Street & Documentary Photography: The Ongoing Moment | Andre D. Wagner | Skillshare

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Street & Documentary Photography: The Ongoing Moment

teacher avatar Andre D. Wagner, Photographer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Project and Past Work


    • 3.

      Getting Familiar with Your Camera


    • 4.

      Walk the Walk


    • 5.

      Creating Intimacy


    • 6.

      Developing and Reviewing


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About This Class

Follow photographer Andre D. Wagner as he roams the streets of New York documenting life as it passes by. This class shows Andre’s method of working as well as his personal means of expression. In this process you’ll learn the immediate way in which he captures everyday reality, and his efforts to allow photographs to have a visual language of their own. You’ll get insight as to how he approaches strangers, photographs with confidence, and the importance of following your gut reaction. If you love street photography, storytelling as a visual language, or just endlessly curious about life, this is the class for you.  

Meet Your Teacher

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Andre D. Wagner



Andre D. Wagner (b. 1986) is an American artist and photographer born in Omaha, Nebraska. He is a 2010 graduate of Buena Vista University with a BA in Social Work, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Wagner's photography explores the poetic and lyrical nuances of daily life; using city streets, people, public transportation, and the youth of the twenty-first century as his visual language. His work is rooted in his life experiences, as he believes that's the foundation to the minds eye. More than a documentary statement, his photographs are aimed at creative expression. Wagner remains committed to film, developing black and white negatives and making his own prints in his darkroom.

