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Devin Gatling, Urban Photography for Urban Justice

Urban photographer Devin Gatling is a rising leader in the artistic revolution seeking to refocus on authenticity over aestheticism. Gatling’s work captures the raw experiences of life lived between looming buildings and concrete, shining a light on the oft-overlooked subtleties of human experience and connection in New York City.

BLM protesters in Brooklyn, New York 2020

Born and raised in Queens, NY, Gatling began his artistic career with street photography since it was “the easiest and quickest way to produce content.” However, he quickly found that street photography was not only convenient, but compelling, due to the genre’s unique authenticity in comparison with portraiture or commercial photography.

While the term “New York street photography” often conjures up images of Times Square at night or models photographed during Fashion Week, it is notable to differentiate between street photography and its subset, urban photography, which is Gatling’s genre of choice. The history of street photography in general dates back to the 19th century, when the advent of portable cameras allowed photographers to venture outside their studios and into the city for a more authentic atmosphere and inspiration.

Man walking down street in Denver

While street photography is characterized generally as photography captured spontaneously in urban environs, urban photography is differentiated by its storytelling component, seeking to capture not only the architecture and atmosphere of urban life, but the stories of the people who live it.

Gatling is an urban photographer at his core, focused on photographing marginalized individuals and communities to shine a light on social justice issues such as poverty, discrimination, and homelessness. While there obviously isn’t much money in social justice oriented street photography,

“I’m willing to go broke in this pursuit,”

said Gatling.

Gatling is nothing but dedicated to illustrating the less glamorous realities of urban life to create empathy and an appetite for change in New York City and other metros confronting the same issues.

Bus terminal in Denver, Colorado

Gatling’s greatest talent, perhaps, lies in his ability to sort through the clutter of urban environments to find the stories and compositional symmetry that define his photographic style. While individuals doing mundane activities such as riding the subway or waiting for their clothes at a late-night laundromat typically do not draw attention, they are characters that are commonplace to every urban environment and represent a universal, urban phenoms, such as solitude in this example, that makes Gatling’s work fundamentally relatable.

Gatling’s photographs are intimate; from catching eyes with the stranger on the bus, to the awkward and comedic moment when you run into a person on the sidewalk and to pass by you both step in the same direction only to run into each other again.

Woman in fish market in Chinatown, Manhattan

Gatling’s focus is on presenting the organic stories of people in the landscapes they call home. While urban photography is often characterized by cold cityscapes, Gatling’s style manages to be both hyper-urban in composition and atmospherically warm by capturing the rawness of human experience.

While Gatling is primarily focused on urban photography, he occasionally photographs commissioned works for commercial or portrait use. Whether on the streets or in the studio, Gatling is admirably consistent in his dedication to capturing authentic stories, focusing on creating an environment where his clients feel as comfortable and confident as possible.

Motorcyclist in Rocky Mountains

“I have a routine; it’s like a little ice breaker. I try to get them laughing, to know a little more about them. Shake your arms and legs out. Take some deep breaths,” Gatling said. Chuckling, Gatling admitted that he often does his “routine,” with his clients to help them feel more at home.

Being in front of the camera can often make people feel uncomfortable, drawing out insecurities, but Gatling’s goal is to help his clients be their authentic selves in front of the camera, embracing their insecurities as part of the story that has made them who they are. And when Gatling is behind the lens, you can be certain that your story will be captured beautifully.

For Gatling, “good photography” requires a “good message,” which he defines as,

“something a photographer advocates for that brings value to people, helps people, shares your own personal story, and always connects back to the artist.”

Gatling’s work is particularly refreshing in today’s world where photos come easy but content often lacks character and intention. Not only does Gatling’s growing fan base of 11,000 Instagram followers prove that there is an appetite to refocus artistic content on authenticity over aestheticism, but Gatling’s skillfully composed photographs demonstrate that authenticity and aestheticism are not mutually exclusive.

Check out his exhibition;

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