Grit, Grain, Sweat, etc

Devin Yalkin’s ability to find stillness in chaos is displayed in both his works Acoustic Movements and The Old One Two.  He blocks out the noise and crowd and finds clarity, building a series of serene actions through intimacy and study.

Abigail Smithson: Has being raised in New York influenced your work?

Devin Yalkin: I would definitely say that growing up here has influenced my approach as a photographer. Living here you’re constantly surrounded by hundreds of people as soon as you leave your house. Naturally I figured out how to swim in a sea of people incidentally affecting the way I weave in and out of crowds. My initial approach was rooted more in a street based and classic decisive moment aesthetic. I hunted down my subjects and scenes in a way that made timing the focus of my photographs. In that respect, shooting street the way I did was second nature. It was very exhilarating in the beginning, running around and searching for action but after some time that became tiresome. Because it was all about being quick witted, the idea of the hunt soon became something that I lost interest in. I wanted the content and subjects of my photographs to shine through more, rather than just be all about timing. Most of the work that you see in Acoustic Movements is shot in the street but I find them to be more intimate in the sense that some of them capture the vulnerability of individuals. I like to think of my work as more abstract reportage.

ACOUSTIC MOVEMENTS

© Devin Yalkin “Old Man and the Clouds”

ACOUSTIC MOVEMENTS

© Devin Yalkin “Lofty”

AS: The work in Acoustic Movements does not appear to be associated with one place or time. Why did you make the decision to let these variables go unknown?

DY: For as long as I have been photographing, a lot of my images have been regarded as timeless. I don’t like anything in the photographs to be overly identifiable with any time or any place. When shooting in New York City, it is difficult to create a concise image without distractions. There are markers everywhere that are indicators of where and when the photograph happened. But, in my work, I like to eliminate factors that root my images in a sense of place and start off with a completely blank canvas. This is important because it conveys my aesthetic, reasoning and approach.

ACOUSTIC MOVEMENTS

© Devin Yalkin “While You Were”

ACOUSTIC MOVEMENTS

© Devin Yalkin “It’s Them”

ACOUSTIC MOVEMENTS

© Devin Yalkin “My Love I Love Pt. 3”

AS: How did you find out about the boxing matches?

DY: My best friend from growing up told me about it. I remember, I was home, about to go to sleep and he emailed me a link to a video telling me that there was a boxing event happening next week. It really excited me because I knew it was something I was going to spend a lot of time photographing.

When I was growing up, we didn’t really find scenes like that. We were always drinking on stoops, chilling in the park and hanging out late night, etc. After hearing about the fights, I felt completely disconnected with New York and wondered how all of this was happening under my nose. A week later I went to scope the scene. I knew it would be a scene I would return to and shoot again, but I never anticipated that it would turn into a two year project.

I arrived about an hour into the evening and had to hustle my way to the corner of the ring where I posted myself for a while. To get ringside requires a lot of pushing. You can either get in a fight trying to do so, or you can diffuse the situation. For me, I’m good at both but I was apprehensive about fighting because I had my Leica on me.

The variety of people in the crowd was really interesting to me. Hipsters, models, natives from the Bronx and Lower East Side— all came together for this one event. I had free reign and could shoot whatever and whomever I wanted. Ninety five percent of the people were completely okay with being photographed so I had no qualms about really getting in people’s faces with the camera.

photographer, new york city, turkish american

©  Devin Yalkin 2011-2012

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© Devin Yalkin 2011-2012

AS: How did you figure out who was not interested in having their photo shot (that five percent)?

DY: I tried with lots of people and became pretty quick at gauging reactions. I would stand in front of them for a few seconds and look at them. They knew I had my camera and since I had been frequenting these events they had seen me before. Having gone to almost all the fights, I eventually became their in house photographer. This gave me the access to go back stage to the dressing room and shoot them while they are prepping for fights. As soon as I established myself there I was able to get eye level on the ring. I was standing on the ring with them, just outside the ropes.

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© Devin Yalkin 2011-2012

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© Devin Yalkin 2011-2012

One time I was on the side of the ring where one fighter got hit really hard, lost his balance and fell backwards. The back of his head collided with my crotch incidentally knocking me out for a few minutes. I felt as much a part of it as I could be without actually fighting. Eventually I found myself shooting in between rounds—able get in the actual ring and shoot the boxers while they were catching their breath and getting coached. I was very involved in their personal space and got into their faces as much as possible without actually becoming them. This was part of my desire to capture their vantage point from the fights. I didn’t want to take a completely voyeuristic approach.

photographer, new york city, turkish american

© Devin Yalkin 2011-2012

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© Devin Yalkin 2011-2012

AS: The atmosphere must have been chaotic, loud, noisy and physically aggressive. Were you able to block this out when you were shooting?

DY: After some time I was able to completely tune it out. It’s like that feeling when you’re at a concert and you’re in the front row and focused on the band. You’re being constantly moved around but you’re still able to tune those around you out and focus on the music. The fight was like the music for me in this situation. I was able to clear my head of distractions and selectively pick out scenes. Because I could reference my photographs of previous fights, I knew what I was looking at within the context of the frame.

photographer, new york city, turkish american

© Devin Yalkin 2011-2012

AS: Tell me about one of those moments.

DY: Right before I took the very first photograph (on the website) of “The Old One Two,” one of the boxers, Sharkie, was riling up the crowd while one of his friends was doing the same thing on the other side of the ring. Smoking was allowed in the space, which in turn resulted in a huge white cloud over the ring. I remember that as intense as the sensory overload produced by all these combined elements was, the scene for me became silenced and I was able to see in a sort of tunnel vision. I knew exactly what it was that I wanted to shoot there.

photographer, new york city, turkish american

 © Devin Yalkin 2011-2012

AS: Were you aware that this was happening at the time?

DY: I was very aware of that moment. Everything kind of turned into slow motion. I remember seeing Sharkie jumping around while his friend roared from the corner of the ring, resulting in three or four seconds of a scream.  All this was happening while the MC Bekim was on the left side peering out of the darkness. This was one of those moments my clarity as a photographer kicked in, allowing me to focus intently on the frame I wanted to capture.

The very first time I shot there were certain things I would see, like certain situations that would repeatedly occur. I wanted to master these moments: like when the boxers’ would get water poured on their heads, producing a glistening effect on their faces. A lot of the shots capture specific and repeated actions like this, but with each different boxer alternate aesthetic results would occur. Their expressions throughout the fights were always changing, and I wanted to selectively capture some of the more intense or interesting moments.

photographer, new york city, turkish american

© Devin Yalkin 2011-2012

AS: You shoot mostly with black and white. Why do you prefer it to color?

DY: My allegiance has always been to black and white photography. To me, color can be too suggestive in some respects. Colors give you ideas of the way to feel, they carry emotions and anxieties in themselves. I like to erase elements that I feel are overly suggestive. For me, once you remove color it gives a blank canvas to start imagining with. Plus, I don’t see in color. I don’t respond to color. Of course I notice the beauty produced by the juxtaposition of colors, but that is not something that I naturally gravitate towards.

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© Devin Yalkin 2011-2012

To see more of Devin’s work, click here.

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