Devin Yalkin is NYC based photographer living in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. His work is entirely in black and white film and seems to pull on some long lost strings of the Futurist movement of the 1920's in a manner that feels unrefined and alive, and his photos are generally just really impressive.
I got a chance to interview Devin a little bit about his craft and what keeps him going.
Alright, so let’s just start out simple to get things rolling.
How did you get into photography?
It was basically trial and error like everything else in my life. I think I started in 2005, and it was one of those things that began romantically and still remains to be.
Favorite spots to shoot in NYC?
Chinatown after 2 am.
There’s definitely romance in film, what’s your favorite aspect of working with film vs. digital photography?
I’ve pretty much only worked with film. There is a tactile depth to film, particularly B&W, that doesn’t translate with digital for me. I also like to wait. Unless I’m doing a job for a client I’m in no rush to see my film. I like the way an image will manifest in my imagination and I like the anticipation of comparing my mind’s picture to the final image.
Word. So, you have a set idea of how you want a photograph to come out when you shoot it?
I always hope my photos will translate the way I feel in the moment that I am taking them. My relationship to my camera, framing, my subjects, and how in focus things are, all depend on my fervency and comfort with the situation. There is a direct correlation to the image outcome. The uneasiness at photographing someone or some situation, because of being caught or getting in trouble; will show in the final translation. The same goes for when I am very close to my subject and the photograph comes out just as conceived — that intimacy with the subjects to me is romantic.
If I am working on a particular body, documentary or editorial, I shoot first, then look at the photos. If I feel as though there is a particular aesthetic I should convey I will go back and shoot it in that fashion. Most of the time my eye is directing my hand.
What catches your eye then? You’ve got a really wide and varied portfolio of work on your site, with lots of different subjects and places. What do you look for when you’re out and shooting?
Action. Having grown up in New York City, I have quite a threshold for commotion and bullshit. The two typically go hand in hand. If I see a physical fight, an argument, or an interaction I feel physically or audibly escalating— I am there. I will get as close as I can without getting involved but sometimes getting involved is inevitable. Spotting a scene from afar and darting down the street to capture it is also something that gets me going. I am a guttural photographer and my instincts are what bring me close to my subjects.
That definitely seems to come through in the stylistic choices you make with your work as well as your subjects. Could you talk about what you’re exploring with the long exposures?
Through working with long exposures, I want to give a compressed emotional record of the subject’s existence within an event. I am photographing the transgression of people in a space, as well as the processional movements that we cannot see within an instant photograph. By capturing the culmination of movement in confined spaces: faces devolving, gestures constantly shifting, bodies dematerializing and the subjects’ essence transforming; my work alludes to the idea of phantasmagoria, a shifting series of illusions, or deceptive appearances, as in a dream or as created by the imagination.
I'm really into the photoseries you have called “The Old One Two”. Especially after now hearing what you've got to say about your work it seems to really fill your style; action, a series of natural connections between subject and camera, on the spot shooting without any plans or set ups, chinatown after 2 am, and the composition and contrast just makes them look real romantic and raw. Could you talk about how you got into the fight night scene?
About a year and a half ago, my childhood friend sent me a clip of the fights on YOUTUBE. I remember sitting in front of my computer getting very excited and knowing that I had to shoot it. I was immediately drawn to the spectacle of the fights. It was the first time I had seen anything like this in NYC. The uncertainty of the new environment ignited my curiosity and I was hooked, attending fight after fight.
And then I feel like there is more to this series beyond fighting and documentary style photography, could you talk about the series and how you went about shooting?
This work was neither freelance nor work for a client. I wanted to start on a new body of documentary work that thematically was consistent and would convey stylistically what my other work is like: encapsulating not just the fight itself but the emotion of the spectators, the grit of the environment and the sensory overload of the situation. I wanted to reveal what I consider the true essence of the underground scene: the rush, sound and the chaotic feel.
I didn’t want, aesthetically, to convey the matter-of-fact, clean, pristine boxing images you usually see – the whole decisive moment thing, I wanted to get something that was transient, something more abstract.
Is there a lot of dark room work that goes into these images? Or is that the long exposure style taking over?
If what you are talking about is the captured movement that has to do with the long exposure technique. Even though these photographs were shot on film, I have yet to make darkroom prints of the series. There is light Photoshopping done to these images…a very strict rule that I have is that I only Photoshop what I am capable of doing with my hands in the darkroom.
I always feel there is such a process to film photography that it can get pushed into that realm of process based work, something that is essentially made in an instant but the amount of time that goes into the final product actually shapes the work in a way. Am I just fucking rambling now, or do you have any thoughts on this with film photography?
I think that when you talk about process based work it has to do with resolving a final aesthetic in the work. For me, I have a way that I like my images to look. The more contrast the better. I like it loud and when it rains grain I’m a happy pup. With the way I push my film, more than half of the work is done for me by the time it is developed.
Dope. I think we’ll leave off there, but two quick ones I feel I need to ask before we’re done:
What are you up to right now?
Editing, shooting, editing, shooting, applying for grants, residencies, photo-festivals, galleries, talking to agencies, emailing editors etc.….
Any tips for people still shooting film that are in need of a darkroom?
Yeah, holler at me if you find one and want to share it.
Photos by Devin Yalkin
Interviewed by Brian Broderick