May. 18, 2013
After swapping basketball for a professional photography career that has led to a sold-out book, 2011 Buena Vista University alum Andre Wagner has no regrets.
"I had so much passion about playing basketball, so I never knew if I'd get that feeling again," the Omaha, Neb. native told the Pilot-Tribune. "Photography gives me that feeling, and I'm excited about where my work is going."
The spark began with Dr. Bruce Ellingson's black-and-white photography class, completed during Wagner's sophomore year. "At the time, I was playing basketball and never gave it much thought," he explained. "I had no idea it would become this thing it is now."
After sports concluded and Wagner completed an extra year of school to catch up on academics for his BFA in Social Work and Digital Media, photography gradually began to replace time spent traveling and practicing.
Following graduation, he worked at a camp in upstate New York and completed two semesters at graduate school before receiving a photography position with Fab.com, a design e-commerce company.
Today, the Brooklyn-based photographer divides his time as a lead Fab photographer, capturing everyday life on New York streets and snapping portraits.
Digital is used for commercial settings, but he prefers black-and-white film for his personal work, a media he feels is as unpredictable as his subjects.
"Black Boys," an urban photography book featuring real-life candid shots of young black Americans, was produced in less than a year in conjunction with self-published Danish magazine Creative Future.
He describes the documentary-style photography as a way of "preserving the sensitive moments of life that take me back to my social work roots, while capturing the richness of the human experience."
The limited-edition volume was released April 16, Wagner's birthday, and has since sold out.
"Being my first book, it was a special early project of mine," he said. "Now, I've been getting a lot of people following my photography, and they were really excited to buy a piece of my work." Getting the raw, unposed shots took 10 months of patience, instinct and energy. "I have to capture things I connect with," he said of his work process. "I like being alive in the moment."
This summer, Wagner plans to host a show highlighting pieces from "Black Boys" or a mixture of other personal shots.
More street photography projects and books are in the future, as well as an updated website.
In the meantime, he continues a 365 self-portrait project and snapping portraits of friends, family and acquaintances.
Shooting portraits differs greatly from street documentary. "Portraits are really different because they're one-on-one," he explained. "I really have to connect with someone, and if something doesn't ignite, I don't get anything."
Although now living on the East Coast, Wagner stays connected to his Midwest roots, receiving mentoring and advice from Ellingson. "It's been really cool to have encouragement from faculty members at BVU," he said. "I've been picking Bruce's brain since I was there, but he's been super supportive of me."
To learn more about Wagner's photography, visit abstractelements.tumblr.com.