Spotlight Interview … Photographer Joe Wigfall

Joe Wigfall is a photographer whose everyday studio is the streets of New York City. Joe is a Street Photographer. He specializes in capturing bits and pieces of everyday street life.

Street Photography takes a special attitude and technique. A special breed of photographer.

One might equate it at times to being like a combat photographer due to it’s constantly changing action, and the personal awareness necessary to maintain the photographer’s safety.

Thanks Joe for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us about your photography.

Joe Wigfall: Thanks James. This is both a thrill and an honor. I hope that what I share with you will be both informative and educational to anyone interested in Street Photography.

JRP: Joe where and when did you get your start in photography? Do you have any formal training?

Joe Wigfall: I started shooting informally as a teen with my good ole Kodak Instamatic. (Remember the ones with the Magicube flash?) Still, it wasn’t until I became an adult and bought my first SLR (the Minolta X-700) that the love affair with photography began.

I did headshots and weddings for a while, but eventually needed to explore a less structured medium. I have a bachelors degree in Fine Arts from NYU, but the vast majority of my photography training comes from “STIP”, the Self-Taught Institute of Photography.

I’ve also sat under the teaching of some terrific people photographers like Bryan Peterson, who taught me technique. David Bathgate who introduced me to up close and personal photojournalism. Neil & Barbara Silverman who showed me how to bring versatility to Street Photography.

My interest in Street Photography began five years ago as a result of doing quick sketches of people I’d see on the streets and subways of New York. After discovering the classic works of Robert Capa, Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and internalizing the courageous no-nonsense style of a 21st century street vet like Markus Hartel, I realized that street shooting was a viable option that could be very rewarding.

JRP: What would I find in your camera bag equipment wise? What kind of software do you use in your photographic workflow?

Joe Wigfall: I carry a DSLR (Canon 30D) with either a 28mm or 35mm lens attached. (There’s nothing like a good wide angle lens for capturing a subject in your immediate playing field.) I also carry a Ricoh GR-D, a solid digicam with a dedicated 28mm lens that allows for some terrific up close and personal stealth work.

Photoshop with a few plug-ins has been my main photo editor since I went digital a few years ago.

JRP: I became aware of you and your work on Flickr. Are there other websites that you use to showcase your work?

Joe Wigfall: No. I have found that Flickr exposes my work to a very diverse international group of people but I’m very excited about developing a new website which would just showcase my work. I hope to have it up and running shortly.

JRP: The images you have posted on your sites are artful in their execution and content. As I look at your images I notice a sense of being there yet not imposing upon the scene or the subject(s). How do you accomplish this with your captures?

Joe Wigfall: I feel it’s much easier to get good images of street action by becoming “invisible” while I shoot. People are more themselves when they aren’t aware that someone is shooting photos of them.

I try to get a “feel” for the locale I’m in by either walking around or just standing in one place blending into the background. Then I look for moments that catch my attention. It could be an attitude, a mood, an emotion or just an exchange between people.

It has taken a while to develop the confidence to shoot street this way. The variables are great. Moments to shoot change like the wind. The lighting fluctuates around every corner. The people are in various moods. The weather has a mind of its own. There’s no time to use a tripod or monopod. Taking a light reading is out of the question. From experience I’ve learned to do what I feel is necessary to capture the image. By that I mean, I will shoot through the viewfinder, through the LCD, from my chest, from the hip or even under my arm. It’s all about seeing the moment and capturing it, and AVOIDING undue attention to myself. I don’t sneak around but I try my best not to intrude while grabbing the shot I’m after. The less you broadcast that you are shooting the better your results.

On the playing field I have to be confidently aware, quiet, quick, and focused or I get nothing. Fear can become your real opponent on the street or rather the fear of “perceived” threats. In NYC real threats exist but most threats are the “perceived” type. They come upon the mind of a photographer that is misinformed or unprepared to deal with work on the street. During post production I ruthlessly edit my images, keeping only the ones that capture a mood or something special I saw. Then I custom process my images to focus on what “I saw at the time”.

