Contemporary theorists have pronounced the standard genres of photography dead.
Now young photographers like Devin Yalkin can discover their path without outside influence. Not that Yalkin hits the streets coming out of nowhere: [Garry] Winogrand’s improvisational invasiveness and Daidō Moriyama’s sense of the extreme summarize the classic post-Cartier-Bresson attitude that Yalkin embraces. The street is absurd, theatrical, grim, exciting—and is best rendered in grainy black and white. The photographer, the camera and the film itself are trying like hell to catch an image before it dies or explodes—before the guy puts his teeth back in his mouth, or the dirigible moves and alters the poetry, or the girl in the phone booth says, “Hey what are you lookin’ at?”
Yalkin’s black-and-white images expose a different kind of rawness—not the rawness of noir, but the rawness of discovery.
But what about the notion that street itself is the issue, that it shouldn’t be taken at face value, that at worst it is nothing but a construction of “photography-as-spectacle?” Every young photographer who ventures out into the world (and leaves the studio and its conceptual strategies behind) carries the question: is it OK to do this? What am I really contributing? In the younger generation there is a desire to render things as novel and distinct (even though they all know that every picture has already been taken).
Yalkin adds a sense of material reality of the seen—eyeballs, Leica and film are all as thick as the world and form a kind of unity with it. Like Moriyama’s work, the pictures are emotional, expressive; they employ taboo tactics like long exposure to present an interior view, and yet they don’t convey a sense of alienation, but rather a sense of immersion. The poetry and the incongruities of the street are not simply visual but visceral, even aural: you “hear” Yalkin’s best pictures. They carry their own audio track.
We’ve never been more suspicious of people taking pictures; we’ve also never been more inclined to take pictures of each other. You might ask why we need “photographers” at all. Yalkin is the answer: because they can show us things we’ve never seen (and couldn’t see) and can turn us toward the world with renewed attention, if not understanding. We trust him to invade the street and give it back to us, transformed.
Editors’ note: If you enjoy Yalkin’s work, his latest publication, I’ll See You Tomorrow, Until I Can’t, is available now (but in a limited edition of 150, so don’t delay). This diaristic volume features 49 black and white photographs taken over the course of three years—primarily in New York and Istanbul.