Over-whites' - white clothing to help blend into natural surroundings if they have them. Otherwise you just get out there and hunt anyway.
Sherman's 8 inch SOG cold steel hunting knife. "My Dad gave it to me 13 years ago when I was 16. We butcher Oogruk out on the ice because at 12 feet long they are too big to carry back to shore. With regular seal I butcher them at home or my wife does or we do it together".
Dan Richard and his wife Ellen Oxereok. They met over 30 years ago when Dan was stationed at nearby Tin City US Airforce base, the 2nd remotest US airbase in the world. Ellen's Father ran an adjacent tin mine and Dan "chased her all over the mountains". He never thought he would end up in Alaska, meet Ellen and settle down. Their story is an inspiring testament to what great things can happen in life.
A paper cut-out of the 47 foot Bowhead whale Raymond 'struck' and caught in 2000. "What I learned is from my Father. What I hear and listen to - watching. It's not from me but from other. My age group don't go hunting like I do, they don't bother. I hunt because I like to eat, from the sea, that's our garden out there. Store bought food isn't fresh, the blood drained out a long time ago". Underneath the cut-out is a section of the whale's 'baleen' with hairs on its lower edge which filter out plankton.
Raymond Seetook Sr (66) after recent haircut. "I love to hunt, happy inside, to watch your two sons manhandle that whale. You know what I mean?" Raymond was born and raised in Wales. "I love to live here, sometimes the weather gets me but I can't leave home. Sometimes it's very tough living in the bush, food is very expensive that's why I like to hunt, I wish it was easier but my parents did it - gas lanterns, gas stove, wood stove. When you wake up to go to school in winter you see your breath. My Father had dog team - today it is snow machine and 4 wheeler but gas makes it too expensive and they don't last like dog team and skin boat". Raymond adds "My age is catching up with me, I'm getting clumsy and weak, once in a while my legs give out on me".
Raymond Seetook Jr (22) struck his first whale last year in 2012. "I like to dry, fry, boil or roast native meat. No favourites, doesn't matter how you eat it". Muktuk is the black out skin and blubber of the Bowhead whale and is tender. "Emperor goose is endangered but we got to eat, White Front goose, Canada goose, Snow goose, Brandt, Eider duck, Cranes, Swans - taste better than Turkey . You gotta have variety once in a while".
Raymond Jr, known as 'JR' holds up his Parkie with Wolverine ruff and wearing Common Ring seal gloves. "They're warm and light but the mittens slip when I use the harpoon, they don't give enough grip".
Raymond has 3 teeth left. "Rot and didn't use to brush. I miss my teeth when I eat. Not brushing and smoking". "My Father used to say - 'By only trying you'll succeed - don't just talk about it'. My bed time snack when I was kid was Pilot Bread (cracker) and can milk (evaporated milk) mixed with water. 'Coke' is outer skin of Walrus, boiled. Boy, that's real tasty! It's better than freezer food, better than President's dish, that's all I can say, make you healthy. That Bowhead whale - you can't beat it. There's no substitute for that Bowhead whale".
Abel Apatiki (28) is from Gamble. He met his wife Rachel (Raymond's daughter) online with Yahoo Messenger. He has a two year old son called 'Cain'. "He lights the house up, he's precious" says his grandfather Raymond about Cain "He likes eskimo food but he never tries birds".
Andrew Seetook comes into the house to take a break from drilling sea ice. When his Dad Raymond retires Andrew, the eldest son, will take over as his families whaling captain.
Raymond Jr and Cain show me one of two darting guns the family owns for whaling with. The metal gun part (middle of photo) was bought in the late 1980's and is fitted to a homemade wooden shaft. In the foreground is the tipped 'bomb' which is inserted into the gun barrel and is set off when a plunger running along the top of the gun hits the whales body. The bomb is timed by a length of fuse to explode between 3-7 seconds after striking and the cast iron casing fragments, causing the whales ribs to collapse and heart stop.
Raymond Sr shows me a photo of his Father and the village butchering a whale on the shore ice in the 1980's. When Raymond took over as whaling captain since then he has killed 7-10 whales himself - "Too many Walrus - thousands, thousands of Oogruk, 100 Moose, 500 Polar Bears. I once killed 6 Polar Bears in one day and it took me 3 hours to butcher them all by myself. I used to do quite a bit of hunting when I was young - I was trying to provide for my family".
