Introduction to “You were there, too.”

Davin Youngs: You were there too

“You were there, too” is an edition of 45 three booklet sets by artist Davin Youngs. Youngs uses photographic portraits and answers to “relationship defining questions” to create these individual depictions of his relationships with three close friends.

Michigan native Davin Youngs lives, works and takes pictures in Chicago, IL. A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Youngs has shown work both locally, internationally and in various online and print publications. His work often deals with the nature of relationships and how they are visually represented through the medium of photography.

Youngs on You were there, too.

My photographs are an investigation of how the nature of my relationships with those I photograph is visually represented. Gesture, location, and position of subject raise questions about the ways in which my interactions with the subjects exist and the space we occupy, even as it relates to self-portraiture. Some relational elements are clear, while others are questionable. This is meant to be the case, with the only consistent elements being the presence of me and the subject, as well as an awareness of my medium.

These are ideas I began exploring a couple of years ago when my father agreed to embark upon an interactive and photographic journey with me. The primary objective was to see in what ways my artistic medium could unpack our relationship using both words and photographs. I wrote a series of questions that I considered relationship defining or “things I would love to know”, and asked him to answer them via email. He responded willingly and with more beautiful answers than I had anticipated. I placed the words and photos next to one another to explore the ways in which they interact.

After working with someone as close as my father and exploring our relationship through this process, I found interest in seeing how this worked with other relationships in my life. You were there, too. investigates the ways in which my relationships can be represented through words and portraits. The words are not mine, but serve as a dynamic representation of what the subject is willing to say, or not say about “us.” The camera sits between us, but serves as a literal lens through which to see the idiosyncrasies of our relationship and how we interact. Together, the words and portraits indulge the viewer in information they might or might not ask about the subject, the medium, and the picture taker.

The results are three small books which visually represent small pieces of “us.”


More about Davin Youngs:

website, blog, myspace, flickr

Online projects he’s a part of:

The Ones We Love is an online portfolio of intimate portraits of those whom the photographers love.

Fjord is collection of emerging photographers on the internet, eventually to be formed into a book.

Anything is a self-editing collaborative magazine that lets its contributors freely add/edit any image or text to it, as often as they wish. In each of its 64 main pages, there is an area allocated for 1 image (left side) and 1 body of text (right side). Upon registration, each contributor is asked to choose whether they wish to upload image or text, and they are permanently assigned a random page (shared with another contributor). In addition to the 64 pages, visitors can also click on Show Me Anything!, which randomly combines any of the currently available images and text to create a ‘new’ page.

Interview with Davin Youngs

Davin Youngs was interviewed via Skype on February 22nd, 2008 by Oliver Wise and Eleanor Hanson Wise of The Present Group.

Listen: (39:20) 

icon for podpress  Interview with Davin youngs [39:21m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download


The Space Between Us and Ourselves by Scott Oliver

It’s an understatement to say that the people who surround us, especially those we call familiar, tell us a lot about who we are. Indeed it is difficult to imagine having any sense of one’s self without the presence of others. Perhaps this is why we associate solitude and isolation with madness. Certainly our ideas about individuality and personal freedom are dependent upon a group (and social and cultural norms within that group). But more to the point our identities are inextricably bound up in the relationships we have with others. We see ourselves reflected back to us in their actions and words, in the things they share or withhold from us, and in our misunderstandings as much as our unanimity. The constant influx of external information has an internal counterpart as we perpetually revise and update the story of our lives, constructing and reconstructing an image of ourselves that is responsive to our surroundings. Without this ongoing social process we would not so much lose ourselves, as lose our places. Then again, just who and where we are seem rather inextricable too.A Project With My Father

All this negotiating of the self in relation to others – what contemporary psychoanalysis has termed intersubjectivity – is at the heart of Davin Youngs’ photographic portraiture. Rather than focus exclusively on the literal subjects of his photos, or his own subjectivity as a photographer, Youngs prefers to concentrate on the dynamic space that arises between these, and more specifically, on the transactions that take place therein. Larry Sultan‘s Pictures from Home (1982-91) and Jim Goldberg‘s Raised by Wolves (1985-95) are significant precedents that come to mind, but the camera itself provides equal encouragement for such reciprocal approaches to photography. Creating simultaneous intimacy and distance, the camera’s lens lends itself to a certain reflexivity- a looking at looking. Of course this is all with the benefit of hindsight, but it seems inevitable that photographers would begin to think about the agency of their subjects and involve them more directly in the taking and making of their images, even as it complicates representation and challenges traditionally held beliefs about the camera’s objectivity.

