Photography as Visual Language

The other thing I stayed awake for last weekend was an online class through skillshare with Brooklyn based street photograper Andre D. Wagner. I learned about him and skillshare, an online “global learning community for creators” on vsco where I hang out online weekly tending to my account and looking for inspiration. I was definitely drawn to the fact that Andre is a brother, and I’m also partial to Brooklyn based anyything (LOL!!!) but the great thing about Andre is that his particular shillshare class is very much like being in the streets with him. He narrates and talks with you through the camera. It’s not like a lecture where you stare at someone as they talk about what they do. You’re with him while he’s soing what he does and talking about his process, what he looks for, how he works and what the visual language of photography means to him.

It’s the first Skillshare class I’ve taken so I haven’t any others to compare it with, but I think he sets a pretty high bar with his approach. Whoever created his videos is definitley someone with a visual and or filmmaking background because it’s really engaging, stylistically fluid and easy to watch. As  a native New Yorker who has often walked around the city with camera in hand, I’m familiar with all the locations he shoots in. I will say that I would have loved it if he was shooting with a DSLR vs a film camera (he shoots with a Leica rangefinder) so he could speak more to best settings and technical aspects that I’m interested in learning about when I upgrade to another Nikon this year. But he shoots film and he processes his own prints and I admire that to no end.

The analog process of controlling the look of your images from start to finish is something that is lost on many people who have either been swallowed up by the digital age or born into it. I used to help a friend develop prints in the photo department when I was an undergrad at Bard College but I absorbed nothing about it because I wasn’t interested in photography that way at the time. I was even less interested as a girl when my dad would turn the bathroom in our Brooklyn apartment into a dark room to process negatives and enlarge prints. Now, I’m just not sure about my level of patience for it but I would love to try. I need to look into that seriously.

Train from Inwood
The A Train from Inwood

I learned in Andre’s class that as photographers on the street we think similarly about catching people in the moment they grasp our attention and not waiting, not second guessing. I have had moments where I missed out on a shot that would never come again and had to talk myself down from the deep regret of not acting on it immediately. I’m not a big people photographer but when that happens to be my thing on any particular day, I understand that I am at the mercy of a movement I can’t control and wouldn’t event if I could. Because the whole point is to capture something candid and unrehearsed, a habit, a reality, a condition.

Andre also speaks to how, for him, a photograph is not neccesarily about what’s happening, but about what you create in your composition of the moment, your interpretation, your visual language, what you see. It makes me think more about what the photographs I take or choose to share, say about me. Because everything we create can’t help but be a reflection, not only of the times but also our place and role within it.

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