Written review by
Associate Curator, International Center of Photography
To me, Yen-Yi’s most beautiful and powerful images are the ones of the homeless - the unaware subjects. His images are literature-like, reminiscent of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and, closer to us, The Dispossessed, by Robert Mc Liam Wilson and Donovan Wylie. Yen-Yin shows a sincere respect, modesty and concern for the ones he portrays.
I am particularly drawn to image 1, the man surrounded with wild trees - beautifully composed, like a theater stage. Image 4 is also extremely well composed and moving. This body, dead or alive, at the center of the image, provokes a complete focus of the emotion. I am also deeply interested by image 5: this man – with his arresting body posture and his dark glasses in the night, seems like he is posing in a Takeshi Kitano kind of way: violently resigned.
Image 10 might be the darkest in many ways. Borderline Weegee-esque. The loneliness is immense and the feeling of death very present. In all these images, nobody is looking, or interested. Only Yen-Yi. Images 12 and 13 are very interesting, in a much lighter way. I love the mural and I love the bar scene – very oneiric. Image 14 is also intriguing, but a tighter frame, more centered, would have made it stronger. And I do like that Moriyama-like blurry cat, again, very oneiric.
The composition is very interesting, too, with its intertwined curves and straight lines. Image 2, I find more classic and lackluster. The character to the right is interesting, but stuck in a place he should not be in. Image 3 could be good but the use of the light is not the best, it is too homogenously grey. Photo 6 also suffers from too much light in the background. A darker background would have made it a much stronger image. Images 7 and 8 are also “nice but classic”. Image 11 doesn’t do much for me. Picture 9 is a good portrait, but too far from the existential core of this work. I suppose in another context I would appreciate it more: it would be a good photo for a fashion or rock’n roll magazine.
I would encourage Yen-Yin to pursue his series of portraits of the homeless and the dispossessed, and write along, or have someone write along, to establish a modern portrayal of this fringe of the society the way Walker Evans and James Agee did in the 1930’s. I like the sincerity of his posture and think that there needs to be more similar works on this subject.