Larry SultanAs with Sultan’s Pictures from Home, Youngs interest in creating a feedback loop with his subjects -opening up a space for the co-creation of meaning- began at home. In A Project with My Father (2007), Youngs initiated an e-mail correspondence with his dad wherein he asked pointed questions about their relationship. Just before and during this period of correspondence Youngs made portraits of himself and his father. He presented these, interspersed with text from their correspondence, and historical portraits of Youngs grandfather (his dad’s dad) in a right-to-left, scrolling narrative on his web site. Ultimately another transactional space is opened up here, that between the viewer and the artwork- or more precisely, between the viewer, the artist, and the subject.

In You were there, too, Youngs focuses on his relationships with three long-time friends. In many ways the project is an expansion of A Project with My Father, but less didactic and more ambiguous. The final form is a set of three intimately sized booklets, each entitled with the name of their respective subjects: Jennifer, Sara, and David. Each contains portraits of these individuals taken over an undefined period of time (hairstyles, clothes, and eyeglasses change, and there is a sense these people have aged, even if only slightly). As with his father Youngs has prompted his friends to reflect on their relationships with him in writing, and again he has paired their words with his images. But this time his visage and questions are absent, allowing for only an implied presence.

The effect is subtle, one of emotional mood rather than detailed biography. The text and images resonate with one another but do not provide much in terms of specific knowledge. Instead one is left with a feeling about each of the relationships depicted: stormy and perhaps unbalanced with Jennifer (the most forthcoming of the three); comfortably familial with Sara; somewhat cagey and reserved with David. But I do not quite trust these feelings. I know these portraits are partial, transitory, in-progress- permanently provisional. What strikes me more sharply about Youngs’ project is the shared awareness (consciously or not) of transition and change. All the people that make up this constellation of relationships- Jennifer, Sara, David, and Davin- are in their late twenties. My own late twenties might be best characterized as bittersweet. With childhood sufficiently distant and the twenty-year-old’s field of fuzzy possibility somewhat foreshortened it is a time marked by the dawning realization that life is finite. This is what You were there, too best captures. And the sense of impending adulthood (and accompanying melancholy) is made almost palpable as each participant recalls their history with Youngs and reaffirms the constancy of their relationship with him.

While Youngs’ project is highly personal his process is certainly not. We may easily enter into it through our own experiences with the ubiquitous medium of photography. That is to say, unlike oil painting or welding most of us have used a camera, and even more of us have been photographed. And like Youngs, we use photography to document our relationships and fortify our memories so that we might always know where we have been. But photographs can raise as many questions as they answer. I have often looked into the two dimensional eyes of my younger self, studied my facial expression and body language and wondered, “who is that person!?” “What was I thinking about?” “How did I imagine my future?” Youngs seems to be accounting for this indeterminacy of photographs upfront, building it into the interpretation of his images as he invites his subjects to become participants, and his audience members to become witnesses. You were there, too, is not simply a reference to Youngs’ subjects, but to us as well- invoking the cameras’ special ability to act as our proxy while undermining our trust in its fidelity. What emerges is an oblique, complex and shifting form of self-portraiture, open to multiple readings.


Scott Oliver is a sculptor and project-based artist living and working in Oakland, California. His work has been exhibited at UCLA in Los Angeles, Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery in Portland, Oregon, and Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. He has shown widely at local venues, including the Oakland Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco Arts Commission, Southern Exposure, and the de Young Art Center.

