The photographer’s new book functions as a diary, tracing the contours between memory and reality
Sam Youkilis is a historian of sorts, industriously documenting life around him. He probably took more photos last week than you have in the last year. The artist’s reputation is largely (but not wholly) defined by the denseness of his output. His photobook Somewhere is a meticulous but extremely edited-down picture of his practice, comprising just 500 pages—dense by normal standards, yes, but sparse when set against his heavy hard drive, which houses more than 35,000 stills and 116,000 videos.
Youkilis both adopts and inverts everything horrible about modern media: In his hands, excess is authentic, and impulse is original. With Somewhere, everyday life becomes as surprising as it is sincere, its pages charting the strangeness of mundane human behavior. A small hand grips a finger that matches it in size; a wave catches between a man’s spread legs as he rests onshore; two shadows embrace, backlit by warm, orange light; a group of men play chess, their lower halves submerged in a pool.
In Somewhere, days are layered atop one another: Each image is marked with a timestamp, taking the reader from 7:07 a.m. to 12:33 p.m.—an archive that traverses years is condensed down to a singular day. The book is a strange diary, warping time, wearing the experiences of Youkilis’s subjects as much as his own. The photographer’s prolific practice challenges where memory departs from reality, and questions whether the space between the two even matters at all: Documentation of a moment is a memory, and a memory is a truth.
Following the release of Somewhere via Loose Joints, Youkilis joins Document to expound upon the art of the archive.
Megan Hullander: How did you determine the time period you wanted to pull from for this project?
Sam Youkilis: The time span for the book is really from the beginning of my practice, using a phone to make pictures and videos on a daily basis up until now.
Megan: How many photos have accumulated in that archive in the years since you started it?
Sam: Over 35,000 stills and 116,000 videos.
Megan: The camera phone is often associated with prizing instinct over deliberation. Do you find that to be true for you?
Sam: My work often relies on impulse and intuition no matter what camera I’m using, so it’s hard to attribute this specifically to the camera phone. In my opinion, the camera phone is the best tool for this type of photography. It’s ubiquitous, discrete, and quicker than any [traditional] camera I’ve ever used. The videos I make are reactive and responsive but also sometimes the result of more in-depth planning—an interpersonal interaction, an idea—and the process of bringing it to fruition.
“My videos and pictures are a direct result of trying to make sense of the world around me. In this way, everything I produce is a reflection of myself.”
Megan: Did you have an idea of how you wanted Somewhere to read as a whole body of work from the get-go, or did you come up with the thematics of it after you spent time with the concept?
Sam: My practice is very diaristic and consumed more on Instagram than anywhere else. Because the primary housing for my imagery is Instagram stories, the meaning of it is informed by the parameters of this space. Temporally, the videos ‘exist’ for the duration of a day—24 hours—and begin in the morning and end when I sleep. I wanted the structure and sequence of the book to echo this so it would be linear, and ideally you could feel time passing as you swipe through pages.
Megan: How much of Somewhere is a study of yourself?
Sam: More than anything else, my job is about walking around observing and noticing things. My videos and pictures are a direct result of trying to make sense of the world around me. In this way, everything I produce is a reflection of myself.
Megan: How much of your own memory do you think is shaped by your images?
Sam: I think, like many people, I make images and videos to aid and supplement memory. I don’t want to forget moments with friends, or strangers, and so I make work as a way to remember. One of the strongest elements of photography is its ability to memorialize things before they disappear. A huge part of my work is trying to use image-making as a means of preservation, whether it’s recipes, craft, a way of life.
Somewhere by Sam Youkilis is published by Loose Joints.