Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Hagen wins second Rasmuson award


June 6, 2019 | View PDF

Native photographer John Hagen has won his second Rasmuson Project Award, a prestigious $7,500 award for Alaskan artists, to photograph salmon season in the village of Ugashik in the Bristol Bay region. Hagen won the award four years ago as well, for his landscape photography in Haines.

This project will reconnect Hagen with the village where his Unungan ancestors lived before the 1918 flu epidemic. The epidemic, said Hagen, was perhaps the biggest factor that created a disconnection between his family and the village of Ugashik.

“I have searched for images of the Unangan people living in the Bristol Bay region,” Hagen wrote to the Rasmuson Foundation, “My searches rarely turn up recent images or stories. It’s as if they no longer exist. But we do exist. Since I cannot find those images, I need to make them—not just for myself, but also for my ancestors and for future generations.”

Hagen’s project is something that he said he would pursue whether or not he got funding from the Rasmuson Foundation. “I was going to make it happen no matter what,” said Hagen. “Being able to go to Bristol Bay for me would change the trajectory of my art.”

Hagen said that though he was born in Haines, his family is not from here, historically. He went to Bristol Bay once as a kid, he said, but he’s looking forward to seeing the village “through artist’s eyes,” he said.

“It’s really important for me to go back. Place is a really important part of identity,” said Hagen.

The interconnection between place and identity is central to Hagen’s perspective as an artist. “It’s something I always notice when I travel around,” he said.

Hagen described walking through the departure gates at the Seattle airport. “As you go through all the gates, the people who are at the gate going to Hawaii are dressed a certain way. When you go past the gates that are going to Alaska, people are dressed totally different,” he said.

While in Ugashik, Hagen will carry a football-sized bag of camera equipment with him. “I like using much smaller cameras, because it allows me to always have a camera on me,” he said. He plans on photographing “fleeting moments that happen in the landscape,” while he is there. He is also interested in symbolism he might find there. Hagen is interested in the symbolism in Native formline designs, and how those shapes are reflected in the environment.

“The coolest thing about (getting a Rasmuson Award) is actually just processing through an idea. It really gives you a vehicle to refine your ideas,” he said.

Hagen will spend six weeks in Ugashik, and he will be staying with his aunt and uncle at a commercial set-net site while he is there. He leaves June 10.


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