JRP: Every now and then we re-visit one of the photographers we have interviewed. Joe Wigfall was one of our first interviews. He specializes in a genre of photography that has a devote following … Street Photography. Thanks Joe for bringing JRP Blog up to date on your beloved art.
Joe Wigfall: Hi James! Thanks for having me back. This is a real treat being able to return to where things began to take off for me.
JRP: Do you still find the streets of New York to be your studio?
Joe Wigfall: It’s been the best place to prove to myself as a photographer that I have what it takes to interpret situations and get a good image from it. It’s almost impossible to find perfect conditions while shooting on the street because they are actually quite unforgiving, but that’s where the challenge lies. Photography is all about the play between lights and shadows. On the street they change at a whim and nobody waits around for an unrequested photo shoot, so I don’t get a second chance to get it right. In this impromptu studio, the demand made on the photographer is to play the game or get off the field.
JRP: How if any has your approach changed to photographing on the street? Has your equipment changed?
Joe Wigfall: I’m more willing to take chances. I’m more willing to try different things like extreme points of view or slower shutter speeds mainly because adapting to the constant changes on the street has made me malleable. I have to change, if even just in subtle ways, in order to keep things fresh. Sometimes, instead of shooting, I’ll sketch what I see or shoot as though I’ll sketch what I see later. Slows me down considerably and in those situations, there may seem to be less spontaneity, but that’s deceiving. Moving fast can be addictive, it’s either hit or miss. Slowing down, like when I draw or when I shoot with film instead of digital, makes me soak in the environment and examine even the clothes people wear, the dried gum on the street, the people watching me shoot other people. It can be unnerving to downshift this way, but I find it often rejuvenates me so that when I get back into fast flow, I can see more deeply and pick out the scenes as they quickly play themselves out.
If I don’t regularly rotate the way I approach shooting street photos, I find that I become stale, stagnant, out of touch and even fearful of the very environment with which I’m trying to flow.
My equipment has been simplified. Where years before I used a big DSLR mainly because of its dense pixels, and powerful lenses, after a while the camera’s weight and that of a 28mm or 35mm lens began to take a toll on my wrist and fingers. I had no choice but to find something lighter. I also discovered that the size of a DSLR brought undue attention. Smaller is better; discreet, even better. Fortunately technology has changed considerably and I was able to find rugged high scale digicams to work with like the Ricoh GRD and more recently a smaller DSLR-type, the Panasonic G1 series and recently their LX3 with its 24mm lens. Wide angle lenses are still my preference. I also shoot 35mm film on occasion.
JRP: Has your digital workflow and software changed since we last talked?
Joe Wigfall: I use Photoshop CS4 with a few new add-ons as well as Bridge and Lightroom. I bounce between the three to create a hybrid workflow for myself. I shoot primarily RAW color images and convert them to black & white using add-on applications or I just shoot black & white film and scan.
JRP: Your art is a labor of love. With today’s economy please share with us how you keep your productive and creative edge.
Joe Wigfall:These days, I simply don’t have unending amounts of uninterrupted time to pour into a multitude of images. I find I have to rely on aggressive editing and limit myself to working only on those shots that resonant something special with me.
I look for different ways of shooting what I’ve shot before and challenge myself to push past the mediocrity of sameness by not trying to make up something new, but trying to see the new within the old. There truly is nothing new under the sun, but there are new ways of seeing and expressing because we are all unique people and no one ever sees one thing the same way, even with people who feel they “agree” on a matter.
JRP: Do you have a recent memorable image you could share with us and describe what made that image special?
Joe Wigfall: The shot is called VENOM. It had been a long time since I shot film or shot in the subways of NYC. I was on my way downtown to drop off some Tri-X film for developing. There were still a few shots left on the roll in the camera. This was the Konica Hexar, and as those who love and use it know, it has a super quiet shutter button and is very unobtrusive. I was actually putting it away as I walked into the car to take a seat before the car filled with people. The cam’s cover was still off and I really hadn’t notice the expression of this guy in front of me. All I knew was I wanted to shoot him and the two women on either side of him to see whether the 400 ISO film in the camera would pick up the scene correctly. There were a few more people milling around us and hanging on the straps when I figured I might as well get off a shot or two before I put away the camera.
What I didn’t realize was that even though I was seated in shadow as I fiddled with the camera’s control on my lap, he was watching me closely and could see the shutter open and close as I looked up to see whether he stayed in position in front of me. I noticed he looked a little strange as he stared at me. I stared right back innocently until my stop came because I didn’t think he saw me do anything. It wasn’t until I developed the negative that I realized the full intensity of his stare. Fortunately for both of us, he didn’t make a scene.
JRP: What additional advice would you like to share with other photographers?
Joe Wigfall: 1. Fan the flame of your passion. Do what it takes to allow it to grow. Develop dialogue with other street photographers. There’s a lot to know and share and keep shooting.
2. Make mistakes and learn from them and keep shooting.
3. Take criticism with a grain of salt. Everyone has an opinion whether they verbalize it or not. Some just aren’t articulate to know how to do so positively so that you’ll grown from it, so, don’t take it to heart. Realize that your images made some kind of impact (good or bad) and that’s a sign of growth. Street photography should make an impact so keep shooting.
4. Do your homework. Your street photos are stills taken from everyday life of one moment that culminated into something worth remembering. You want to get as many of those as possible. The thing is, they don’t advertise themselves, so you have to become a hunter, so keep shooting.
5. Know what is required of you to get what you’re after. It’s going to cost you something. Everything of value costs. Be prepared to pay the price and your street photography will continue to grow and you’ll amaze yourself and others.
6. Keep shooting.
JRP: Thank you Joe for taking the time to share with us again. As always it has been a pleasure.
Joe Wigfall: The pleasure has been mine James. Thank you for inviting me back.
JRP: To view more of Joe Wigfall’s photography please follow these links: