Joe Wigfall – Photography

Watch the WNYC Street Shots Video-Joe Wigfall:

To watch the video you must join as a FREE guest member. This video describes Joe Wigfall’s working process and provides inspiration for all visual artists.
[Content protected for Guest members only]

Year and place of birth:

I was born a little over 50 years ago in New York City’s East Harlem.

Why photography?

That’s a good question. Since I was a child viewing pictures of people in newspapers, books and magazines, it has fascinated me how a photograph was taken and what the photographer did to make their shots look so good.

I use photography to take quick sketches of the images I see around me and to interpret that moment. I generally prefer black & white photography over color because I feel black & white accentuates the depth of character of most people and environments I shoot.

I started photography using film more than 25 years ago, but chose street photography as a vehicle of expression only five years ago. Although I would much prefer to draw or sketch what I see, photography is far quicker at drawing the slices of life before me. The advent of digital photography catapulted my ability to edit and customize my photographs to say exactly what my heart did at the moment of the shot.

What is the role of photography in your life?

I’m a visual artist. Photography—street photography has become a spontaneous and exciting way of expressing my own creativity by shooting (and interacting with) what I see in the instances of life I come across. It connects me with these myriad moments and makes the ordinary become special. I know that it has become a bit of a passion for me because when I stay away from it too long, for even just a break, I feel there’s a part of me missing.

Where can we find your work?

Right now the majority of my work is found on flickr, but some of it is also featured on Executive Edits and Street Photographers as well as a few other featured sites.

One Story:

One of my more intriguing shots is called VENOM. It had been a long time since I’d gone shooting in the subways of NYC.  I was actually taking the train downtown to drop off some film for developing and there were still a few shots left on the roll in the camera. I was using the inimitable Konica Hexar AF, and as those who use it know, it has a super quiet shutter button and the camera is very unobtrusive.

I walked into the subway car to take a seat before it filled with people from the approaching express train on the other track. I immediately noticed these three people seated right across from me. The camera was in my lap and its lens cover was still off. I was curious to see whether the 400 ISO film in the camera would cleanly pick up any images in this darkened section of the train car. There were a few more people milling around us and hanging onto the straps when I felt that it might be a good time to get off a few shots before I put the camera away. What I didn’t realize was that even though I was seated in shadow, as I fiddled with the camera’s controls, this guy was scrutinizing every move I made.

I nonchalantly re-examined the controls on top of the camera while I got off a few shots. Unbeknownst to me, this guy had watched the lens shutter open and close each time I took a shot. I replaced the lens cover on the camera and slowly looked up to see whether the lighting had improved. To my surprise, his eyes met mine. He wasn’t pleased, but I still wasn’t entirely sure he saw me do anything. In fact I thought he was upset with his girlfriend seated next to him, so I played it off. He kept staring at me. People holding onto straps above him swayed in between our view of each other, but his expression remained the same. After a while, I just ignored him and quietly got off two stops later at my station. Fortunately for both of us, he didn’t make a scene.

It wasn’t until I developed my contact sheet that I realized the full vented ferociousness of his stare. His expression made my skin crawl, but it was worth it.

14 Responses to “Joe Wigfall – Photography”

  1. Zun Lee says:

    Joe describes himself as a visual artist – I and countless others would reverse that slightly: He’s nothing short of an artistic visionary.

    The best photographs ask questions but don’t necessarily judge. Joe’s photographic vision forces us to not only ask the questions, but come up with the answers ourselves. And we gladly do; his scenes of urban America suggest a heightened awareness of everyday life that passes most of us by unnoticed. It’s at once ruthless and tender, painful yet soothing, gently ironic but always loving.

    Indeed, it’s his love for people that shines through in his body of work, sometimes in your face, other times through subtle innuendo. For street photographers like myself, his point of view is a constant source of inspiration and a reminder of what separates us from the mere voyeur.

  2. naveen says:

    Reg. the VENOM shot – I don’t really think he was staring, he just looks bored and yeah like you said he could’ve been upset with his girlfriend. In case, you meet him by chance do give him a copy of this photograph and you’ll know what really was going on in his mind that time.

    AGREEMENT, SHADES, VENOM and THIRSTY are my favourites of the lot.

  3. Kev Mc says:

    Its always good to hear Joe’s thoughts on photography. I’ve been following his work for a few years on flickr, he’s a top notch street photographer and a true gent.

    I advise anybody that hasn’t already done so, to take a stroll through his flickr pages. The sheer depth & quality of work is impressive to say the least.

    So Joe, when will we be able to buy the book?

  4. _SiD_ says:

    Joe, more than anyone, is documenting what’s happening on the ground in NY at the start of the 21st Century.

    Visit his flickr stream and hunt down his youtube documentary.

    Always inspirational.

  5. I completely agree, Joe’s work is phenomenal. I teach photography to students at the Academy of Art University. Each semester, I share Joe’s video about his approach to the genre of Street Photography and the snapshot aesthetic. Students always exclaim the video breaths creativity into their spirit and promotes a freedom of working.

    The video is posted here, to see it though, you’ll need to log in as a free guest member. To each of you, thanks for helping support the arts by sharing your wisdom, And Joe Thank you for your inspiration.

    ~ John Trefethen

  6. Piotr Obal says:

    This small set is just a fraction of fantastic and ever growing collection of truly unique NYC street life moments Joe’s is uploading to Flickr.
    What makes his work so special? Turning mundane ordinary moments into something extraordinary! Thank You Joe and just enjoy and keeo going mate!
    piotr obal

  7. Garth McKay says:

    I admit it. It’s going to take a smarter pen than I possess to do Joe’s work justice. As has been said so well by others here, I too enthusiastically embrace the descriptions of Joe as nothing less than an artistic visionary. Each of his photos holds lessons. Each photo leaves questions unanswered, always subtle but always there, a point unresolved that he gently seduces you to answer.

    Like many of us, our early introduction to Joe’s work was his WNYC video. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this and shared it with friends, mostly non-photographers. What is fascinating is that Joe even inspires them! It is not only his intellectual and evocative poetry of the truth on the streets, but his wide angle vision. His larger appreciation of how to keep the passion, of “your first best destiny”, alive amid all those competing and demanding pulls of the everyday. That was the lesson they received and appreciated. Joe Wigfall, the world is a richer place with you in it. Congrats, man!

  8. SkyShaper says:

    He is a street dancer. The difference is that he carries a ‘recorder’ and his finger is lightening fast on that shutter. Yes, he is recording life, simple and pure. Those moments that happen around us that only a skilled street artist can catch. Keep dancing man…keep dancing.

  9. Bob long Jr says:

    Joe’s work was a revelation for me. I been photograhing people and things for over 50 years and I’ve seen the work of a lot of great artists. But his street photography grasped me anew. I’ve never seen the “shoot-from-the-hip” style so fully realized. You know the images are at a lower pov, but they still capture outstandingly imtimate images. Superb for composition, action, framing, spatial relationships. How? I spoke with Joe at length, then tried it.

    My stuff looked like crap. No even close. He sense of his camera, what it sees, how it sees, balletic movement in tight quarters, while on the move all resulting in images with emotional, spiritual and artistic power is astounding.

    Then again, myabe I should use a bright pink colored camera for undercover work. 🙂
    The man is Brilliant and hard working.

  10. Joe’s strength is in his editing. He seems to take his time to let the images he takes divide themselves into those that grab him and those that don’t. It’s not like the ones that aren’t noticed at first are “rejected.” Judgment needn’t enter into it. It’s all positive: a really good photographer trusts the judgment that’s solely about curiosity, about a rhyme with something inside. Joe Wigfall is impeccable this way.

    His images are chock full of engaging angles, shapes, tones. Many of them have an impregnated feeling, almost like a charcoal drawing. There is a form that goes beyond composition, an active ingredient in the spatial interrelationships. And the timing is super. Since reading this, I’ve thought a lot about that one moment that sums up the scene. Joe does this superbly. I’ve always enjoyed seeing his work and look forward to each carefully selected posting. Many photographers take fine shots: the wise ones never post a bad one!

  11. Dan Goorevitch says:

    “…you don’t kill part of yourself just because you can’t make a living at it”

    That’s my favorite line.

  12. I follow your work and progress all the time.
    I like at it with amazement . I do envy your nerve.

    Your most powerful skill is your editing.
    You make a mondane photo come alive.
    You make each one ask a question. Not many have that skill.
    I am 75 years old and find I can get away with a lot on the street.

  13. Ronya Galka says:

    Ever since I came across Joe’s work for the first time, I have been fascinated with his style.

    The ease and consistency with which Joe manages to capture the most outstandingly real and raw moments on the streets of NYC puts ordinary street hunters to shame.

    Joe I salute you- you are an inspirational ambassador for street photography!

Leave a Reply