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Sam Youkilis

Work / Photography

Sam Youkilis uses scale, form and colour to challenge the tropes of travel photography

“My photos are excerpts from the world and reduce the subject and landscape to formal elements of geometry and colour,” states New York City born-and-bred photographer Sam Youkilis. Having spent most of the past year travelling through South America, Europe and Mexico, Sam’s portfolio demonstrates his “pursuit of idealised landscapes and the way people navigate them,” through visually reductive images that play with scale and tone to skew perception.

Sam discovered his love of the creative world during high school when he started painting and drawing. “With drawing, I was obsessed with developing technical skills but when I started taking pictures [by accident a few years in], inserting my hand and developing a style was intuitive and organic,” he tells us. To start with, his friends were his subjects – portraits littered with the occasional landscape taken on a “cheap 35mm camera” created a “dark and gritty” panorama of the lives of kids growing up in New York City. Over the years, however, Sam’s practice has matured and developed. “As I’ve gotten a bit older my palette has changed and I’ve shifted from people to things and places. My photographs have become cleaner, more formal and a lot more about colour,” he explains.

This fascination with colour is evident throughout Sam’s work where the heads of the girls swimming puncture the surface of seemingly endless aqua-blue water, or the profile of a man sits silhouetted against a pink and yellow gradient sky. “Although there isn’t manipulation, they feel surreal and collage-like,” Sam describes. Beyond his study of colour, however, Sam’s images are a celebration of the natural world and how its landscapes have become “destinations”. Through apparently disparate images, Sam builds a narrative which examines human habits of travel.

“I’m interested in how people devise travel plans around visiting famous sites, the photographs they take as evidence of their visit and the strangeness of how they move within them,” he explains. “The people in the photographs reflect this while reaffirming the realness of these strange and abstracted places, while also indicating scale.”

Sam’s most recent body of work was made while travelling from Northern Colombia to Buenos Aires. “I had never been to South America and wanted to continue learning Spanish and making photographs through travel,” he recalls. Having bought a one-way ticket to Bogota, he spent the summer travelling to the Argentinian capital by bus, a journey which took just under 90 days. It’s this innate curiosity and want to see the world which imbues Sam’s photographs with such energy. Far from the presenting the well-known tropes of travel photography, however, Sam has developed a keen eye for shape, form and colour which alienates subjects from any discernible settings. His images, whether taken in Barcelona, Coney Island or Budapest, lose their relation to any particular place, presenting Sam’s idiosyncratic view of the world.

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