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1. Introduction: Usually I tell people that I'm a street photographer or a documentary-style photographer. I like adding that extra word "style" in there because I'm not a photojournalist. My journey is really about going out and photographing life, and telling my own personal story. That might happen to be on the street, that might happen to be at your local bodega, that might happen to be in an airport. It's really just being out in life, bonding to it, and making images, and trying to depict scenes that say something. That's pretty much what street photography is in that sense. How you doing? Where is [inaudible]? Yeah, you can go down here and then there's a left that you can take and then you'll be right in the center of [inaudible]. Thank you. Yeah, no problem. Photography is crazy, it's the only thing that takes reality and just like pauses it, like that's it, like that's the moment. Once that image is made, it might not necessarily be about reality anymore. I'm interested in moments, I'm interested in my feeling, this gut reaction, but I'm also interested in how I can make this person in the background that has no relation to this is person in the foreground, how can they interact with each other. That's the magic of photography because that's how I say that it changes this. It's not really about what's happening, it's about how things look. I usually like going against the grain when I'm walking through the street. So obviously you have like a big crowd that comes this way and then once the light turns, you have another crowd that comes this way. I like to just jump in the middle of the crowd. I usually like having my camera in my hand because then I'm not so obvious that I'm going to take a picture. So I just walk around with my camera down and then I'll just come up and I'll just snap pictures. I just roam with the crowd. I just go with the flow even though I might be walking against it. My name is Andre Wagner. I'm a New York City street and documentary photographer. My project for this class is going to be focusing on taking pictures in the financial district. It's just been a really interesting area for me to photograph and I thought it was a great place to do my project because I can talk about how I think about pictures, how I work on the street, my philosophy about images. So for a class project, which we're going to do is you're going to go out and you're going to spend as much as the day as you can making images. You want to find four photographs that speak for themselves, that is strong in their own right. Then you want to be able to put these four photographs together and tell like a little, a little vignette of a story. One of the great things about photography is that it always gives you a reason to be somewhere. In this class, I want you to discover, I want you to go down the streets you've never been to, I want you to go to a different neighborhood or go to a different parts of the city. Really just get lost, just walk around. That's the great thing about photography. You're never in the wrong place. You just walk around and just be there, be where people are, and just look at what's going around and just try to discover something new about yourself or about the city that you live in or about how people commute to work or whatever it might be. 2. Project and Past Work: For this class, you're going to create your four images. Like I said, they should be strong by themselves and then you should also work together as a group. The reason is for this, is because once you go beyond this class, I want you to think about creating a body of work. One of the things I've been working on over the past summer is photographing down by the word choice in there. Maybe I'll turn this into like a small project or a small story that I can just put together and share on whether that be like online or do print. Take it even further. Maybe you can write a small essay about the project that you're working on and why it's important to you, some of the emotion or some of the feelings that she wanted to people to get out of the images. I think this is when photography can be very effective. Taking it beyond just like the single image or this small little for pitcher vignette, but then taking it further to where it's a full body of work. Maybe it's a set of 20 images, maybe it's a book that's a set of 80 images, and really conveying your message that you're trying to get across. Here I have just a stack of images, mostly just from this summer pictures I've taken over the summer. I always advise people to print their work. I like doing these four by six prints. They're really cheap and they're not like art prints. But by having these, I can make it a tag [inaudible] , I can hang them up on my wall, which I do. Then I just start to see different themes that are happening in different pictures, and pictures that I don't like and pictures that I do like. Here's a picture from down in the netherworld choice in, where we were today photographing. I just think this image says so much just about this area in particular, where you have all of these New Yorkers walking through a crowd in the mix of this gigantic buildings and architecture. Looks like everybody's is coming straight at me. If I were to work on a series of images like that we're doing for this class, like this is one of those images that says a lot. This can work by itself, has its own strong image. Then it can also work together with more images that are from this area that maybe say something about 2015. I think about all of these things pass my mind when I'm thinking about the images. This image is pretty much near the same area where it looks like these two workers are, maybe just want a smoke break. I was talking about gestures and body language earlier, and this is one of those images. They just show you the way that her arm is cross and how she's holding a cigarette, and how she's leaning inside this telephone booth and looking down. Then the other woman is sitting here with her hand right here. It's just like you feel that this is a moment that was happening, and it feels like they we're talking about something serious or maybe they're really tired. There's all kind of ways that you can break down this image. The way that somebody looks in there or their gaze and their body language, and gestures, you know, can evokes so much. Those are the things that I start thinking about when