After realising he wasn’t going to play basketball as a career, Andre Wagner channeled his energy into photography.
Wagner, who studied social work in college, decided to become a photographer, incorporating what he had learned in his studies.
He moved from his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, to New York City, where he started graduate school but stopped after getting a studio photography job at Fab, the e-commerce website.
Last June, however, he was laid off. He dove into freelance work and his own personal project — documenting moments on the streets of New York City. He often heads to crowded areas like Midtown to capture the rush of crowds who are too busy to care about a photographer.
Since then, Wagner has exhibited in Paris and New York, and most recently in Los Angeles.
“The finances aren’t always what I want them to be, but things always find a way to work themselves out,” he told Business Insider. “The fact that I’m not homeless at this point, sometimes I have to pinch myself.”
New York City is a perfect place for Wagner to take photos, as the amount of people he can capture is never-ending. He does, however, tend to gravitate towards certain areas.
He likes to shoot a lot around his neighbourhood of Bushwick, around Midtown during the rush hours of the work week, and in SoHo where there are people wearing all sorts of interesting clothing.
Wagner's passion project -- photographing strangers as they pass on the streets -- has become less nerve wracking with time. He says it's most difficult to do when he's alone with just one or two people on a block; it's much easier in bustling areas where people are hurrying along.
Wagner shoots on film using a Leica camera, but his process is quick. He is able to react quickly, sometimes in less than a second, to moments he wants to capture. His philosophy is to shoot first, and deal with everything else later.
On a summer day in nice weather, Wagner may be out in the streets for hours, and shoot as many as 10 rolls of film.
Wagner says the toughest part of his process is sorting through all the photos he takes. He's gotten into a habit of using time on weekends to select images to post on social media for the week, so he can work at his usual frenetic pace on weekdays.
Wagner has nearly 20,000 followers on Instagram, and a big Tumblr following as well. But je feels that images posted online (especially those on Instagram) are often too quickly consumed. He prefers galleries and books, but realises his digital presence is an important element to his career.
He's not interested in taking photos of popular trends, instead preferring to document society and this period of time for people to look back at in 10, 20, or 50 years from now. 'It's hard to really look at your work when you're so in the moment, in the day-to-day,' Wagner says.
It's not far off to compare Wagner's style to that of legends of the past, such as Robert Frank or his personal hero Garry Winogrand, who both captured America through a black-and-white lens with a similar passion.
He tries not to exclude anything from his photos. One minute he may be shooting a child caught mid-smile, but the next he'll be capturing a man passed out on the ground. He simply gives himself to the world with his photography.
'Winogrand sought not to control but to submit to photography and the world as far as he could, and not to get novel pictures but to get closer to raw, unknowable life,' Wagner once wrote on his Tumblr page, citing one of his role models. It is a philosophy Wagner seems to abide by in his own process.
Wagner's self-published book, 'The Purist Vol. 1,' features images from his trips to London, Paris, and Copenhagen. He says that he printed about 300 copies of it, and so far has sold 75% of them. He is working on a third book, which he hopes to put out in the near future.
Photography books are not as common a medium in today's times, but Wagner feels it is important to showcase his work in that way and have the images reach people through that platform. He is also a big collector of photo books himself.
He speaks with great enthusiasm about how beautiful Paris is, and says that if he were to ever leave New York, he would probably head to Europe.
Wagner's commitment to photography has infiltrated every part of his life: He has a working darkroom in his apartment, and uses his kitchen as a base of operations to develop, edit, and print his work. He's hands-on throughout the whole process, and just as with shooting film, finds it incredibly rewarding -- even if it can be expensive.
Wagner's work has often been praised for its powerful and forward-thinking images of black culture, but he doesn't want people to think of him only in that box. He does not filter what he chooses to shoot based on anything but the moments and the people themselves. He does not try to push any kind of agenda, instead just simply capturing life how it is and sharing that.
Wagner told us about an interview he watched where actor Bruce Lee was asked a question about race. Lee responded, 'Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family. It just so happens that people are different.' It's a unifying view of people that Wagner hopes to showcase in his own work.
'I think it's good that we're all different and unique. If we were walking around and everyone was the same, I'd probably get pretty bored,' he says.
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