Andre D. Wagner is a Brooklyn-based street photographer who earned his BFA in social work and digital media. His work often focuses on race, class and community; his 2017 monograph, Here for the Ride, captures daily life riding NYC’s subways. Wagner is also a contributor to Public Art Fund’s Art on the Grid, a group show of emerging artists whose work is displayed on JCDaceux bus shelters and LinkNYC kiosks citywide, produced in response to the converging crises of the pandemic and systemic racism in our country. Wagner took time to answer a few questions about his current work, his well-being and finding hope in his studio and outside his front door.
Can you describe how you created work during the shutdown? Did anything change for you? If so, how?
Andre Wagner: For me as a photographer, everything changed. Being physically close to my subjects is something I won’t take for granted anymore. As I went out on the streets, I had to be very mindful about my interactions and respectful to personal space. These conditions are not the best for the way that I usually work.
How has New York City informed your work? Has that changed in recent months?
AW: As a street photographer I thrive off of the City and the energy of the people. I want my work to be in conversation with my community and the people that make it so special here. Street life has changed drastically, but there are still plenty of moments to be photographed. Where there are people, there will always be stories.
What has given you hope and sustained you over the last few months?
AW: I’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio shifting through contact sheets and revisiting work. As I look at life that no longer exists, I find hope in the idea that we’re moving toward something different, possibly better. I find hope in the everyday. When I walk out my front door with my camera, I must have hope or faith in the possibilities of photographing something meaningful—because of this I believe I have a naturally hopeful spirit.
Does your artwork relate to a neighborhood in New York City? Is there a neighborhood that inspires you and your practice?
AW: I made this work in Bed-Stuy. I live right on the border of Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, and this is the place that inspires me most. I do my best to honor the working-class families that I live amongst.
What positive qualities do you hope will come out of the pandemic—for yourself personally or for the City?
AW: Photographers have to be a witness in a very real way. I’m happy to finally sit still and take a mini break, just focusing on my health and well-being. I hope that I can continue to take better care of myself while also doing the work that feeds my soul.
For more information about the artist, visit andredwagner.com.