"Before Influenza in 1918 there were 600 people in the village and 23 skin boats. 400 people died. We used to make buoys from the whole skin of seals, put ivory in the end to blow up and then plug with wood. Ropes were seal skin - stronger than what we got now. It took 7 female walrus to cover the skin boat frame until 'LUND' (aluminium) boat took over. We don't use skin boat no more because no-one knows how to build them. It's a special skill to sew the skin together - lash the hide with rope on a meat rack to stretch and dry then age and split the skin in half. We had 2 underground cellars - one for meat which we lived on until we went hunting again in May, the other for seal oil. We'd put dried meat in seal oil and store in wooden barrels".
Seal oil wooden barrels photographed in 2009. Seal oil was used for oil lamps and for preserving dried meat in.
Lena and a friend, Ralph Anungazuk eat dried seal meat in seal oil on the floor of a friends kitchen in 2009.
"People don't like to get on in the village no more, they like to fight - it's all about the money".
Raymond Jr shows me the 'Harpoon Head' he made himself from Moose antler. Galvanised sheet is used for the blade and copper wire to fasten the blade to the bone. The head is attached to the end of a harpoon and launched at seal or Oogruk (bearded seal). The head goes into the body and seperates from the harpoon shaft, twisting at a right angle to lock inside the body and attached by wire and then rope to the boat.
Debbie Seetook, Raymonds wife returns home after working at the 'Multi' ('Mult-eye'). I photographed her in 2009 in a meeting and I have yet to catch up with her.
Most people have wood stoves in their homes but prefer to use 'Monitors'. Mostly made in China they are a free standing heating oil powered heater which have an exhaust that vents through the wall behind them. They are popular because they are economical and don't have to be run all the time but instead can be programmed (using the top, front panel - green numbers) to come on, using a thermostat, at any minimum temperature you set and run up to any maximum. In my room it comes on at 64 degrees and runs for a minute to get up to 70. I bought 10 gallons of oil when I arrived and it should last until summer gets here. The white bucket at left holds my ice water.
Harpoon, snagging hook, line and snow mask from 2009. A 'snow mask' has thin slits in front of the eyes of the wearer. Used before sunglasses were available they reduce glare and snow blindness.
2009. The Wales village community hall (The Dome) was built in the 90's to serve as a meeting place and housed offices on its third floor. It was never used very much and has been condemned since the materials used for its construction were the wrong ones. Moisture gets into the foam that was used inside and it is very damp - a risk to peoples health. Herman Seetook, left and Timothy Milligrock.
The Dome in 2013. Still empty and slowly falling apart. A project with good intentions let down by lack of maintenance.
I walk up Razorback mountain, the most prominent feature in Wales, to watch the sunset at midnight. This is where the Inuit's would lay their deceased people to rest, covered with rocks.
At the top of Razorback facing the west as the sun sets. The Diomede islands are visible at left in the Bering Straight.
After midnight, out on the shore ice there are two people with their snow machine, presumably ice fishing. Now that the sea ice has gone and there's open water it's a case of dragging the aluminium 'Lund' boats to the edge of the pressure ridge and cutting a launch site into the ice to provide access into the water. In the distance a few very small icebergs remain.
The turquoise colour on the shore ice is where it is thawing - the darker the colour the more it has thawed.
Wales coast in foreground, shore ice, open water, small icebergs and the two Diomede islands. US owned Little Diomede in the front and Russian owned Big Diomede behind stand in the Bering Straight. It's 1am.
The sun sets to the horizon and then climbs back into the sky again - giving 24 hour a day sunlight. At left are the Diomedes and at right is the Russian coast. At far left of the picture it's clear enough to see Russian land stretching away to the south. In the foreground hundreds of small lakes pepper the Cape Prince of Wales.
This is just about as far as the sun sinks to the horizon before it climbs again. The Cape Prince of Wales, the coast north of Wales, is made up of a lagoon and hundreds of small lakes. The fences stop a build up of snow forming which gets blown across this vast open space towards the village.
'Ulu's' (woman's knives) belonging to Ellen Oxereok. The 3 handles at right are made from bone. The Polar Bear handle, at left, is ivory. Traditionally used for 'fleshing skin', cutting up marine mammals, greens and roots.
Neveah and Freddie share a kitchen chair at breakfast
Josh on 'honey bucket' skip duty. At left is a chunk of snow still standing around and soon to melt. A bogey is used to tow the skips a good distance from the rider as unbagged honey buckets slop about.
