Bushwick-based photographer Andre Wagner works as a documentarian of everyday life in Brooklyn: he captures the people on its streets, buses, subways, shoeshine stands, and bodegas. Currently showing in a solo exhibition, Tell It Like It Is, at LA’s PAPILLION Gallery, most of Wagner’s photographs are set in in-between locations, places that aren’t really destinations in themselves. By focusing on people in these usually overlooked, unglamorous spots, he captures the constant movement and hustle that characterizes Kings County. And in an overpopulated city where most do their best to avoid eye contact with strangers, his photos let you pause and really look at people on the street without feeling creepy.
“I hope my photos reveal an overlooked reality and richness of life,” Wagner writes in an e-mail. “One person mentioned that the images serve as a counterbalance to the injustices in the realm of representation,” he says–in this particular set of images, his subjects are mostly African Americans, often underrepresented or misrepresented in the media. “I’m happy about that idea being brought up from my pictures.” All candid and in black-and-white, they have none of the sentimentality of what’s become the city’s best-known street photography series, Humans of New York. Instead, they’re more like a contemporary take on the work of Danny Lyon, who captured New York City subway riders in the 1960s with a frankness and wonder that does justice to what passing encounters on public transportation can really feel like. Wagner also cites Roy DeCarava and Garry Winograd as big inspirations.
“These images suggest the tug of war between life and what it means to be Black in America,” Wagner writes in his artist statement. “It’s a study of relationships, the dynamics between mothers and their children, fathers and brotherhood, and the nature of family. It’s also a study of the Black and human experience. Sometimes this experience is very clear and vivid, and other times, it’s invisible right in plain sight. My calling is to capture both.”
Many of Wagner’s subjects are kids he knows in his neighborhood, and others are folks that he’s only seen once. “If I’m ‘successful,’ I believe their stories can be found within each frame,” he says. “My inspiration is alway life, and with photography I can show life that goes overlooked and or unseen.”
See the full photo series in the slideshow below.
Follow Carey Dunne on Twitter @CareyDunne