In September of 2005 Oliver co-founded Shotgun Review, a web site featuring reviews of Bay Area art exhibitions, with collaborator Joseph del Pesco. Oliver was a 2007 artist-in-residence at SF Recycling & Disposal (a.k.a. the city dump) and will be teaching in the sculpture department at UC Berkeley this fall.

Annotated Links

Links to photographers from which Davin draws inspiration:Whitney Hubbs

JH Engstrom
Mark Borthwick
Collier Schorr
Melanie Sciff
Laura Letinsky
Whitney Hubbs
Gerhard Richter (painter)

Blogging Photographers:

Sannah Kvist
Jason Nocito
Shane Lavalette
– photog who blogs about photogs.
Fjord Photo project – Mentioned in the interview, a website started “in order to bring together a collection of notable photographers from the internet and [eventually] showcase their work in book form.”

“I love the art books and fanzines that Nieves publishing makes. They are a constant source of inspiration.”


Links from Scott Oliver’s “The Space Between Us and Ourselves”

Larry Sultan: Practicing golf swing
Larry Sultan
: Many parallels with Davin, in that they both often spend time photographing their parents. Read a review of his “Pictures from Home” and look at some bigger pictures here.

Jim Goldberg: photographer whose dipicitons of street teenagers changed the way much of the way this country views children. “Raised by Wolves” is a multimedia book where the story is written by those depicted, as well as audio recordings, and photos taken by Goldberg

“Photo Subjects Have Their Say”: Michelle Golden writes about the sudden unexpected “fame” on the subjects of well known photographers.

Intersubjectivity: “Intersubjectivity is ‘The sharing of subjective states by two or more individuals.’ (Scheff 2006) …Intersubjectivity emphasizes that shared cognition and consensus is essential in the shaping of our ideas and relations.”


Some other related links:


Sally Mann – Her two well known series, “Family Pictures” and “Immediate Family”, depict her children as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Some have viewed the work as controversial in the sexual tension that is present in during these years. She and her children have both called the images “natural” and “innocent”. She sees her children as collaborators in the making of these images. A gallery of her work

Emmet Gowen: A good portion of his photographs are of his wife Edith. David Sax writes an article about Photographers and their muses in the Smithsonian Magazine.

Nan Golden has taken snapshot-style photographs in color almost exclusively of close people and friends in her life, even during very intimate moments. She considers her ability to group photos through the use of slideshows even more of her talent than the her talant as a photographer.


A review ofShoot the Family” a Mass Art show curated by Ralph Rugoff, director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco

A similar grouping of photographers in “So the Story Goes” at the Art Institute in Chicago.


You can use this space to share your thoughts on the work, ideas it brings up, anything you want to talk about. Unless you are spam. Then boo for you.

This time, we’re starting a new feature!!

Davin has agreed to check in with this board for the week of

March 23rd through 29th

in order to speak with you directly, answer any questions you may have, or field any comments in general.

Our first space!

Sure it’s only for one day, but you gotta start somewhere.



We’re starting in Old Oakland. Where?

465 9th street (9th & Broadway), Oakland. September 5th, 2008, 5-10PM. We’ll be showing TPG7 as well as an (almost) two year Present Group Retrospective. Here’s some more info.

posted: August 29, 2008

Exhibits: WE | Davin Youngs

TPG #5 artist Davin Youngs shows a new collection of photos in Chicago in February.  Davin’s photos are wonderfully romantic, tactile, and beautiful. Should be a good show.


Photographs signify participation. They are visual representations of the ways in which space and relationships are navigated and/or participated in. WE is artist Davin Young’s expression of desire for thorough, deep and unique participation in the world and with those around him. This participation can span from isolation to intimacy.

Created without special lenses or digital editing, these images were achieved by somewhat simple (or complicated?) participation. Davin was close enough to capture and removed enough to observe. They are meant to share unique moments, but also serve as an invitation for you to participate, too. The hope is that together WE can collectively observe, enjoy and create.

February 5 – February 27 2010
Opening Reception: February 5  7-11pm

Fill in the Blank Gallery

5038 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625

Web hosting that supports artists.


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