Josh takes me to the honey bucket tip at the lagoon on the other side of the airstrip. Strange that such an area of pristine beauty has this sort of a waste area going on.
Christian Clark is 38 and has been a pilot with ERA (before known as Frontier Airlines) for 15 years. He has flown more than 13,000 hours between many of the Inuit communities and runs a farm with his family where he built an airstrip on his land outside Nome. When he gets a plane "it will take 2 minutes to get to work rather than rely on 4 wheeler and snow machine". Christian sits in the back of the plane, out of the wind, so we can talk.
01 June 2013. Judy Standafer arrives on her 4 wheeler with Met, Molly and Smudge after working at Wales school for 15 years. She sold the Honda for $3000 to a villager and is moving on to work as principal at a school on an island south of Anchorage.
Laura Evans, at left, is also leaving Wales - to work at a school in Kotzebue, further north. Laura has been teaching in Wales for 3 years.
Judy bids a tearful goodbye to Agnes Menadelook (17) from Little Diomede island. Agnes got close to Judy, who taught her after she had family problems and moved to Wales school for 6 months. "Too much drink and drugs on Diomede" says Agnes. I make sure I'm there to say goodbye to Judy and record the moment. This woman has given 15 years of her life to helping the children of Wales community and I'm ashamed that only 2 of her pupils, Alicia Crisci and Agnes are there to wave farewell as the plane takes off.
A grave adorned with whale bone
Despite deep snow covering this cemetary for the past 6 months the artificial flowers still retain their colour.
Walking back from the airstrip we stop in the dunes and Alicia Crisci shows me a beaded necklace she made in 2003, aged 7, which hangs on the cross for her cousin who died at just 15 years of age. "I'm related to everyone in this cemetary. It's a small community". In other native communities is is forbidden to photograph in cemetaries but not so here. Nethertheless have the utmost respect for the people who lie here but feel it is important to show what their resting places look like.
Trying to keep it the right way up. A photo of me, a photographer on Wales beach. Notebook for subject's details, keep one glove on as it's still bitter, sunglasses for glare, beanie hat for baldy head, strap and army PLCE pouch containing tripod and Gorillapod. I get asked alot why I wear a Camelbak hydration system. It's because I spend the whole day out and people rarely offer any kind of a drink in their homes so I make sure I carry all I need so I can continue working efficiently. Blood group patch on Ventile Smock, Rigger belt with 'Spec-Ops' magazine dump pouches for lenses, carabiners, figure of 8, dyneema 4mm rope, french prusik, 6" trauma dressing, compass, knife etc.
Centipede in the trash
Sherman's Store. Open for business.
I'm told that boat crews are on the pressure ridge preparing to go out for seal. I walk across the thawing sea ice to meet them which means walking up to my knees through slush. It's like a summers day.
Larry Sereadlook readies his boat and crew. Notice that the sea is completely open and Diomede can be seen clearly in the distance.
First boat launch of the year. This is an 18 foot aluminium LUND boat with 2 Yamaha outboard engines. A 25HP and a 20HP as back up.
Gilbert the Pastor journeys on his snow machine from the shore to the pressure ridge edge and playfully swings Ida, Larry's daughter towards the boat as she is desperate to go with Dad hunting. It's a good job no kids came along...
Jason Oxereok. One of Larry's crew.
Jason carries two knives - for butchering and to use as ice axes if he needs to pull himself up onto ice if he goes into the water.
Larry spends half an hour working on his 25HP outboard after it floods with fuel. After drying spark plugs out it finally starts.
The '3 Old Ladies' look down on us on the edge of Wales' cliffs, south of the village.
Looking down towards the '3 Old Ladies' and the sea in 2009.
Distance shot of the '3 Old Ladies' with Gene Rex waiting patiently in the foreground to join his crew to head out to sea.
Larry's crew is the first to leave and soon other crews arrive with their boats, being towed behind snow machines. This is Clyde Oxereok aka 'Old Man' (53) who is in Amos Oxereok's crew. (Clyde and Amos are 'brothers' though actually uncle/nephew).
Roy Komonaseak (32) waits for his crew to arrive at the pressure ridge.
Gene Noble 'Rex' Angnaboogok is on Larry's crew also. I photographed him a couple of weeks before with his carvings.
Winto Weyapuk (62) waits for his crew to arrive also. It takes time to get the boats, outboard engines, all the crew and kit across the thawing sea ice to the pressure ridge.
