by Liz Ream
On March 15, 2013, two geologic researchers from Fairbanks, Alaska, were flying over the interior when a flock of geese smashed their windshield and forced a crash-landing in the Yukon-Tanana Wilderness. The pilot managed to prevent a catastrophic landing but died from crash wounds, leaving a severely injured man and surviving woman alone in the vast wilderness region. With the onset of the late-season cold front and a search area of tens of thousands of acres, there is little prospect of finding the crash site.
This is the photographic sequence that Kiliii Fish recently created. With the help of friend and art director Lindsey Watkins, Kiliii presents Alive— a story that’s impossible to capture in a documentary fashion yet is heavily grounded in realism.
With a long history in wilderness survival, Kiliii would have liked to experience the real deal by shooting the entire project on location but soon realized it was not logistically possible to bring an entire crew out on location for a week— as he says, “apparently not everyone enjoys scrambling up icy mountainsides in the middle of winter.” Plan B was to photograph the location scenes himself, shoot the talent in the studio and bring them together in post-production.
Kiliii describes the process he went through to create these images:
I started by story boarding about a dozen wide images and doing a lot of research on Google Images to set the scenes right. Once I had a solid idea of the landscapes I’d need, I talked to pilot Jeff Chang about flying over The Enchantments, hiked with an assistant and shot for a week. Once we had the landscapes prepped, I took a full day to shoot stand-in models sans lighting so we could match perspective from the studio to the landscapes. That ‘preflight’ day, as I call it, helped a ton because it helped me to realize that particular poses would or wouldn’t sit right in their compositions. Then I took the quick composites from preflight and created a mood board so that my crew knew what we would be working towards on the actual shoot days.
Kiliii and his assistant snowshoed and jumped between vantage points, sleeping in tents for the outdoor shoot days which took place in the Cascades Range of Washington.
Of course, aside from the outdoor shots came the challenge of portraying the intensity of real emotions from his subjects through studio portraits. It turned out that the actors, Alyssa and Andy, were amazing and “brought the crew to tears in the studio.”
Kiliii took time to appreciate the glorious landscape during the outdoor shoot days, even coming across some magical opportunities such as the wild mountain goat that stalked them in the dark. Kiliii turned this into a photograph of starving Alyssa stalking the animal:
The story wraps up with a rescue for the books:
Along with the “technical wizardry” that Kiliii gained during this project, he was also reminded how much fun it is to be a creative, saying “it seems whether I am freezing my hands off or trying to make a dead trout look alive, it’s always an adventure.”