JRP: Looking back what has been the best advice given to you by another photographer?

Joe Wigfall: If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” It’s a Robert Capa quote and priceless if you want street photographs that have zing. I like to shoot with that in mind. Good street images need to make an impact.

JRP: What advice would you offer to a photographer new to street style photography?

Joe Wigfall: FIVE THINGS: First, realize that Street Photography probably won’t make you rich but it must become a passion. Only a passion will have you continually trying to capture fleeting images of people you don’t know.

Second, look at lots of people. Study their faces, their body language. Examine what, how, and the way they do what they do. Every where you go with camera in hand or not get to know your subject. Look at street photos that make your heart palpitate because that’s the “feel” you want from your own images.

Third, don’t leave home without a camera. Opportunities abound everywhere. You want to be ready to capture some of them. It pays to know your camera well because you’ll miss shots if you don’t. Pick a lens (28, 35 or 50mm) and stay with it for a month or so. You’ll develop a second nature intimacy that will serve you well during your shoots.

Fourth, when you’re out there fear will be your biggest enemy. Understand fear. Make it your friend. Show confidence by walking slower than usual. Don’t make eye contact unless you want to dialogue with them. Relax but maintain awareness of your environment. If you feel an area is potentially dangerous, it probably is. Walk on by.

Fifth, to be a good street photographer you need a good eye and a good heart. Enjoy the process of growing and watching your work evolve.

JRP: Joe thanks again for sharing your thoughts and photography with us. It has been very educational.

Joe Wigfall: Thank you James, this opportunity has been a Godsend for me. I am very inspired that you took notice of my work. I hope some of what I shared helps someone discover the street photographer within.

JRP: To view more of Joe Wigfall’s eye catching photography please go to this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/75158779@N00/

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30 thoughts on “Spotlight Interview … Photographer Joe Wigfall

  1. I’m relatively new to the world of photography (less than a year) and I have had the honor of meeting and knowing Joe and he has been instrumental in my growth as a photographer. He introduced me to Street Photography and every now and then when I muster up the courage, I bring out the Canon 5D and attempt to shoot real life in the making. I would go to him with my images and we would discuss the plusses and minuses, and he would send me on my way.

    I must say that Joe’s work is gallery worthy and I am glad to know him. I shoot fashion and editorial and one thing that Joe’s taught me was to study my models (their angles their lines, their looks) and the same rule applies; If you don’t have a good photo, you were not close enough.

    I would sit and study his pictures with utter amazement. It could be a woman walking in the rain, or a transient searching for food, he gathers their essence, the image and their soul and we are all the better for it.

    I am glad that James Robinson is recognizing Joe for the artist that he is and is showing his love, his passion and his art to the world.

    I already knew he was amazing. Now it’s your turn.

    Dallas

  2. As a street photographer I agree completely with Joe in his way to “see” the street photography. The Robert Capa’s quote he evoques is the “rule” I always follow in the streets.”If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” Respect and love for Street People, too.

    One day I wrote about Joe: “Joe is brave as a Street Photographer should be. It’s a risk sometimes that we have to assume. There are situations that we think “I don’t care what will happen but I have to capture this moment. Maybe the last one”.

    He captures the real street life without artifices, without lies, without fears.

    Don’t lose his street work if you want to be a real street photographer. Each photo is a lesson, an important lesson. One of courage and attention to the surrounding world that people live in.

    His photos reminds me a quote from Robert Capa, “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. Joe is always as close as possible and following this way he will reach a high Street Photographer status.

    Look at his portfolio, breathe the street atmosphere he transmits, and go to the streets shooting. You will see that your way of seeing the world is going to change a lot. It will be richer, more authentic, and more humane. It was a pleasure to find him here on Flickr, and he is a constant inspiration.”

    Yes Joe you are right street photography is really a passion. Teach us what we need to grow in photography and in life.

  3. I have been a fan of Joe’s photography for quite some time now.

    His work plus his constructive criticisms and suggestions have been a great inspiration to me. I’m proud to count him not only as a friend but as a mentor as well.