Larry Sereadlook finally captains his boat out to sea. There are 5 of us. Larry, Jason Oxereok, Ryan 'Goose or Duck' Ongtowasruk, Gene Noble 'Rex' Angnaboogok and myself. I'm taken along because everyone knows me by now, this is my 2nd visit since 2009 and I can help out. As it is everyone thanks me at the end of the day for being there as muscle and I thank them for the opportunity to take photos.
Ryan and Jason are up front with a variety of weapons. I don't condone the killing of seals but my job is to photograph and that means observing and remaining impartial to whatever happens. Ryan brings along two guns - at left he uses a Remington .22-1077. Jason has a Savage .22-250. Larry cruises slowly with the engine ticking over whilst the crew scan the waters for Oogruk (bearded seal) to surface. At right a harpoon waits ready to throw at a wounded or dead seal to attach a rope to it so it can be secured and hauled onboard.
A shot Oogruk is harpooned by Jason as we pass it in the water. The Harpoon Head comes out later and the Oogruk is lost. The crew are dissapointed and ashamed because it would certainly die soon afterwards. It is both a waste of an animal and it would also have suffered too.
After the Oogruk is harpooned Gene holds onto the rope whilst Jason continues to shoot at it. The Oogruk dives underwater, the Harpoon Head comes out and the Oogruk doesn't surface again.
Jason swaps his bolt action rifle for Larry's .223 (5.56mm) Ruger 'Mini 14' semi-automatic weapon with peep sights. We are into icebergs now which have been forming up whilst the crew concentrate on catching seal.
The crew decide to beach on an iceberg (known as 'hotels') to stop for lunch. Larry has a cooler with enough food for a couple of days in case we get stuck out and packs a stove to make coffee with. Wales is at left, on the mainland.
Gene uses a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun from the middle of the boat which kicks like a mule. After firing many rounds and wounding 2 Oogruks he is feeling tired and I suspect unhappy that 2 seals will have died without reason.
In the distance is Diomede. It's a flat calm and we drift slowly on the iceberg.
View of Wales from the water and Razorback mountain at left. On top of the highest peak at right is a US Airforce 'bubble' radar.
The US Airforce long range radar 'bubble' photgraphed from the top of Razorback mountain, facing west.
The US Airforce 'Top Camp' long range radar bubble at Tin City south of Wales. Taken in 2009 from helicopter. 40 miles away, near the horizon at right, is King Island where a community of people lived until the 1970's when the US government relocated them to mainland Nome. The houses are still standing intact on the island.
We get a VHF radio call from the shore that we have to return quickly. A southerly wind is driving icebergs up the coast towards Wales and we risk being cut off from the shore by icebergs which close in around us fast.
Finally we run out of water. Icebergs have closed up between us and the pressure ridge where we sailed from, which is a good mile away. We have to drag the boat onto an iceberg and begin to haul it across the ice towards the mainland. I manage to take just one photo whilst we are dragging the boat and this doesn't show the degree of danger when we have to drag across areas of broken ice.
We spend 5 hours dragging the boat across ice, into areas of water where the ice has melted and back onto ice again.
Marks from the underside of the boat score the iceberg surface as we drag east towards the mainland. This is a massive iceberg. We have to stop every 200 feet to get our breath back. Dragging a boat full or weapons, food, alot of fuel and 2 outboard engines a mile across ice isn't light work.
Everyone is apprehensive about how we will get back to shore and realize we might be out on this floating iceberg for days before we can find open water again. Ryan poses with his Chinese made SKS 7.62 semi-automatic assault weapon. Since the rifle has no butt he has made one from a hospital crutch. He jokes that the weapon has two uses. A good way to describe the ice would be to get a jigsaw puzzle box and empty its contents onto the floor. Now move all the jigsaw pieces inwards towards each other and they lock together. Move the pieces further inwards and they drive upwards vertically. That is what is happening all around us and you can hear the ice breaking and feel the berg shudder beneath our feet.
We've dragged the boat across many flat sections but often have to tackle broken sections of ice and areas of deep water between icebergs. We all go through the ice and get wet and are saved by firm handholds onto the side of the boat and grabbing hold of each other. It doesn't look too worrying because I wasn't able to take photos whilst I was dragging the boat, but it was believe me. We watch the shoreline and realize we are moving northwards with the current and wind at more than 10 knots.
