For the past few years, the photographs of my friend, David Yarrow, have never failed to stop me in my tracks. Until yesterday, I thought I knew the great sweep of his work. It was then, while flipping through a photography magazine, I came upon an image I regularly attributed to another photographer. It was, in fact, David’s– and I should have known. Taken at sea, near Cape Town in 2010, the black and white features a great white shark flicking a hapless seal into the air. The caption reads that Yarrow scored this image “after about 10 unsuccessful trips.” With one click, he claims, his life changed.
Upon viewing it, I feel mine shifting as well. Through the titan’s gimlet eye, serrated teeth and his victim’s arc of desperation, I am transported into an allegorical, even Biblical, reality. Through the image, I write my own story of the wild.
So it is with most Yarrow photographs: foreboding, awe, and presentiment, as prelude to recognition. What through the eye of another feels arm’s length, with Yarrow is intimate, disturbing, reassuring and huge. I mean really huge. The artist literally impales us with the world’s grandeur by proving its simplicity. He presents us with the first line of a story, and requires us to fill in the ending. Stare down that herd of elephants beating the evening storm, or those tigers stalking the camera, or dogsleds bound for nowhere, or giraffe, running flat out, exploding clods of dust, or, or— and, through the artist, you will live 1000 lives and more deaths. You will also be transported to somewhere far, within reach. Yarrow is everywhere, capturing eternity.
And as for the man? Frankly, David Yarrow is a maddening friend. Anyone who possesses such a disarming smile, matinée looks and seductive charm should not, by rights, possess oversize talent. Who wants to know he was once a successful asset manager, ace skier, esteemed sports photographer? Does he look back and gloat? I would argue he is insensible to the past, so dedicated is he to capturing the next pregnant moment in the wild.
Was Yarrow imagining Genesis when he slipped into a South Sudan conflict zone to mix it up in a Dinka cattle camp not far from the Nile? The resulting image has now become a talisman of his career. He calls it Mankind, as if you need to be told. Dust, lyre shaped horns, sentinel bodies, and dust the cement of sentience: this is what we were– fountainhead humans without a better thought than the present.
The Mankind image is story, prelude to a dream, but so, I argue, are all his others.
David Yarrow is the artist we need in this uncertain, harrowing, beautiful world. Call him timeless, and necessary.