    This interview serves as a great teaching guide. Thank you Joe. I’m taking notes already!

  4. Yes the street is the best studio. The most eminent to get the feeling and soul in the photo.

    Nothing is coming far as near.

    Respect and Comparison of intentions are the strong ingredients for the make, and the photo’s are making the photographer.

    Photography is a strong and most cooperative friend to feel your roots, and find the world happen.

  5. What I like in this piece is how Joe has distilled and shared some incredibly invaluable advice on how to do good street photography. ‘Make fear your friend …” will go down as a classic. A word about Joe’s work; He always captures something unique in a moment, and he always conveys a drama and dynamism that is often missing from my street work. I always learn from his work, and that’s because I love how it plays with my mind.

  6. Read between the lines in the interview, Joe’s got cajone’s of steel. Take a look at this one from his photostream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/75158779@N00/397580909/in/set-72157594512421380/

    Personally I would be afraid to turn my camera on that guy, and if I did, I’d stay awake at night in fear that he knew who snapped his picture.

    Let his work speak for itself and spend a while on his Flickr site. You’ll learn a lot.

    You made a great choice showcasing Joe’s work. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  7. It’s been my great privilege to discover Joe’s photography this year.

    I urge anyone reading this that hasn’t done so to get a cup of coffee, sit down, and view Joe’s Flickr stream as a slideshow.

    Try to ‘inhabit’ him as he makes the shots. You will find yourself prowling, panther-like, through the crowded streets of what is the Mecca of street photography. Electrically alive to the snap and grunt of its diversity.

    Images are excised from the weft of reality with balletic flick of the comically tiny camera in your hands. You move on encountering young and old, wealthy and destitute, men and women, parents and children, buyers and purchasers. All at such close range that they are barely contained in the boundaries of your wide frames. All jostling for space with each other.

    But then you begin to sense the humanity that underpins the perspective. People bawl with laughter and crumple in complete destitution. Even in the case of the latter, the eye remains sympathetic. There is a transcendent image of a man slumped on of all things some scaffolding. He may be drunk, he is certainly exhausted. His pose and imminent collapse are caught perfectly. A beam of light strikes him as if someone were using a giant fresnel from the side.

    Yet the perspective is what really strikes you. Joe has got down to eye-level to make this man’s image. He does not look down on him. It’s fascinating to learn that Joe has a qualification in fine arts. I have no doubt that if Caravaggio were around today he would shoot like this.

    Since Joe’s pictures showed me how important it is level with my subjects, my knees have cursed his name on a daily basis. Just as my dry cleaner and my eye are indebted to him for his delightful vision.

  8. “Street photos that make your heart palpitate”, funny that Joe should say this as that is exactly what he presents us with on a daily basis on his stream.

    While you may initially admire the expressiveness and rawness of Joe’s images, you only fully appreciate the immense skill of this street master when you try street photography yourself!

    Don’t be fooled by the apparent ease with which Joe manages to capture urban encounters and interactions on the streets of NYC. It is a rare artform that he has mastered and continues to evolve with his own unique style.

    I can honestly say that I would not have caught the street photography bug quite so severely had I not come across Joe’s work on Flickr. His work is a constant reminder just how far you can take the art of street photography, and his support and encouragement are a constant source of inspiration.

    Thank you JRP for giving this amazing artist the recognition and exposure that he truly deserves!

  9. It’s great to not only look at Joe’s pictures but to read about him too! I wouldn’t emphasize so much his courage as a street photographer but his sensibility.

    There are streetphotographers that only care about structure, light, and framing. There are others that also try to pay attention to people’s faces, and therefore their feelings. Joe belongs to the latter. I think that is what makes his stuff different.

    Keep it up my friend

  10. Joe Wigfall, Joe Wigfall.

    Yeah, I think that if I was browsing that famous photography table at The Strand Book Store on Fulton Street, and by chance I should spot a book with the photo “Homebound” on the cover, titled with said name, and signed by Wigfall. I would pick it up and thumb through some very incredible black & white, and color images of a city and it’s streets. One that I am bonded to by birth. Images of humanity in their everyday habitat. Unguarded moments of daily life and struggle.

