I think it is important to be very clear about who influences your work, it can help form a path for you to follow, it clarifies your message and makes the process of actually getting out there and shooting easier.
For the past year I've been following the work of Andre Wagner, a photographer and artist who currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
It's obvious as soon as you look at his work that he draws his influences from Garry Winogrand, Gordan Parks and Robert Frank. His photographic style is timeless.
In this article I want to share a few lessons I've learnt from following Wagner's work.
1. Apply what you know
Andre Wagner, grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. He studied social work in university and in various interviews has mentioned how his background in social work feeds into his photography.
"I think my background in social work has a big impact on my work, maybe not visually but theoretically. Before one snaps the shutter, it starts with what the photographer thinks is important. When I’m working on a body of work, it always comes down to what it is I’m trying to say." ICP Interview
Knowing why you want to press the shutter, is what helps build the story you are trying to tell. Otherwise it can become a collection process, just snapping everything and anything.
"Living in Omaha has definitely given me a framework as to how I think about the world, which influences how I see the world and that's gonna influence my pictures because I'm stuck with my own psychology and who I am. What interests me is what I'm gonna take photographs of so everything in my life impacts my work like living in Omaha or going to college or social work." The Fader
I think we spend so much time online dreaming of having other peoples circumstances. My dream is to be a photographer in New York, but that's someone else's thing, why do I want that reality?
What I've realised is that everyone has a story to tell, every town, every city has potential. I've become more determined to tell my story through the city in which I live.
2. Find a process and stick to it
Andre Wagner has a very clear visual aesthetic that comes from his consistent use of a 28mm wide lens and 35mm Kodak Tri-X pushed to 800 or 1600. His images are poetic, the subject always seem in motion and there is a natural energy in his photos that I believe in part, comes from his dedication to a process.
He has decided to shoot film and stick with it. Focusing on one single process and mastering that, allows for more time and freedom in what you actually shoot.
"Part of it is because the process of shooting analog and looking back through old contact sheets is like reliving the moment the photo was taken in. It’s not like a digital camera, where you have an image right there. Spending a little bit more time means that it’s easier for me to select compelling images."
Shooting on film naturally means there is a delay in viewing those images. Sure you might be able to get home, develop and scan later that day, but there is something in the process of waiting and allowing time before developing your film. You can easily distance yourself from the images and be more judgemental when selecting the most compelling images.
"For instance, if I shoot a roll today, develop it, and look at the images right away, then I’ll think, “All these images look great,” when most of them don’t actually look good. I try to be hard on myself while I’m editing because I shoot a lot, and if I don’t edit the work properly, then the quality and voice of it gets lost." The Great Discontent
That extra distance from your work, leaving time before selecting and sharing images can feed into making the process of curating a show or book easier. It allows time for a story to develop.
"I’m interested in so much when I’m shooting because New York is so stimulating. This city is full of different cultures and languages, the unique ways people look and dress, structures, transportation, street life. I think about so much, and that’s how I shoot; I don’t count anything out. But when I go back and edit I try to narrow my focus. I ask myself, “Am I going to curate a show or a book, or am I trying to tell a specific story?” Once I decide on my focus, I look at my images with that in mind. I might think about that focus when I’m shooting if I’m working on a specific project, but in the day-to-day I shoot whatever catches my eye."
"As a photographer, I’ve dedicated myself to noticing what everybody else is missing. I show people what the world actually looks like. Street photography is so special because it’s about capturing everyday moments. It’s not produced. It’s not like I’m creating movie scenes or anything—I’m literally out reacting to the world. There is so much importance to that, and I enjoy taking pictures that way."
I love that, "Noticing what everybody else is missing". It's part of what makes photography so exciting to me, you are capturing moments that will be gone forever if they aren't photographed. I think Wagner's philosophy draws similarities to that of Winogrand who had this desire to photograph, simply to see what the world looked like photographed. Wagner goes further, he wants to capture those moments that have a truth, a story and a message.
3. Define yourself
I have a lot of respect for Andre, for a while I couldn't quite put my finger on what made his work so attractive to me. In part, I think it comes down to his (for lack of a better word) "coolness". There is a quiet confidence that he carries, an awareness of his purpose, capturing the poetic moments of life and documenting what everyone else is missing.
Interestingly Wagner doesn't like the term street photographer, much like Winogrand.
"I think people often wanna categorise me as a street photographer and I hate that term because it's cheesy. Now, when people hear street photography most people think of street style like "Oh, you shoot fashionable people on the streets?" or they'll think "Oh, street photography! He shoots poor people on the street!" So you know, street photography has all these stigmas that are super lame. "Here's Andre Wagner, he does street photography" — like that's not helping the viewer get to a point to experience my work. I'd just be like "Hey, here's Andre Wagner. He's a photographer." My style is pure photography in the sense that I want images to be able to stand on their own. This isn't protest photography or photojournalism or street photography. These are photographs that Andre Wagner doesn't need to explain for the viewers to feel something from it." The Fader
The biggest lesson I have learnt from Andre Wagner and what makes his work stand out from the increasingly saturated street photography scene, is that he has a confidence in what he is trying to say. There is no show or mystery, his photography is pure, straight photography. It has a message, he doesn't have to define what that message is, it's just clear and compels the viewer to form their own feelings from it.
My goal is to find the story I want to tell, I want to be able to present a body a work that speaks for itself. I want to be dedicated to a process and master that.