David Yarrow has been around the block, to say the least.
One of the Glasgow native’s first major gigs was the 1986 FIFA World Cup Final in Mexico City, where he snapped a famous shot of Argentinian star Diego Maradona hoisting the trophy. Since then, he’s travelled across continents documenting athletic icons, supermodels, wildlife and much more. Fifty-odd galleries around the world showcase his stuff.
Yarrow’s most recent Sea to Sky trip took place last January. He’s back at the Whistler Contemporary Gallery at the Four Seasons Whistler on Feb. 23 to speak and meet with collectors. A display of Yarrow’s eye-catching monochrome images will go up at the gallery from Feb. 21 to 25.
The acclaimed photographer tends to visit a lot of ski resorts, having recently been to Aspen, Colo. and St. Moritz, Switzerland. So how does Whistler stand out to him?
“The strange thing about Whistler is that even though it’s quite a long way from the U.K., there’s a lot of British people there, so I feel quite at home amidst the culture,” Yarrow says. “The TV screens all show football. I know far more people in Whistler than I do in a lot of Colorado ski resorts. I enjoy the culture, the place and the bars. I’ve got good friends there.”
The Scotsman also believes his work lends itself well to affluent ski resorts. He had initial difficulty breaking into the Canadian market some nine or 10 years ago in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver—despite having covered the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. One of his professional contacts recommended he try Whistler due to its similarity to the profitable Colorado market.
From savannas to storytelling
Although many might know him for his pictures of nature, it’s been a while since Yarrow has focused on that realm.
“I think that the key to art is authenticity and originality, and photography is the most accessible art form in the world,” he says. “When I had a bit of success photographing the natural world, I think it’s fair to say a few people tried to copy a little bit of what I was doing in terms of immersive, close-up photography with a sort of intimacy to it.
“Now there are a lot of people in that crowded wildlife space, and it’s questionable whether wildlife photography is art because it’s recording reality. Therefore, it’s something that everyone can do. I don’t really see why someone in Whistler would want a picture of an elephant on their wall … but I do enjoy the storytelling side of things now. It’s less easy to imitate, it’s interpretive, it’s more creative and more challenging.”
Yarrow has captured the stories of an impressive celebrity lineup, including Manchester City striker Erling Haaland, NFL greats Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, and supermodels Cara Delevingne and Cindy Crawford. That’s in addition to his work documenting landscapes, natural disasters, and Indigenous peoples. His ambassadorial commitments have included Nikon, WildArk and the Kevin Richardson Foundation.
He’s pretty much seen and done it all in his field, and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.
‘What has changed’
Cameraman, author and conservationist he may be, but Yarrow can also be quite the giver of hot takes if you invite him to do so.
“I think there is a lot of nonsense spoken about photography right now, and the first one is that it’s becoming more accepted into the art world,” he opines. “If you go to places like Art Basel in Miami Beach—and I’ve been going for a long time—photography was maybe five per cent of the work on show 10 years ago, and it hasn’t really moved.
“What has changed is that everyone now is a photographer. There were more pictures taken in the last three days than in the whole history of film. We live in an era where there is so much content—too much content—and therefore the price of that content is falling.”
To underscore his point, Yarrow cites the precipitous decline of Sports Illustrated. The 70-year-old publication, once revered as the gospel and benchmark of sports journalism itself, is on life support after publisher The Arena Group announced it was laying off the majority of its staff. Digital media, with its immediate gratification and ability to cater to short attention spans, continues to threaten its traditional print counterpart at all levels of the industry.
Yarrow would also argue today’s prevailing social attitudes stand in direct opposition to what he views as the principal genres of fine art photography.
“Thirty years ago, the two main forms of fine art photography were the female form—a sort of semi-eroticism—and a wider objectification of women. Now, both of those areas could conceivably get you cancelled,” he remarks. “If [acclaimed fashion photographer] Helmut Newton was 18 years old now, I don’t think he’d have quite as good a career as he did 50 years ago.
“The photography industry is, I would say, under a little bit of pressure. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I think it’s where [my team and I] have been quite smart, because … we photograph women fully-clothed, and we make women the centrepieces of a lot of our work.”
The veteran shooter doesn’t plan to hang up his camera anytime soon. Perhaps he may never retire, at least not in the traditional sense of lounging around drinking margaritas on a beach. He loves what he does too much to consider it “work,” and his desire to get better remains ever bright.
“I think my character is one where I’m not really that interested in yesterday. In life, I’m really more interested in tomorrow,” Yarrow explains. “As a photographer, you should get better, so you’ve got to believe that your best pictures haven’t been taken yet. I think as you grow older, you realize that the best parts of your life in some areas are going to be behind you, but the better photographs can be ahead.”
Learn more about Yarrow’s next visit to Whistler at whistlerart.com/show/whistler-contemporary-gallery-david-yarrow-whistler-exhibition.