This is not Devin’s first appearance on this blog. If you’re savvy and have absorbed every ounce of content I’ve put out, you may remember him from a project we did together in fall of 2014:
It’s fun to look back on now, that our friendship started with a documentary assignment for our filmmaking studio. We had to partner up and Devin walked over and asked if I wanted to make a film. “sure!” I said. We ended up making a film wherein we interviewed each other, scouring each other’s facebook, going through each other’s houses and belongings, trying to figure out as much as we could about the other person before actually talking to them.
The film ended with Devin asking if he thought we’d still be friends after the project was over. I said there was a good possibility, but it couldn’t be forced in a project.
And here we are!
Devin’s work is, briefly, hard to pin down, and in that way I strongly identify with him. When I met Devin he was primarily making work reminiscent of the “old masters” of photography in the genre he looked up to. Specifically, I strongly associate Devin’s work (as did he) with Stephen Shore and Henry Wessel.
Devin shoots both digital and analog, and he’s extremely thorough with both processes. Although the dedication to craft has always been there, it’s especially apparent in some of his most recent work. This includes the above photo, which is part of a series he shot while traveling through the American west for the first time. In all of Devin’s landscape work I see the strong influence of New Topographics photographers, rendering mundane spaces meticulously and extensively as a means of creating a cultural cross section.
However Devin’s work goes beyond mere imitation and there’s an incredibly acute self-awareness of how he fits into this aesthetic inclination. His work is aware of the fact that in taking visually similar photos, there is an untouchable and distant nature. These are visual forms long since moved past culturally, but are still visible in our world as slightly dingy and dusty. Looking back on a portrait series he did his Sophomore year in darkroom, it’s evident to me the stress between appropriating and aspiring to certain aesthetics and time periods, and the inherent slippage in this desire to live up to idealized forms, images, and styles.
The most recent artist statement Devin wrote ends as follows:
More recently Devin’s work has been focusing on themes of masculinity, sensitivity, and the introspection/exploration of social cues growing up as a male.
This was written at the end of our Concepts 1 studio, in which our professor asked us towards the end of our class to begin to try tieing our work together in neat summary. This was with an eye towards applying to one of the more prestigious fellowships in our area which almost every practicing artist in Richmond applies for. I remember the carefulness with which Devin approached the drafting of his statement and selection of images. That is to say, I think he did an excellent job of identifying the threads through his work, and it’s cool for me to see the early manifestations of that interest in his earlier work, even before having the benefit of hindsight.
In our interview, he spoke of the shifting meaning of work as one looks back on it while trying to tie it all together. He spoke of his former process of developing a project as coming up with an idea and then trying to show that, but now the artmaking process has shifted into more of an intuitive space with the meaning overlaid afterwards with a bit more perspective, and that this was especially evident in looking back on his earlier work. It’s not that the ideas were necessarily contrary to what he is trying to say now, but with some space from the work, it’s possible to see how they fit in a different way he never realized.
For example, I remember Sophomore year Devin made a fair bit of work that focused on porn. He initially spoke of it in more personal terms and experiences, but the meaning now has shifted more in line with his explorations of how roles of masculinity are taught and what qualities are encouraged. Although why he was making work wasn’t necessarily the same a year ago as now, it comes from an aesthetic basis- the sum total of one’s experiences, and thus there is always some internal consistency, something that might be evident until well after work is made.
I actually didn’t notice it until now, but the previous two photos have an almost identical palette! How cool.
Towards the beginning of this post I said that Dev’s work is hard to pin down, but it’s by no means inconsistent. I think, when one has work like Devin’s to back it up, is a good place to be. When something has a clear logic but is hard to relate exactly why. I’ve often thought that this is a mark of effective photography- because if something can be said more effectively in words, why not write it?
Beyond mere formal similarities, beyond similarities in subject, I think Devin’s work has the consistency of someone effective at their craft who works carefully to remain intent on hunting down the root, the ground floor of their interests. I think in this process one produces work that’s as varied and multidimensional as any human is, but it’s honest, and it’s always interesting.
One major aspect to selling this is how effective of an image maker Devin is. Many of my friends, Devin included, effortlessly move back and forth between the studio and landscape. Devin has been interested in photography since high school, and even in his time there was working in what he described as an intense studio class. He spent a few years at VCU undeclared before deciding to go into photography, and in that time kept up practice making images, including shooting and remaining close with one of his friends who went to SVA for photography. So Devin has had a great deal of practice in making photos, and it shows.
I’m quite excited to see how Devin continues to grow and develop as an artist. His work has only gotten better and better, his image making, concepts, and work ethic only getting more refined as he learns and continues working so hard at what he does.
Check out his webzone at devinhe.in