Translating Dreams Into Imagery: Interview with Devin Yalkin

(Photos and words by Devin Yalkin. Interview by Eric Kim)

Eric: Devin! Great having you. I’ve always been a fan of your work and especially your soulful black and white film work. To start off, why film?

Devin: Hey there Eric, thank you for having me on this. My allegiance has always been to black and white photography on film. I will always find it more romantic than digital. The physicality of the experience, the loading and winding and seeing the negative, creates a bond that is far superior to digital photography. Also, the waiting period where you don’t know exactly what the photo will look like creates a sense of longing, which for me forms a deeper involvement with photography. Shooting film over digital wasn’t a decision as much as it was a natural development in a relationship with the medium.

That being said, I have recently been experimenting with digital. I purchased a Ricoh GRII, which as you know is the digital version of the Ricoh film camera. I carry both on me at all times just to be safe.

When you started photography, what was your drive? Why do you make photos?

When I started photography, I really had no idea what I was looking for. But I would definitely say that growing up in NYC has influenced my approach as a photographer. I feel that street photography was something that came very natural to me. I figured out organically how to swim in a sea of people which incidentally affected the way I wove in and out of crowds and engaged with subjects. 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 being all about timing.

Congrats on your new book, “I’ll See You Tomorrow Until I Can’t.” What is the concept behind the book, and what do you want the viewer to get from it?

I consider the book to be a diary of black & white photographs accounting the last 3-4 years of my life. It is my adventure into the ethereal with dreamscapes always in mind, a search for intimacy with my surroundings and those I’ve photographed. The book started with the notion of the how one attempts to hold onto their last memories of a dream as they wake up. With that in mind, I wanted to transpose these faint remembrances of my dreams into the imagery. As far as what the viewers get from it, I want them to have the chance of getting lost within the photographs. I want the work to leave questions behind. I’ve dedicated the book to my father who passed away 8 months ago and the title came about with the last few months of his life in mind.

Can you also tell us the nitty-gritty on the editing process of the book? How did you decide which photos to keep, and which to ditch? How did you decide the pairing and sequence/flow of the book? How did you collaborate with others in this process?

This process took months. I went back and forth with Corey Presha, who is one of the guys that runs S.U.N. Editions. I made over 150 small 4 x 6 inch prints and looked at them almost every day. Certain pairings came naturally, others I wanted to be more subtle and evocative. I found the editing process to be the most enjoyable part of making the book. The design aspect we left up to James Laurence Hughes who designed the interior and the cover.

Who are some of the main inspirations in your photography — and what have they taught you?

Some of my main inspirations are Daido Moriyama, William Klein, Roger Ballen, Weegee, Anders Petersen, Araki and Josef Koudelka. They have taught me to be present while photographing and to engage with what or whom you are photographing. Also to really see and understand what is happening within the frame, with that knowledge you can cut out what you don’t need and really hone in on what matters to you.

What are some inspirations you have besides photography, and how has it influenced your work?

I find some inspirations through older cinema, particular films in B&W. Films like Suna No Onna | Woman of the Dunes by Hiroshi Teshigahara, Rashomon and the Seventh Samurai by Akira Kurosawa, Raging Bull, by Scorsese and many others. Besides cinema, the inspiration for me manifests in very subtle ways. It can come from floating in the ocean with my eyes closed to visiting somewhere new where everything your eyes land on is the first time you are ever seeing it.

How have you been able to blend your New York and Istanbul work?

For as long as I have been photographing, I’ve tried to create images that I see 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 or Istanbul 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.

If you started photography all over again, what do you wish you knew?

If I started this all over I wish I knew the business end of photography a bit better…. and how to use lights.

What is your next step?

There are a few steps that I need to take in the immediate future; work on my portraiture, start on a few new projects and maybe play with video a bit.

photographer, new york city, turkish american

Who are some photographers you recommend people to check out, or other people you would like to give a shout-out to?

Civan Ozkanoglu, Yusuf Sevincli, Jonno Rattman, Lieko Shiga, Francesco Merlini, Leonard Pongo, Hajime Kimura, Lara Gasparotto, Scott Typaldos, Cyril Costilhes, Igor Posner, Samuele Pellecchia, Kymia Nawabi, James Lawrence Hughes, and Christopher de Bethune… check their work out. Hello to my wife Kymia, my sister Serda and my mother Sylvia.

More of Devin’s Work

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Also check out his feature in the New York Times.

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