Spotlight Interview … Photographer Joe Wigfall 2010

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:


15 thoughts on “Spotlight Interview … Photographer Joe Wigfall 2010

  1. Once again, the magical Mr. Wigfall never ceases to amaze me with his talent and grace. Every time I see his Flickr postings, he makes me want to take my camera and take to the streets that is known as his own personal studio.

    You know a photographer is great when you look at his images and say to yourself “Gee, I wish I took that photo.”

    Mr. Wigfall has been instrumental in my growth both as an artist and photographer. I shudder the day he decides to join the rest of us in the commercial world of fashion.

    Good luck Mr. Wigfall, my life (both personal and professional) is all the better for knowing you.


  2. I follow Joe’s rule: “I find I have to rely on aggressive editing and limit myself to working only on those shots that resonant something special with me,” since he’s the one who taught it to me.

  3. The real impact sits on reality, countless times richer and complex than imagination.
    “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.” J. Wigfall
    This is the gist! We can extend it to the sky and will keep working.
    Your photographs are a celebration of life,

  4. Joe is the truth. Plain and simple. And it’s in the portrayal of truth as HIS reality, not as objectivity, that his artistic vision comes to life. It’s a vision that goes beyond photography as a skillful craft, reminding us that there’s a fine but distinct line between picture-taking and creating art.

    Joe’s street poetry is diverse and universal. Yet, his frames innately bear his personal perspective of modern-day America in ways that have heart, rhythm and soul, much like a living being. And as living beings, his body of work demands to be heard and understood, not just “viewed”.

    It’s because of the love and respect he has for all subjects that few can go the places he goes without mockery or irony, which sadly is where most street photographers veer into.

    Joe – Congratulations for an insightful interview and thanks for the inspiration; you’ve been a wonderful mentor and friend.

  5. Joe…I love the idea of “pushing past the mediocrity of sameness”…or as the poet said…”make it new”.

    Your pictures characteristically have a freshness which is always inspirational. And this interview (much of which I already had guessed at by knowing your flickr photostream) is also an inspiration.

    I could just copy and paste Zun’s last paragraph…I feel just the same…thanks for your presence and for the enthusiasm which you generate.

  6. Great reading, I’ve recently been struggling with my own street photography. Ive found myself becoming repetitive and taking shots of people instead of ‘moments’, if you catch my drift. I’ll take inspiration from this article and start looking for the ‘new in the old’ as Joe puts it

    Keep up the good work Joe!

  7. Joe is the real thing.

    He’s probably the first true NY “street photographer” from the digital age.
    He’s done as much as anyone to reinvigorate the genre.

    Always generous, always open… always bloody good.

    Visit his flickr stream and get swept up in it all!

  8. I have a short list of photographic inspirations: Edward Weston, Cole Weston, Ansel Adams, David Plowden, and Joe Wigfall. He’s simply the best at what he does, and to do what he does successfully requires a special eye, and a lot of heart.

  9. Joe’s photos on flickr consistently capture interesting, compelling, and intriguing facial expressions. His dedication to his “street art” is obvious and enjoyable for so many of us who love the energy and amusement that his photos bring to our daily lives. I didn’t realize there was so much post production software going on and that makes me realize that there are even more dimensions going on. It’s obvious that Joe has a love affair with people so the NYC streets are the perfect place for his work.

  10. Joe Wigfall for me is one of most important and influent street photographers actually all around the world. Beyond that his captured moments are the essence of street photography: great ability to take the time, the exact time that describes the persons, the subjects, the places.
    For me also is a great friend.

    Good Light and Stay Street, Joe!!!

  11. Great interview. I have seen Joe’s images for years now, there are so many emotions and stories he captured in NY city. It is so interesting to hear some behind the scene story about how he captured. As a street photographer myself, Joe’s persistence inspires me. His six advices are very down to earth and practical. Good work Joe.

  12. My friend Joe Wigfall is what I call a shooter, one who understands that to
    “Dance With The Light” is to control photography.

    He’s a Sifu in the art of street shooting… I respect his work and hope to shoot with him soon…


  13. Joe is one of the best street photographers working today. His work is of a consistently hight quality, and always inventive. It is a treat to watch for his new postings on Flickr. With so much street photography action coming out of the UK, it is great to have Joe as a representative on this side of the ocean

  14. I’m a big fan of Joe’s work. We frequent the same city streets and all I can say is that he has captured some magical moments. His work smacks of the classical street shooters of bygone days. He is in the mix of the moment and will always place the viewer right there beside him. Not an easy feat.
    I think his shooting finger has no ‘print’ left…it has to be worn smooth by now!

  15. Integrity, honesty, compassion, courage, heart, truth. Hang any of these monikers on Joe’s street work and you’d have it just about right. Joe is a passionate street photographer who merges his artistic sensibilities with the “keeping it real” call of the streets. It’s a hard thing. Few do it justice. He does.

    Joe doesn’t just take great street shots, he elevates street photography to fine art. His is the sort of work you can come back to time and again as you grow in your own work and see yet another layer heretofore hidden. You come to appreciate how he has lovingly crafted each frame with a full throated clarity of vision. His vision of our shared human condition, anchoring what is in them with what is in us. The good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the sacred and the profane, the “I” and the “Thou”, all the while doing so with an open compassionate heart and genuine reverence and respect for those whom his lens captures.

    I’m fortunate to call Joe friend and mentor. He has a kind heart, infectious laugh and a truly generous spirit. And as with so many of us, he shares his time, expertise, humor and guidance while always respecting the artistic process. The world is a flat out better place with Joe in it. He’s one fine human being, who just happens to be a stellar street photographer.

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