Focus On: Andre Wagner
It’s not easy to be a street photographer these days. There’s less happening on the street, for one thing, with people sheltering in place, and anxieties are running high. Everybody is aware of every other body in their vicinity, and it’s hard to see a smile behind a mask. But Andre Wagner continues to go out every day to photograph. “There’s black and brown people in my neighborhood who still have to go out and do things in the world,” says Wagner, who lives in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, “so I continue to go out even in the pandemic.”
Wagner’s photographs (those on view here are all pre-pandemic pictures) capture small moments of connection – children in animated conversation; a group of kids playing in the spray of a sprinkler; a woman holding the hand of a little girl, who turns around to flash an inquisitive smile at the photographer. But his photographs also capture instances of disconnect: a young black man in a tie and backpack who is the still point in the crowd that moves around him on a Manhattan corner; or a black woman and a white woman sitting on the steps, separated only by the stair railing, but seemingly in separate worlds.
Wagner was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and went to school in Iowa. He moved to New York City in 2011 to get a master’s degree in social work at Fordham, but left the program when he discovered photography and the work of Gordon Parks, among other photographers. A former basketball player, Wagner says he likes to keep moving when he’s taking pictures, and his photographs catch and hold the flow and motion of the street. There are portraits, but more often his expressive images capture a gesture or a glance, or the poetry of bodies moving in space, from couples to kids to parents and their children, and more specifically, black fathers and their children, images that counter cultural narratives of absent black fathers. Wagner’s images, like those of Gordon Parks, point to photography’s capacity to be revealing, but also transporting. An image Wagner posted on Instagram in early May shows three young men riding ATVs through an uncharacteristically empty Bed-Stuy street corner. “For a brief moment,” wrote Wagner in the post, “I forgot about the pandemic.”