Somewhere in Venice, a bustling restaurant is completely booked, even though it’s submerged in a flood. Somewhere in Hanoi, a mother cautiously pushes a stroller into a swarm of honking cars, mopeds and bicycles who instinctively veer around her. And somewhere in Havana, a former nursery school teacher who has always dreamed of leaving Cuba to sing on a stage slips on a dress, heads to Obispo Street, and belts out an angelic call for anyone and everyone to come buy the peanuts she’s selling.
For the past six years, photographer and filmmaker Sam Youkilis has been wandering the globe with an iPhone, finding the poetic in the mundane, and documenting it on his Instagram page for his more-than half a million followers. In an age when so much travel photography blurs together on social media, Youkilis has seemingly pioneered a new form of narrative storytelling.
Instead of Photoshopped landscapes and perfectly plated meals, Youkilis’ short, vertical videos – which highlight everything from mochi-making in Nara to the harvesting of olive oil in Umbria to a montage of stray cats of Greece – celebrate the time-honoured customs and gentle rites that make the world so wondrously diverse while capturing the essence of a place.
“Beautiful things are happening around us all of the time, and my work is often the result of trying to pay attention to these things or waiting for them to happen,” Youkilis said.
To do that, Youkilis says he will often walk up to 15 miles a day, observing people, noticing details that interest him and generally absorbing a place as a flaner. Then, once things happen within frames that catch his eye, he’ll start recording. The result is a study of humanity that blurs the line between travel photography, voyeurism and anthropology, with each video revealing a fleeting glimpse of a place and time.
Now, much of Youkilis’ digital work from 2017 to 2023 is being compiled into his first book of stills called – rather appropriately – Somewhere. The 528-page monograph loosely traces the arc of a day across the planet, opening as dawn breaks across the canals of Xochimilco in Mexico City and ending with the last gasps of light in Essaouira, Morocco.