THE PHOTOGRAPHS OF Andre D. Wagner celebrate everyday excellence and the power of fleeting moments. The New York-based street photographer trains his camera primarily on African Americans throughout the city, documenting the many untold stories found in neighborhoods from Brooklyn and Harlem. His images of blackness have recently been featured in the New York Times, Aperture, Time, and Viceland.
Wagner is from Omaha, Neb., and lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He has an undergraduate degree in social work from Buena Vista University in Iowa where he took one class in photography his freshman year because he thought it would be easy and free up more time to play basketball. When he moved to New York to study for a masters in social work, the energy, pace, and dynamic culture of the city—the opposite of what he was accustomed to in Nebraska and Iowa—compelled him to pick up a camera again.
Describing himself as a people person, who is a well known to his neighbors, he says the key to his work is always being aware of people’s physical presence and putting himself in other people’s shoes. He likens the skills necessary to get the perfect image—being in the right place at the right moment—to the timing required to succeed on the basketball court.
His many photographs of black fathers are a badge of pride. He spots them on the street being great parents all the time and emphasizes the normalcy of such images, despite how they are usually portrayed in mass media.
The photographer talks about his work in a recent video for Viceland. “My life experiences and the things that I see that might counter what’s talked about in popular culture is definitely something I am thinking about and I want my work to be in dialogue with,” Wagner says. “I photograph all aspects of life, some are more tough than others, but I want all of it. I want the happy times and I want the bad times.”
“I photograph all aspects of life, some are more tough than others, but I want all of it. I want the happy times and I want the bad times.” — Andre D. Wagner, Viceland
Wagner’s first monograph, “Here for the Ride,” was recently published in a limited edition of 750 copies. It gathers his images of the New York City subway, stringing together a compelling visual narrative of the public transportation system, a microcosm of the diverse city that is an essential presence in the daily lives of New Yorkers.
His striking images also illustrate a New York Times Black History Month essay by Rembert Browne that rather than focusing on outsized heroes and legendary pioneers, considers everyday figures holding it down for their families and communities.
Wagner has made portraits of well-known cultural figures, including Mahershala Ali, Issa Rae, Erykah Badu, and Dapper Dan, and explored New Orleans for the city’s tourism agency. His commissions have also illustrated stories about race and architecture for Curbed, the affects of incarceration on families for The Atlantic, and lynching in America for the Equal Justice Initiative, among many other important issues.
THE WORK OF GORDON PARKS has been a critical influence on his outlook and approach to making images of people. Wagner was introduced to the legendary Life magazine photographer and filmmaker when a friend gave him a copy of “Voices in the Mirror,” Parks’s autobiography. On the occasion of “I Am You | Part 2,” an exhibition of photographs by Parks from the late 1940s to the ’60s now on view at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York, Time magazine asked Wagner to write about how Parks’s path and work has inspired his own.
“His photographs are documentary by nature, but a lot of the beauty in his work comes from his recognition of what’s hidden in plain sight. It’s the dignity of the people that he was able to capture and his ability to get below the skin that made his pictures undeniable. Parks gave us something only he could give us, and that’s been a huge lesson and revelation for me on my path,” Wagner wrote.
“Through Parks’ work and life, I started to understand my own strength and potential. And, maybe most importantly, I realized that if my photography were going to mean anything it would be on the basis of how intelligently it could engage with current times.” CT
“Here for the Ride,” Andre D. Wagner’s first monograph published in a limited edition of 750 copies is sold out. In addition to “Voices in the Mirror,” his autobiography, Gordon Parks published a number of books about his life, work and poetry. Two new books document African American life as observed by photographers on the streets of New York from 1985 to the 2000s (“Jamel Shabazz: Sights in the City, New York Street Photographs”) and Baltimore (“A Beautiful Ghetto”) by Devin Allen, over the past couple of years.
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