they talk about a visual language, photography in a visual language, where you see it and then all of these feelings, just come to mind when you look at it. This scene is in Soho, New York, where you have this gentleman on the left has a sign. He says, "I'm homeless, please help." Then you have these two women right here who come over to drops some money into his cup. But then, the beautiful thing is that you have so much more information around it. You have this guy, his looking at them. Then you have this woman in the background is looking in on his moment. That's why I say that photography changes things, because you don't know how, what was actually going on when it happened, how these people felt. But at that moment, we're asking the image. I felt it was almost like, "Ed, its climax," like I want to get it right before it falls apart. Right when this guy has this look on his face. Right when the ladies like peeking over to see what's happening. Right when this homeless man is kneeling down to say thank you. Right when she's putting the money instead of cup. It's like right at the climax, the add as much deaf to the image as possible. As photographers, we have to be nosy. I'm always looking to see what's going to happen next. How are people looking, what might go on? I forget who it is. I mean, photography is definitely about, look, it's a lot of it is about look. But there is another photographer who says, "You create that look." You create that logo by being out there and by watching, and by being nosy, and by just truly being there. I truly believe that you can create that look in the sense. We have this picture here, where these the two kids from my neighborhood and they're just hanging out outside of the local laundry. You can see the laundry bags up here. But then, it's also just speaking about so much about today, where they're both on their cell phone. This is what I was talking about. Using the background or thinking about the whole picture, where she's on her phone, having her own moment, and then he's on his phone, having his own moment. But the way that it's framed, I can interact these two together and it just says so much. There's about 2015, says a lot about technology, says a lot about how kids are playing outside now. Or maybe it just says that in this image, but these are the things that I'm thinking about when I'm photographing. This is the type of picture I've got, just because I was hanging out with them on the corner and just talking and then this moment happened. Sometimes I'll just go grab like a notebook. This is a subway book that I'm working on right now. This images that I've been taking in a subway for since 2013. I just start to come through and then I just started taping images to pages. Then, you can start to get a feel of how the book would actually look. You're actually creating the book right here. Then you can see how images look next to each other. You can see how they make you feel. You can see how the mood changes as you go through images. You can think about the layout, if you want the image to fill up the full bleed and cross over both pages. Or if you just want two images that side-by-side, then maybe speak to each other or speak about the whole thing that you have of the book. I think one of the keys in creating a body of work is this taking the time and living with the actual images. I think that's why I have a physical book is great, because I can just throw this in my bag and I can walk around with this every day. In my free time, I can look through. Then I can just start to be like, "Okay. No, this image doesn't work, it doesn't fit," and I can just take it out. Then when I come home, I can look at the wall and I can take out that image, and I can just really start to think about the whole story as a whole. I just think living with the work and really thinking about the work and writing about the work, even if it's something that you don't share, but maybe it's just for yourself, it's all very helpful. It helps you. It influences how the end product is going to be. Because this is the end product, you're already at the end, but you're just trying to work out all the kinks. So it's good to get it to a final book or a final story. 3. Getting Familiar with Your Camera: When I'm not doing photography for hire, I have a routine that I like to do everyday, that I want to go out and photograph. It starts really early in the morning. I like to catch the crowd where everybody is going to school, going to work, catching a bus, catching a train. I usually like to leave the house like 7:00 AM. New York City just has this special way about how it wakes up and how things start moving. I like to be out there for that. We are down on Varsity street. This path pretty much leads right to the World Trade Center, but there's also the path train down there so everybody that's coming from Jersey and the surrounding areas in New York. It's obviously very packed which is one of the reasons why I love being down here because there's just so much opportunity for things to happen. I think one of the other interesting things about these area is that it's not just like people going down to Wall Street, I think people work different kinds of jobs and you can see it because of the way people are dressed sort of their uniform. You see people carrying briefcases, you see fashion people going to the trade center, so it's such a diverse crowd and I think that's one of the things that really attracts me to this area. So I usually shoot with a Leica range finder camera, it's just like my favorite camera. Right now, I have the M6 and I'm shooting a 35-millimeter Tri-X film. I usually push it to like 1600 or 800 because I like to have the extra speed. Film is almost opposite of digital. It's really hard to blow the highlights and with digital, highlights can blow just like that. Since I have so much latitude in the highlights, I want to get as much shadow detail as possible. I always have a light meter just in my bag, just to have it right here. This has like a nice little pouch so I can just grab it pretty quickly. Set my ISO and then wherever live setting I'm in and I can just hit this button and it tells me right now I'm at 500 at f/8 so then I can just change my camera setting straight to that, it's pretty much all it is. Obviously, just a bag full of film. Sometimes I just have like an extra lens and maybe a marker so I can write all my purchases. Look at this area, look at all