    A quick course of the streets of the city, it’s motion, it’s energy, and it’s pulse. It’s what you will see and breathe in a Wigfall discourse of a city that moves in a constant flux of organized chaos.

    This man stills those moments in between the blinks of an eye, the shutter, and serves it up NYC style. With grace and profound truth.

  11. I have just read your interview with Joe Wigfall, the NYC Street Photographer.

    I was impressed with Joe’s generous answers to your helpful questions. I was able to put myself on the sidewalks and streets, amid the bustle, clatter, and rising steam. To imagine the sea of humanity roll on by. How quick one has to be. A quickness born out of familiarity with his camera, and how it will preform under these particular conditions. Conditions which are themselves changing with nearly every step. The confidence required, the invisible demeanor, the best perspective, lighting, and background. I can only conclude that no one can keep all this straight consciously.

    Joe has the instincts and heart to bring all of these facets together, while remaining comfortable, melding into the ever changing river of mankind.

    There is no pretense or drama added to Joe’s vision. He is the collector of light that we all recognize as ‘the real world’. Kudos to you Joe Wigfall. You are a Prince among the people.

  12. Thank you James Robinson for allowing us the opportunity to learn Joe’s tremendous insights into photography and more generally, the art of observation.

    It is truly valuable that Joe’s obvious skill be shared with as broad an audience as possible.

  13. Joe’s work has a signature about it, almost like a DNA. Whenever I see an image come across Flickr, I know it’s a Joe Wigfall image even before I see his name. You can count on his images to be intimate, unintrusive, slices of life that provide us the insight into how we slog it out through the big city and our daily lives. Joe works his subjects from the inside, from being one of them, and having an understanding of the environment and how the city works.

    Joe’s work inspires me to continue working in this medium. Like Joe says, you are not going to get rich doing street photography. Additionally, your family and friends will probably not understand you either.

    Congratulations on the interview Joe. Your work deserves a much larger audience and I hope this interview provides that for you.

  14. Joe Wigfall is an exception-photographer and at Flickr he is my guide for street photography. His work shows all varieties of this genre on the highest artistic level. He is developing all the time, employing every element of an instant street catch to his advantage.

    He seems to fuse with the street scenery, invisible, but if he gets spotted it will add to the composition of his image perfectly. His style is daring, thrilling, and also kind of ruthless. The results are excellent, and very often breathtaking. Here are three examples I like out of his brilliant work:

    COUNTING
    … a decisive moment in chilly blue

    LIGHT SHADOWS
    … light shadows, the title says everything

    FALAFEL
    … his latest picture which is a masterpiece of touching and timeless beauty

    I´m grateful to know him and his work.

  15. He (Joe) is steady, ever watchful, observant, and patient. He is clearly passionate and talented.

    I cannot wait to see where his work goes. It is a pleasure to know him and to be inspired by him.

  16. Joe also known as joewig to the Flickr community is a great street photographer. It is rare we get images that are real and not props simply set up. I look at his images when I’m tired of the cliche flower/wedding/nature images. It inveigles me to go out and shoot myself. His comments and critique are always welcome and true, which is rare.

  17. Joe’s images are both inspirational and instructive to me. As a street photographer I see that his style is very similar to mine.

    His work continues to impress, and his intimate relationship with the “street’s of New York” are reflected in both his imaginative and often amusing shots.

    His work has a great ironic twist that I as a ‘street photographer’ find personally compelling.

  18. I’ve seen Joe improve rapidly and he seems dedicated which is important. It’s much harder than some would think. The fact that you fail over 95% of the time makes the successful images all the more sweeter.

    One must really love street photography since as Joe says, it’s not going to make anyone rich.
    Luckily it’s rewarding in more important ways.

  19. Joe always has something new and interesting up his sleeve. A true reporter of the human condition, and the first street photographer I’ve seen who makes verticals his specialty. He has made some real jewels that will stand the test of time.