At left is the moving sea ice we have just come across. We spotted a suitable landing site on this pressure ridge which was low to the water and grabbed the opportunity to push the boat into slushy ice. Larry gave his outboard full throttle, charged at the shore ice and we all jumped out - managing to pull the boat up and beach it which is followed by much hugging, back slapping, shaking of hands and joking. I learn now that Larry was advized not to hunt west but to stay south in case this happened.
Gene looks out at the moving sea ice and appreciates our lucky escape. It may only be ice but nothing can stop it's sheer power and massive weight of thousands of tons when it's moving at speed. If we had got caught in it and been unable to get the boat up onto this pressure ridge the boat could have been folded in half like a paper sheet and sunk instantly.
Gene Noble 'Rex' Angnaboogok
Jason, Ryan and Gene will stay with the boat until the ice opens up and they can sail back on open water, south towards the landing site at Wales. Larry and I walk up the pressure ridge and spot 4 snow machines, in distance at right, that have managed to get out here to pick us up. Larry has to get back to his daughter and I have to get back to upload these images. Elders tell me that 'We Lucked Out' - meaning that it could have been far worse. If we had been unable to get back up onto shore ice the boat could easily have been taken under.
In the foreground is Larry's wife Marie - a proper outdoor woman and qualified hunter in her own right. She leads the snow machines to get to her husband. Larry's and my sillouhette are in the foreground at right.
I take a ride on the back of a returning snow machine to Wales. We have to 'water skip' most of the way as the sea shore ice is melting fast. Just keep the power on to continue moving forward!
It's 1.30am and I catch up with Amos and his crew. They didn't have to drag their boat across ice and they also got an Oogruk, pictured here. I try some of the meat raw and it tastes like very tender veal. The meat will be shared out amongst the crew and family but one isn't enough to sustain the village and more need to be caught. (Eskimo means 'raw meat eater').
Stanley 'Echo' Oxereok uses an Ulu to cut the Oogruk heart in half which gets shared out to family.
Sherman, 2nd from left, divides up Oogruk for Dominic (at far left) to take to elders, crew and family whilst Ellen and Anna Oxereok skin the hide with Ulus (They're sisters and learnt from their Mother Evelyn). Skinning the hide is considered to be 'women's work'. A regular seal waits to be butchered - these are smaller than Oogruk - 'bearded seal'. The skins have slits made by knives, at intervals, along the 2 longest sides which act as handles when carrying the heavy hide and known as 'suitcases'. The hide is too oily to grip by grabbing it.
Ellen Oxereok using her Polar Bear ivory handled Ulu. Here she is removing all traces of meat from the blubber which will turned into much prized oil. It's distinctly noticeable that people are happier when it's hunting season - they start to work together and feel a sense of pride and purpose. Oogruk tastes similar to beef and alot better than supermarket meat, it doesn't contain anything artificial.
There is no avoiding harsh realities. Eskimos have been killing seal in order to survive for thousands of years. Any abbatoir would tell a similar story and any meat eater has no right to challenge the eskimo's right to hunt. I don't condone it but also accept the ocean is teeming with mammals and Wales village doesn't catch enough to make an impact. At least this entire seal will be used to feed families and isn't hunted for sport. It's also a dangerous business in small open boats when killer whales are in the water. Occassionally the weather gets bad and entire crews don't return home ever again. I've seen similar images of human heads in Afghanistan. I know where I'd rather be.
'Squirt' - Larry's dog enjoys early June sun 4 years after I photographed him on the same kennel.
Squirt sitting on his kennel in 2009 with the sun in the same westerly position, behind the wood pole.
This is the oldest lady and elder in Wales village called 'Auntie Bettie Oxereok', Pastor Gilbert's Mother - she is 87 in June. I asked her if I could take her portrait in 2009 and she said no so I snapped her walking down the beach from her house to Wales Native store in 2013. When she arrived at the store I asked again and she said no. I respect her wishes not to blatantly take her photo but think it is important to record what she looks like. Otherwise how will people remember her? She is highly respected in the village and people describe her as 'old school'. If I were able to visit her in her house I am told that I would have to talk to her via her son as she won't talk directly with strangers. Imagine all the stories and knowledge that this fluent Inupiaq speaker has!