this people. I think this is definitely the kind of area where you want to know exactly how your camera works and you want to be able to operate it pretty fast because, obviously, there's tons of people around, things happen just like that and that way I can just roam around this area. I know how lens work. I know that this little tab is like right here in the middle. I'm at about four feet or two meters or so, and then if I move it back and forth, I know which way the focus is going so sometimes when I can just walk around like this and I'll change the focus and then I'll just come up and I'll just do my shot like this. One of the things that I used to do is walking around my neighborhood. I would practice focusing, guessing the focus and focus like on a tree that's on the sidewalk. So I would just be like, "Okay, maybe that tree is five feet," and then I'll put my lens at five feet and then I'll just check, and I'll just do that while I walk to the train or something like that. So just practicing and training myself to be able to use my camera in a much more swift way, so I can just grab the shots when I need to. I like these guys. 4. Walk the Walk: At this time, I'll probably walk back and forth a little bit because the traffic picks up and there's a lot happening. So that's the thing men. It's the worst when I don't just react to my gut because then I don't get the shot or I miss it. Sometimes when we think about it, it's like I am trying to intellectualize what's going on too much instead of reacting and like what's going to happen next. I am trying to find the right moment or sometimes though when I'm thinking, I'm second guessing if I want to shoot or not and I don't really like to work like that. If I feel that I just want to go after it, because usually the intuition is so much better, especially with something like this is so immediate and so right now. Usually by the time I think too much about it, the shot that I wanted is already gone. That's why I like to just go after how I feel. Photography is all like a visual language. It's all about trying to get somebody to understand what you are trying to say through an image. Sometimes I think about painting, how I wish I could be a painter instead of searching day in and day out, I could just paint it. If I wanted this type of character or if I wanted this type of emotion, I could just paint it. I could have it. But I'm a photographer, so I have to go out and I have to search for these things and I don't know when it's going to happen or I don't know when anything is going to happen. I need to have a camera with me at all times because I never know when I'm going to see something then it's going to impact me, I feel like this needs to be a photograph moment. How are you doing? Sometimes you got to run out to take a shot. You just see it and you got to at least try it. As street photographers, we all see like, I want to shoot that or that one person or something is happening, but we constantly have to be surveying everything that's happening around so we properly framing the shots and we're actually getting what we want and we are not just putting everybody smack dead in the center of the frame. You want to stretch that frame out and tell that story and express that image in a way that really works. As one thing that I'm always telling myself is to not get so tunnel vision, always look at everything that's happening around. He had eight coffees. He had coffee for the whole office. That's the type of person that you can't get in his way. If he doesn't make it back with the coffee, it's not a good thing. It's not good if he doesn't make it. Like I was talking about on the street about photographers getting tunnel vision, we are walking through the street and then we get in the zone and we're just looking at one scene, one scene, one scene. We've got to continue to look at the whole picture. I see that all the time when I look through my own images, is like, Oh, I didn't frame is properly. If I'm always thinking about framing, whether it's in the post-process or maybe it's when I leave the house, I'm like, "I want to frame good pictures today." It starts like this unconscious thing that happens and then all of the sudden you start seeing your frames get better. You start getting everybody out of the center of the frame and you start putting people in the corners and you start helping just the picture have a better flow to it instead of it being smack dead in the middle. You just get better with your framing over time. You can't just fix it right now. It's like you have to constantly work at it and that's what I'm still doing as we speak. I am constantly trying to get better frames out of my images. Let's go across the street. That was great. It was one of those situations where you feel something and as soon as you put your camera out, the subject looks right past your lens and you just get the shot. It's awesome. That's it. Back at it. As a photographer, we're always constantly surveying everything that's happening, what's happening close, what's behind. I personally always looking for symbols. I just see them like raising up the American flag, there's people walking by, there's people going to work, that's why I just ran over to this scene to see what was happening. Maybe it didn't work, but at least I tried it. Nothing should come in between you and going out photographing, whether that's just taking your camera and photographing on your commute to work, whether that's taking the weekends and roaming around your city or your neighborhood. You have to do it. There's no difference between the student, people taking this class and for me, we all have to go out to photograph and we have to do it constantly, and constantly we get better and we keep cracking it and then we learn things. That's what I mean by walking the walk is that we can talk about it as much as we want, but we have to go out and we have to do it. 5. Creating Intimacy: Part of what I was talking about earlier is just trying to create some kind of intimacy. I think there's a couple of parts to it. Some of it has to do with the equipment that you use, the lens that you're using. Obviously, wide angle lenses, like a 28 or 35. When you're close to a subject the lens makes you feel like you're close to the action, like you are right there with what's happening. Sometimes, longer lenses say like a 90 or something, just the way that the lens works, it creates so much depth that, I