    His captions are great too! A creative aspect that is not typically a part of street photography. With them he gives the picture added dimension. His own specific and insightful take on what he thinks the photograph is about.

    With all of it he’s a nice guy, upbeat, humorous, friendly, and humble.

  20. A great interview! Joe is a Flickr friend of mine.

    On Flickr Joe has always commented to the point on other people’s photos but never with any negative criticism, and always with a great sense of humor. I have always looked forward to Joe’s comments but most of all to his photo posts.

    On a trip back to NY last summer we met and spent some time discussing street photography.
    Joe is a warm congenial gentleman.

    Joe’s generous spirit comes through in this interview. He tells us all what a good street photographer needs to know.

    Joe’s photos have a raw immediacy seldom seen in Street Photography but they also contain a subtlety. There is much more to be seen than in a quick glance. The great courage it takes to capture what most people only see in a passing glance is one thing that distinguishes Joe from others who shoot on the streets.

    Joe is a creative Artist producing dramatic nuanced masterpieces in 1/60th of a second!

    Joe is never satisfied to sit back and do the same thing over and over. He is constantly trying new equipment and techniques to improve on the great work he has already done.

    I am very happy that I know Joe the photographer, and Joe the man!

  21. I have been a contact of Joe’s on Flickr for sometime. We both like to get up close and personal using medium to wide angle prime lens to purify the photographic process.

    Where we differ, and this is what makes the world so refreshing, is my love of creating an instant rapport with my subjects is wholly at odds with Joe’s ‘invisible man’ technique.

    This is why i always make a point of checking Joe’s work, you should too!

  22. It´s a honor to know Joe Wigfall. I am a amateur photographer and what I can say about my friend ”JoeWig” is that he is a very humble and accesible photographer evemthough he is a professional. Comparing to other pro artist that dont´ talk to amateurs. Anyway I will never forget 2 things that he wrote me when we first mail each other. First -Lemme know how much you want to know and I will help you Luis.- Those words let me know that he is very interested in teaching about photography, his passion. 2nd thing is -Luis, we’re all amateurs. You know why? Because you must never get to the point where you think you know everything. Gotta always stay in a place where you are open to learning new things. That’s how you grow and you always want to grow as a photographer.- . I really apreciatte when he comment my photos and what I like the most is that he also will to speak my first language, spanish, to make me feel more comfortable. I think he is the eye of NYC. He captures emotions, faces, histories and normal moments from a city with thousands tales that he greatly knows how to capture through his lens. Thanks Joe!!!

  23. Joe is a great photagrapher. Take a long look at his work. There is always more within a frame to be discerned than meets the eye. New York City just like I pictured it! He has an incredible eye for detail and nuance. Joe is like a musician with his camera. So adept with his instrument, he is capable of phrasing that can touch the deepest parts of your soul. And I know it comes a great cost, out of a commitment and love for his chosen medium. Long after many of the sensations of the day have faded, his work will remain both a testament of his heart and to his compassion for his fellow man. Breath in and breath out. Then have a look at Joe’s images and see your own heart on display in a hundred subtle ways you never knew before. I glad to know him.

  24. Excellent interview. Intriguing photographer. Your work is simply divine. Congratulations and all the best to you Joe.

  25. Thanks to everyone who has commented on this interview and/or has been helped in any way by it.

    Many thanks to James for searching me out, for allowing me the liberty of sharing my heart on the ins and outs of street photography as I’ve experienced it and for the chance to touch so many hearts with my passion for street work.

  26. I always look at Joe’s work on Flickr and am always amazed how he finds the shots he does. I do a bit of street now and again, but nerves always seem to get the better of me and I just can’t seem to be able to press that shutter button.

  27. Joe is a friend and I’m glad to know him. For all street photographers he is an inspiration. Nobody can ignore the great work of Joe’s on NYC streets.

    Like a pro photographer who specializes in street photography, I think that he and Markus Hartel are the best contemporary street photographers in the world.

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