I visit Raymond Seetook Sr to ask if I can go with him hunting walrus. His wife Deb says I can take her place if it's ok with the Captain. Raymond's crew recently caught a Walrus 12 miles out to sea and Raymond Jr holds up the skull and tusks. He says the Walrus was a bull, about 10 years old and took 5 bullets to kill. The ivory can fetch up to $2000 when it has been cleaned and carved. This skull weighs about 35 pounds.
Raymond Jr shows of his own smaller tusks. I start to look closer at the people and see similarities between them and their prey. Teeth, eyes and whiskers begin to look the same. It is said that pets resemble their owners and vice versa so could that be said here?
Walrus's have large teeth as can be seen in the upper jaw. Raymond Seetook Sr tells me he uses a hydraphone to detect walrus underwater and he can hear them gnashing their teeth together.
Debbie Seetook tells me that she is using the largest meat drying rack in the village for their kill.
Raw meat is hung up to dry in the chill wind.
Raymond Seetook Jr uses a scraper "made from bone before my time" to get rid of sinew from the outside of Walrus stomach lining. When the skin is clean he will dry it for a day and then stretch it to cover a drum to be used at the next annual eskimo dancing festival. On top of the freezer chest are 4 Ahunguk duck and 3 Ptarmigan recently shot and Raymond's next job - to pluck and gut them. "I'm the only young man around here who knows how to work on Walrus stomach". Rueben Ozenna from Diomede came to Wales in 2005 and showed Raymond Jr how to 'start-up' the sinew when he was skinning and then Raymond Jr went from there.
Oogruk blubber sits in a refuse sack in a bucket, to be processed into oil.
Traditional Christmas games every year at the school gymnasium comprise of eskimo games after the Xmas feast (white man and eskimo food - Whale, Reindeer, MuskOx and "Eskimo Ice-cream" which is made from berries, reindeer fat and seal oil). Here Andrew and Raymond Jr Seetook show how 'finger pull' is played. Face each other with one leg on top of the others and hold the oppononent's ankle with left hand. Lock fingers and pull as far back as you can.
Lock middle fingers and pull your opponent as far as you can towards you. Other games include 'Stick pull', 'Arm wrestling', 'Ear pull' (with twine), 'Neck and neck', 'Wrist carry', 'Crab fight', 'Seal Hop' and 'Eskimo baseball' when the bat is a Walrus penis and the ball made of hide.
Bull fight. This is normally played in a ring and the opponent pushed outside the circle. The games are simple but fun and test the person's skill.
Seal hook made by Raymond Jr for snagging dead seal or birds to retrieve them. "It takes time to make one of these so you can get the shape of the seal hook".
"Twisted green is the best wood to use, it's driftwood picked up from the beach. Straight green breaks faster for seal hooks".
Harvey Miller working on one of the 6 houses he has been contracted to renovate by the Bering Straight Regional Housing Authority.
Re-wiring the external electricity supply to one of the houses up for renovation. Weather conditions are the biggest challenge.
Dominic Pelowook (30) in his house holding Thomas (3 months), Iris (3) and Snowey who comes from the same litter as Gilbert's dog Darby. Dominic comes from Savoonga on St.Lawrence Island and has been in Wales for 7 years. He was playing in a basketball tournament in Nome and met Tanya who he had liked for a long time as their paths had crossed before. Dominic had been working as a 'sub' at Savoonga Post Office and got a transfer to Wales Post Office so he could be closer to Tanya. They now have 3 children and a dog. Dominic is a house Dad as Tanya works at the Wales health clinic.
Dominic soon plans to employ a carer for his kids so that he can go commercial fishing for Hallibut with his brother from Savoonga whilst Tanya continues at Wales clinic.
Tanya (31) is Frank (Sonny) Oxereok's eldest daughter.
Joe Seetook (53), Agnes Menadelook and Alicia Crisci continue to play 'Snerts' at 8:45am without going to bed from the night before. Joe was in the National Guard for 9 years "in our area", trained in Fort Benning, Georgia and has always lived in Wales. I ask him what he is doing and he replies "just surviving". I ask what his dreams are "I wish for a better village, a better life - too stormy".
"I was hunting but I stopped from my injuries, I got to do 2 'strikes' in my lifetime, one in 1995 and 2000 (striking a whale). A transformer hit my head and I got injuries to my skull. The reason I quit hunting too is my parents passed away, my health conditions and I had a younger brother 'Herman', he got lost in a storm in 1980, we never found him or his body. I feel bad, I didn't want him to suffer in the storm. My hunting days are over - I see too much blood, the animals have got to live like me and you, you know".