don't know, it looks like a portrait of somebody and I think for what I'm trying to do on the street is I'm just trying to show what's happening in a wider view, but also still make you feel like you're right there. So you can create, I think, intimate images with any kind of lens, but if you just know how to work with what you have and if you know how to work on the streets, like I was saying earlier about dancing with the streets and walking with the crowd and not being too obvious. You find ways to get close to people without going in front of their face or without disturbing them too much. A lot of times, when I'm photographing a scene or a person, I'll look past the person, I won't look directly at them. Sometimes, I was so close that people think that I'm shooting something behind. The longer you're on the streets, the more you just find these ways around being close to people without disrupting them too much. Trying to get over that fear of photographing people is a big thing. I think one day I got home and I was just like, "Man, there were so many shots that I didn't take today. Why didn't I photographed that," and I got to the point I was like, okay, I just need to photograph everything that interests me, and if somebody gets mad or something happens, I can just deal with that while it happens. But when I go back home, at least I know I got that shy. Yeah. So it's like I only have to deal with these interactions for a very small time period if you think about it, it's like a three-minute conversation. Everybody has a job here. Somebody's directing traffic, somebody's protecting, somebody's going to be a banker or whatever, and my job is to notice what everybody else is missing. While everybody else is doing their job, I need to notice the gaze that somebody has. I need to notice these kids running down the street or I need to notice the mom with her four kids going to school. My job is to notice everything that's happening. Yeah. Because we're all caught up in our lives, and me, I get the joy to just watch everybody be in their own lives, but express something internally. Because at the end of the day, I'm only photographing what I'm interested in. This is how I have to deal with it. I can't photograph something that I don't know or that's not of who I am. Yeah. So it's always a reflection of something that's inside of me, which is really interesting because sometimes I'm like, whoa, I look at that or I photograph that scene but it's like it says something about me, and I think that's interesting. 6. Developing and Reviewing : I like it develop my own film, because I just like the control that I have over it. Developing film determines how your film is going to come out, so by doing it in house, I can determine how long I want to develop my film, if I want to push it or pull it, how much shadow detail I want to get, and how grainy do I want my film to be. These are all things that you can control in the development process. I like developing my own film because I can control everything myself. Developing film is one of those things that gets better with time, the first time you do it, you might have little difficulties, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. We did good, all of our shots came out. Photography is definitely a lot about failure, but I think that's okay, it's tough to make really strong distinct images, but it doesn't happen every time, or at least it doesn't happen every time for me. But even though there might be pitches it I might not necessarily show to somebody, I think they can definitely inform me about myself, and my own interests, and the things that I'm thinking about. The images that don't work can still help you figure out how to maybe, are like, oh I should have framed it a different way last time, or maybe I should have got closer or I should have left that out of the frame. So even though, so many images don't turn out to be great images and they don't really convey what you are trying to get at, they can still inform me so much about yourself, about photography, about how images work. So I always tell people, and especially for this class, if you're shooting digital or if you're shooting film or whatever it is, I never think you should throw away images or delete images, I think you should look at the failures because you can definitely learn from them. Today, we went out on the streets, we took pictures, we just came back to my place and we developed film. We just hung it up to dry, I cut the film up and started scanning the negatives into the computer here. I like to use gloves when I'm handling my negative just on that, putting fingerprints on them, it does slower, is good to just get excess dust away from your negatives and off from the flatbed scanner. Once I've got my pictures inside a computer, I just came in and did some simple adjustments. This is an image straight out of the scan, which looks pretty good, so I just come in and crop it to how to picture is, and I just came in and did some simple exposure adjustments, added some contrast, take the dioxin and bring the highlights down. I like to pull it both ways as much as possible, I like really nice highlights before they're blown out and I like deep shadows, but still good shadow detail. Looking at images the same day is sometimes it's tough because I'm the photographer and I took these pictures, I like the work that I do. So that might skew how I look at these images and I might not necessarily be as truthful with myself as I would like. I like to create space from the reviewing time and actually shooting time, so I can just be very subjective about how I look at the images and not think so much about how I feel or how I want to feel about image, but how actually truly feel about the image. I really hope that my Skillshare class is useful, I hope that being out on the streets with me, seeing how I interact, seeing how I shoot, seeing my process, I hope that you can use it and I hope that you can take your photography to the next level and get you thinking about projects, get you thinking about your work in a long-term manner. I'm really excited to see what you create, so I definitely will be checking out the project photos, I'll be looking at your images, I'll try to give you feedback as much as possible. But I just really hope you're inspired. So you just go out and to document your city or your neighborhood and to just create photo stories and share your vision with the world.