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Found photos show life in Southwest Alaska sixty years ago

A trove of photos found at a flea market in Amsterdam provide a glimpse into life in a...
A trove of photos found at a flea market in Amsterdam provide a glimpse into life in a Southwest Alaska community about 60 years ago.(Alex Bengel/KTVF)
Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 4:16 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A trove of photos found at a flea market in Amsterdam provide a glimpse into life in a Southwest Alaska community about 60 years ago.

After finding the photos, Jennifer Skupin, not knowing where they originally came from, shared them on a Google Drive, where people quickly began to identify people and places they knew in the comments.

“In the comment section of each photo, you can see where the people have been identified, and last time I checked in, a lot of these people have been identified, or at least somebody knew who it could be. Even the landscape images, people made the effort and kind of compared them with Google Maps or joined in on the discussion and eventually found out where the landscape would be,” Skupin said.

Walkie Charles recognized himself as a young boy and his family in roughly 20 of the photos, taken in the Lower Kuskokwim community of Kwiguk, later renamed to Emmonak. “I was scrolling through and I said, ‘Whoah!’ And there was me with my sister 60 years ago, when I was 3 years old, and I couldn’t believe it because the photos were so clear. Nobody took photos like this.”

He explained the impact of Skupin’s discovery. “To find these photos in such pristine condition, in Amsterdam, and digitized in 2008 by a stranger who didn’t know anything about where these photos were from, but knowing that they came from somewhere and that someone in the world would know these things... was a miracle, really.”

Charles is a professor of the Yupik language at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He explained that seeing these photos gave many an opportunity to see family members, both living and deceased, in a new way. “We didn’t have cameras, so we didn’t have photographs, and if there were any it was very, very limited.”

The identity of the photographer has not been established, but it is suspected that it was a visitor from outside the area. “Whomever this person was wanted to capture these images in a way that a photographer, I think, only a photographer would look at,” Charles said. “It’s very rare to find anyone back then who took such quality photos of that time before everything got busy and crazy.”

Skupin said, “It felt like mission accomplished. I was happy that I could reunite a few people with these pictures. My hunch was that they are valuable for a few people, and I think I have been proven right.”

“I wish I had the words to express what value it holds, because who knew we would have the opportunity to see that space that many of us had not been able to capture,” Charles said. “Had it not been for this collection or that opportunity to see these images of the past, I think I would still be soul searching, like ‘What really happened back then?’ But now it’s like ‘You know, I got a glimpse of who we were.’”

The photos can be viewed by following this link.

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