Joe has been working as the janitor at Wales health clinic for 3 months. Umprompted to remark on anything Joe says to me "I respect your armed forces in your country, I'm glad they always respond in the world. That's good. Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden caused unnecessary problems. I'm glad your country put them in order to create peace". Joe asks me to return with a Union Jack flag for him "I would keep that flag in here somewhere".
Wales = Home
01 June 2000 - Nome Nugget newspaper article about Raymond Seetook Sr.
Joe's habit is to lean towards his wood stove door to have a cigarette because this is where he has sat during the long cold months over the winter - to keep warm and the flue helps to pull smoke out of the room.
I didn't mean to see Joe Seetook this morning but Alicia and Agnes were playing 'Hacky Sack' on his porch, saw me and called me in. My main intentions today, my last day photographing in Wales on this 2nd visit, were to photograph this old derelict house and take food to Gene since he survives without food stamps - working as a humble artist and I know how that feels.
I keep thinking that this house should be renovated and turned into a museum for Wales village. It has a perfect shingle (wooden tile) roof and the remains of the skin boat on the shore could be housed in here. Gene Angnaboogok's Father - Roland 'Kokatuk' Angnaboogok Sr built the skin boat and was the last person in Wales to build one in 1985 (next photo).
Roland 'Kokatuk' Angnaboogok Sr finishes the last skin boat to be made in Wales in 1985. The boat skeleton lies rotting on Wales beach, without its skin. Elders preferred skin boats because they were deemed alot safer than aluminium boats because ice can crush a LUND boat but skin boats can flex. The skin doesn't puncture also, it bounces. Mr. Angnaboogok Sr lived until 93, passing away in 2006. Pete Sereadlock is the only surviving person that knows how to build a skin boat but isn't physically able to do it. However he could tell young people how to. It would be good if the school could initiate some classes for this so that the knowledge gets handed down.
This Walrus skull stops me in my tracks and makes me ask out aloud "I wonder what the name of the person who killed this animal was, when did it happen, what was the hide used for, were the tusks used for carving, did it make good eating?"
The interior of the old wooden house. Despite its outside doors being barely ajar the rooms have been full of snow. A stove has it's chimney in the centre of the room, a logical place to have it in order to spread heat throughout downstairs and upstairs.
What looks like new rope and a patriotic US toy litters the floor of this old house.
This building is close to the school and could form part of a lesson - to make it into a museum and the pupils could help make and preserve artefacts to house here. Then they could design a website to encourage tourism to Wales. If the more remote South Georgia island in the south Atlantic can have its own manned and working museum why shouldn't Wales have one?! Dan Richard and his wife Ellen Oxereok lived here for a couple of years when then they first married. It is the oldest building in Wales village.
The snow has receded in a matter of 3 weeks to reveal all of this old skin boat.
Looking up at Gene Angnaboogok's family house. Gene's parents have passed away and all his sisters and brothers have moved out leaving him there by himself. This desk is outside for people to butcher on.
I wake Gene up and hand him 2 carrier bags of food and a new tin of Lavazza ground coffee. He is just out so eagerly puts his stove on, as the electricity has been switched off, to make a brew and finds that he prefers the Italian blend to his usual US Folger's make. I flew all of my own food with me to Wales and it is only half used after a month. I also hand over food I haven't been able to eat that a good friend gave to me. Gene reminds me how lucky we were to get our boat back to shore after we went out hunting Oogruk and that the ice didn't take us down like a rock. It's a sobering memory.
Gene's kitchen with Ulu's, knives and aluminium basins.
Gene allows me to photograph his spare bedrooms. He apologizes for the mess "It's a typical single man's house" but I find it fascinating.
I leave Gene's and see Gilbert nearby so I whistle softly while his back is turned in case I surprise him. He is digging a hole in the snow to find spring water beneath so he has access to water closer to his house. He encourages Darby to help him dig too but Darby just wants to play. I shake Gilbert's hand, thank him for his advice and inspiring words and look forward to seeing them both again soon.
Gilbert's house at right and the view down Wales beach looking north. Ice close to the shore has thawed to moving water leaving a still solid section that goes out to sea a way. Gilbert's parting words are from what his Father told him "Always do what you say you are going to do, otherwise you break meaning". I understand what my mission is. A photography book of Wales for its people and the world.
