Photo Essay: The Desolation of Alaska in 35mm Film
Film photographer Ryan Chernikoff re-visits his hometown of Fairbanks Alaska as a form of artistic therapy. Using his camera to literally shift perspectives, both through material output and spiritual input, Ryan talks us through his journey and graces us with these beautiful 35mm images of isolatin, abandon, and beauty in Alaska.
...We chat with Ryan before venturing into his photo essay:
New Library: From our perspective, your images evoke a certain stillness - one that we can assume is unique to Alaska. What do you hope the viewers of your photography feel or sense through your images?
I believe that photography is a very personal journey for the person taking the photo as well as the end-viewer. I can only hope that the person viewing my photos gets a sense of what I was feeling at the time I shot the photo, or just feels whatever they needed to feel at that moment. I’m okay with either. Photography has always been immensely therapeutic for me, a meditative process, so when I’m out shooting I’m just taking some time to myself, to process my thoughts and just be. Photography draws me into the present moment, into a deep awareness of my surroundings, when I am in that state of being I tend to go wherever my intuition takes me. Most of my recent photos have been the result of me exploring certain personal struggles I deal with… I have a deep fear of being alone, or left behind, so many of my photos are very desolate, or feel very isolated — that is me confronting my fear. I was absolutely terrified and clueless of how to deal with life without a form of escape, so I chose to use photography as a part of my recovery program. So far it has worked well for me.
How has your style or aesthetic changed over time, and as a photographer, do you look to achieve some level of uniformity across your work, or do you think it's more important to experiment and diversify the types of photos that you shoot?
My style of photography has changed dramatically in the last couple years. I used to only shoot 35mm black-and-white film, and mostly street, or documentary style photos. I still have a deep love for that style of shooting, but have developed an immense appreciation for color film. I still shoot mostly 35mm, but occasionally shoot 120. A couple years ago I was in a really dark place emotionally, still very confused as to why my life was not going the way I wanted it to, I hadn’t yet figured out that I was the source of those problems, so I looked for subtle dramas, idiosyncrasies to shoot, I wanted people to know I was hurting so I tried to say that with my photos. I would walk around for hours just shooting frame after frame with almost a point-and-shoot type ethic, hoping that I would get a couple good photos out of multiple rolls of film. Now I spend a lot more time on each shot, being very meticulous. That’s one of the reasons I got into night photography, it forced me to pay attention to every last detail in order to get a good shot. It also happens to be dark most of the time during the winter in Alaska, so that’s convenient. I hope to never conform to one type of photography, I would like to keep experimenting and trying new things, hopefully maintaining some sort of style that makes it my own.
How did you get into photography, and what drives you to continue to create and to go out and capture images?
Three years ago I found a used Canon AE-1 in a donation bin at the non-profit I work for and decided to give film photography a go again; I am extremely grateful for that decision. I would go through phases of shooting a lot then I would get into something else. I think growing up skateboarding exposed me to so much art that it kept a fire burning in me to create. Many of the pro-skaters I grew up watching in skate videos have turned out to be incredibly talented artists, in many different mediums. I think back to being a kid and waking up in the morning, watching a skate video and getting excited to go skate. Now I check out all the amazing photos that people are shooting in zines and on instagram and I get the same inspiration to go shoot that I felt when I was a kid on a skateboard - just completely stoked. I don’t think that inspiration will ever die as long as I have the ability to see the world around me as a profoundly beautiful place and still hold a camera...
"There are times in our lives that we must face our fears, times we need to rid ourselves of a past that is holding us back, keeping us in place when we should be moving forward — that is how we grow emotionally and spiritually. I took a recent road trip to Fairbanks, Alaska to do just that. I needed to face the bitter memories I had of a childhood full of abuse, loneliness, and fear. I blamed Fairbanks all these years for those memories — not that Fairbanks itself had done anything to hurt me, but blaming the town as a whole seemed convenient, so I went with it. "
"I explored the city streets, backroads, and endless landscapes of Fairbanks and the towns leading up to it while allowing myself to feel the feelings that I have avoided for so long, in so many different ways.
"Though I cannot change things, I can change my way of dealing with them. My camera is the medium through which I am able to face my past."
"As I shot frame after frame of 35mm film, I felt the tension soften in my shoulders, the anxiety gnawed less at my stomach; fear no longer controlled me, and I no longer tried to control my fear. These photos are the result of facing those fears."
An extremely grateful thank-you to Ryan for sharing his words and images - Be sure to follow him on Instagram and check out his Prints.
If you like good photography, you might also like our Photo Tour + City Guide of London!
And be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter on longform reads, global happenings, and more visual appreciation! Subscribe
Ryan Chernikoff is a self-taught film-photographer out of Anchorage, Alaska. He works in the social services field and spends what little free-time he has wandering the streets and wilderness of Alaska with his camera. His photographs have been featured in multiple venues and online photographic communities. He shares a home with his partner Allison, and two cats: Steven, and Esmé.