Devin Elijah is a 27 year old self taught photographer based in New York City. Over the last couple of years its been old polaroid film that Devin's been working with to document his life. His images are deeply personal and introspective and reveal an exploration of some of our most primitive, but complex human desires. Devin's new book, entitled A Chronicle Of Love & Loss in Sickness & in Health, a beautiful collection of polaroids, is a "personal visual manifesto of New York City."
Krys Fox, East Village
Life motto? This city is an exercise in the constant recreation of self and that idea's subsequent reverberation of the power of each new voice we occupy. I'm a strong believer in the idea that spiritual and/or physical rebirth is the most eloquent expression of what it means to be here. The older I get the less I believe in compromising, whatever your most veritable nature, your most invariable and organic expressions of self, you have to fucking dig for that & protect it with this genuine violent passion. The idea translates regardless of where you're from, but living in a large city the consecution of your world is amplified by this undeterminable degree and you struggle with a sort of tri-dentity: You're constantly at war with who you actually are, what you believe are peoples perceptions of you and who you think people want you to be in order to be successful and accepted. I definitely went through a time where every day I awoke with this exigency to remind myself to not give a fuck, and I don't mean be an asshole, I mean don't allow assholes to diagnosticate your sense of identity. That sentiment of regarding inane opinions is a definite spiritual hinderance, it's poisonous abbreviation of life trajectory and you have to rise above it by not giving a fuck and by creating and recreating a person that doesn't minister and administer to it. I would say I spent my early 20's trying to fit in, my mid 20's trying to stand out, & now this latter part just learning to walk through the world reacting to life with my gut as a primary confidant. You can't be afraid to be alone, to stand alone with yourself.
"You can't be afraid to be alone,
to stand alone with yourself."
Can you tell me a little about your inspirations and influences? I've realized that I'm definitely not as influenced by other photographers so much as I do this more and more. Given the constant photographic & sonic onslaught that is New York, I think I let foreign images stream past my periphery & my subconscious mind tends to soak up a healthier fraction of what's necessary, in fact living here is actually somewhat a lesson in omitting media propaganda from the touchstone of your creative pallet. I'm not saying I never refer to other's work, there are brilliant creatives out there past and present that I've consciously plagiarized in an effort to figure out what the hell I was doing, but these days my dominant motivation for shooting a subject is always going to be the subject themselves and using them- their personality, their obvious singleness and energy to create some kind of collaborate, visual chronology of who both of us are. Any time that I've subway-stalked a random stranger in an effort to later photograph them it's been on account of their undeniable lack of ordinariness. Sometimes based on clear optical idiosyncrasies, other times an aura that I'm drawn to.
Do you remember the first image you ever took? I don't remember the first image I ever took, no idea. But heres the first polaroid I ever took, and it's branded on me. I cant begin to explain the irony and the scarcity behind this photograph. Though It really wasn't until more then a year later that I went back to it, when I started shooting Polaroid with a greater intention and felt this potent reminiscence, almost a longing for that very specific time in my life and I realized the incredible telling power of Polaroid to bring you back to the emotional poignancy of a moment. The person beneath that photograph has never seen it, I wonder how it would strike him if at all?
The Ghost of J. Boyd, East Village
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer? Somewhere during the stages of pre-adulthood, when you start to feel a need to define yourself by one prodigious attribute. The longest that I've ever held a 9-5 job has been a year at most, I'm not saying that's a badge of honor (laughs) it just kind of is what it is. I was having this conversation with a friend who's been a career artist for 40 plus years, he told me his longest "desk job" lasted 3 months, his advice was along the lines of 'just to go with it' your complete borderline mental instability in the day-to-day workplace is simply a faction of who you are. I've literally had jobs that have lasted a weekend (more laughs) and i'm not talking temp or freelance work, like I got paid cash and told not to let the door hit me in the arse on my way out. However, I have an admiration for dedicated teachers and I could see myself teaching photography at a college level one day, I do aspire to that.
Where did you grow up and how long have you been in NY? I grew up in and around Boston, spent a few semi-formative years in Southern California and now have been in New York almost exactly 4 1/2 years. New York City is like being trapped in a life-size snow globe and every so often this unseen power shakes it furiously just to watch the weather in everyones life tumult to varying degrees, then for a while it's calm again, the storm settles and you have a grasp on whatever allegory you're grasping at, whatever tragedy your fighting not to become.
"....New York City is like being trapped
in a life-size snow globe."
What prompted the switch to working with instant film? Polaroid was a reminder of why I fell in love with photography to begin with. There's a discernible sense of transcendence and an integrity that digital can't quite replicate, there's a more immediate and compelling evidence of a soul related to film and using it allotted me this recapturing of youth. We stick within the subculture of subculture of friends that we've fashioned for ourselves in order that we stay safe from the anxieties of the unforeseen, the world becomes a more fragmented place as you get older and I'd like to believe that in my own way I'm connecting to and uncoiling the myth of time. For me it's also a true documentarian's project, I don't want to wake up one day and say where the fuck did the time go? I want to look back and know and understand that it was purposeful, and with that regarded I'd like to hope for the presence of will to create something purposeful.
Do you collaborate with The Impossible Project? Whats it like working with them or how do you like using their film? Do you have a favorite film?I've actually never officially collaborated with them, traditionally I stick to deadstock Polaroid film, but I have experimented with their earlier color shade films. Here are two images from strains of Impossible.
Diarmaid Falling Asleep, Hell's Kitchen
Can you tell us about your current project and book "A Chronicle of Love & Loss in Sickness & in Health"?It's a visual reconciliation of things past as much as a affidavit of the force of the individual instances that we live in, it's an entirely subjective memoir. You know you wake up one day and theres white flecks that have snuck their way into your beard and life at large doesn't intimidate you as it once was able to and that in and of it's self is frightening as hell, and your ideals- the unrealistic ones have abated, the realistic ones have become less naive, and others don't exist at all anymore and there's a weathered sense of the world behind your eyes that you've conditioned yourself to turn on or off as a situational tool. You begin to come to terms with the singular asseveration of being alive, which is that you're going to age.
"....the promise of growing older or death
doesn’t make up for the lie of life..."
People say the only thing promised in life is death, but in actuality the other thing promised which is a more tangential and abstract concept is age, in our lifetimes we are only ever barely touching the surface, and that's bittersweet to try an understand. But the promise of growing older or death doesn't make up for the lie of life and that's the sardonic part of it all, your life will never be exactly as you'd imagined it, in turn it's the beautiful part of it simultaneously. Existentialism and stream of consciousness aside these photographs are about two concepts that are inextricably linked- The hope that we'll be loved, that in return we'll love the right way, and the inevitability of letting each other down. It's a photo documentation of a bit more then a year of my life with an eclectic cumulative array of subjects, conveying one singular self portrait of me.
Whats next? Fuck if I know.
Check out Devin Elijah's book, "A Chronicle Of Love & Loss in Sickness & in Health," here.
Also, a selection of Devin's photographs will in the next issue of Autre Quarterly, but in the mean time check out his website - www.devinelijah.com
Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper for Pas Un Autre
Self Portrait, Age 27