Lion's Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata). They can have a painful sting and reach up to six feet in diameter. This species occurs in both the North Atlantic and the North Pacific, as well as Arctic waters. Its color is geographically variable. In the Bering Sea, the Lion's Mane varies from golden brown, through rosy pink, to a deep red color probably reflecting differences in available food.
Lion's Mane Plaything (Leona Rocka). They can be fun when used indoors but not on a windy arctic beach (but I'd have had a go if it was bigger!) Random beach walks never fail to make me smile.
Upstairs in the building opposite the school.
Downstairs in the building opposite the school.
I go to say goodbye to Frank 'Sonny' Oxereok, one of the true and few Wales gentlemen I am friends with. This is a photo of his grandfather, his Dad's Dad who passed away in the 1950's. Charles 'Kiomeau' Oxereok. He stands with all that is necessary for hunting: a rifle and skin cover for it, harpoon, rope, spear and bag (with strap running over both shoulders) containing seal hook, knives and tools. Charles was out hunting on ice when it seperated from the shore and he floated to Point Hope, about 300 miles north as the raven flies. It took him a whole summer to walk back home again (at least 500 miles). He intentionally did the same thing 2 more times but the 3rd time almost starved to death. Sonny tells me he did this because on the 1st adventure he made a lady friend on his return back to Wales and was missing her so repeated the journeys again. This is why Sonny has other family in the north.
Gerald "Cougar" 'Kougruk' Walter Oxereok. One of Sonny's two sons, the other being Randy. Sonny says "We've been butting heads with the majority since our elders passed away in the mid 1980's. We're still living in 3rd world conditions in Wales, no water or sewage apart from at the school. Look at the way the US government treats us, our native way of life is going to be gone. Kids need to be taught how to get ahead in the western world. Food stamps will end in 5 years and people will suffer".
View of Dan Richard's house. 3 weeks ago you could barely get through this door for all the snow and now it has all but gone.
7 weeks work in Wales so far and I hope to return for a full year from August...visa permitting. I have worked every single day over all that time in both 2009 and in 2013 and hope the final outcome is a commercial book which represents the people of Wales. The village needs to get its pride back, reinforce its culture, preserve traditions and look forward into the future with hope and positivity. [I don't want to leave Wales but have a visa deadline to be out of the USA by so have to now pause this photography and work at getting a book commission in place so that I am eligible for an artists visa in order to return for longer. It's alot of hassle but I have to go with the system and abide by this country's rules].
Goodbye Razorback mountain for now. I fly out of Wales after 1 month photographing on my 2nd visit.
Wales school in middle of photo. The shore ice is retreating and greens are already sprouting. Soon be picking time.
View of Wales as we head south towards Nome.
Cape Prince of Wales
KIng Island 40 miles south west of Wales. Its natives now live in Nome but their houses still stand on this island. Nobody lived on the top of the huge rock so walrus skin houses hung from the sheer cliff sides.
Self-portrait in back of twin prop to Nome. Happy, tired and ernestly need to get book commission and artists visa so I can return to Wales for a year. I need to get back in time for the Wales dance festival at the end of August with large format film camera. Soon the BBC will use my work from Wales on their news website.
We land twice on way back to Nome - at Brevig Mission and Teller. It's alot warmer and this feels like Spring. I'm sad to be leaving as I have been accepted by the Wales locals but also excited at what the future holds.
Lucy Kitchen (52) flies from Wales to Nome to pick up her great nephew. "He's just been screaming to get back to Wales. He's 18 months old and giving his Mother hell about living in the 'city' (Nome)".
With synchronicity I sit next to dear Lena Sereadlock on the Boeing 737 flight from Nome to Anchorage. Her son Pavey (45) whom she told me about recently, when I photographed Lena and Pete in their home, whom she had adopted out as soon as he was born has died from a heart attack. She is flying to get to his funeral and already missing Wales. It is her great-grandaughters birthday today (07 June) and she has promised to give Sarah a party on her return. We talk throughout the entire flight and I realize I have to complete my project in Wales such is the bond I now have with the village.
Lena and I walk together from the plane to the baggage claim. She meets her sister and leaves. This is my last photo from my 2nd visit to Wales. Now I have to design an art book using photos from my 1st visit in 2009 and this visit in 2013 and present it to The University of Alaska Press as well as companies for sponsorship to show them the project is worthy of making commercial. Look at https://www.facebook.com/www.edgold.co.uk for updates of my progress over the summer.