PRESENT DAY HISTORY: Andre Wagner’s Poetic journey
In celebration of Black History Month, Hennessy, the world’s best-selling Cognac, partnered with Brooklyn-based artist and photographer Andre D. Wagner to spotlight how he continues the legacy of Black History through images that capture and illustrate the on-going narrative African Americans express through everyday life. Constantly moving forward, evolving, elevating not only their lives but all life surrounding them in their constant quest to “Never stop. Never settle.”
Shot on the streets of New York City, “NEW HISTORY VOL.1” salutes the diversity & beauty found within the everyday lives of people of color.
MONARCH MAGAZINE caught up with Mr. Wagner to discuss his journey through art, music, and beyond.
Monarch Magazine: How did your partnership with Hennessy come about?
Andre D. Wagner: When Hennessy hit me up I was really honored. They have always supported so many different artists. The first person that came to mind was Nas, because I grew up listening to him and I remember all the ads he shot with Hennessy.
Monarch Magazine: How did your journey into photography begin?
Andre D. Wagner: Well, I always say I fell into it; it kind of just happened to me. My background is in social work, that’s what I studied as an undergrad, and when I moved to New York City, I moved here to get my MSW. Then through the transition of coming to the city and becoming affected by its energy, I started playing around with the camera, and one thing led to another. I kind of changed my career path. At the same time, being born in Omaha, being from the Midwest, and my background in social work influenced my work and sensibilities. I got to a place where I could use my experience, my ideas, and my thinking about social justice and social change, and put all of it in my photography to create a voice for myself.
Monarch Magazine: You seem fairly young to be able to capture what on the surface looks like a style that can be likened to a modern-day Gordon Parks. Who would you say inspires you?
Andre D. Wagner: As a black photographer, the first thing you do is look up other black photographers; one of the first ones that come up is Gordon Parks. I have an old soul in a way, so my work is rooted in the history and tradition of photography which was started by Gordon Parks, and Roy Nicaragua, (another black photographer from Harlem). I took inspiration from photographers that chronicle black life in all kinds of facets and captured that in my own work.
Monarch Magazine: Do you feel that black artists are celebrated enough? Are they given equal opportunity to shine as significantly as their counterparts?
Andre D. Wagner: When it comes to photography specifically, I don’t think so. There’s an entire history about black photographers that a lot of people don’t even know about. Gordon Parks is a household name, but aside from him, people don’t know too much about others. There was a movement, I believe, that started in the sixties, and it was called Kamoinge. It was based in Harlem and created by Roy Nicaragua, the photographer I mentioned earlier. Kamoinge was a black artists’ collective, a community of photographers who not only came together, critiqued and shared work with each other, but also figured out how to break into the world of photography and photojournalism. Black artists weren’t getting assignments from editors so this was a community where they were supported and backed by each other. Those kinds of communities are created because there is a need for support and people are trying to find each other in order to collaborate and eventually advance.
Monarch Magazine: What is your personal perception of beauty?
Andre D. Wagner: Beauty is multifaceted. One of the things that is most important to me and my work, is not only photographing and showcasing the black experience, but also the nuances and multifaceted ways of it. As a photographer, I find beauty in all things. It could be an empty street with no one on it, or a family walking together with long faces, or even a couple engaging with each other and sharing a beautiful moment. As a photographer, I want all of it; I want to capture the whole range of human emotions. I believe that when it comes to art especially, there is a lot of beauty in pain. There’s also a lot of beauty in people’s stories. I want all of it captured, the highs and the lows. Beauty to me is all of that.
Monarch Magazine: Is there a specific soundtrack that accompanies your art work? Music that you select to place you in a particular mood?
Andre D. Wagner: I love jazz music. I think about jazz and I listen to jazz all the time. A lot of jazz is voiceless, just instruments and sounds that musicians are bouncing back and forth with each other. The artists are able to go off on a whim and fill out the notes and rhythms. These musicians wouldn’t be able to do that unless they were masters in their own right. So they can’t hit and go to another tone or follow another musician if they have not mastered their craft.
The same holds true for photography and I take a lot of inspiration from that. I go out into the world, and my photographs are not posed or even staged, and in the same way a jazz musician is able to carry a person to a different place. I have to go out into the world and see these moments happening and capture them as they happen. But I also have to be a master of my craft in order to create exactly what I want. Another thing with music and photography, unless I’m photographing and there are words in the picture, the photograph on its own is silent. I think a lot about how jazz is able to move people without any spoken words. It’s all a vibration and a feeling. And that’s what I want to do with my photography. I want my images to jump off the page. I want people to feel them and to be moved by them. There are dancing rhythms in my photographs, so jazz has a huge influence on my work for sure.
Monarch Magazine: What are some other projects that you are currently working on?
Andre D. Wagner: I work with the New York Times a lot. I contribute to a column called The Look. I usually choose different themes and work on them for about a month or so. I’m just always working. I’m also creating a new body of work about New York and my neighborhood (Bushwick, Brooklyn) where I live. I also have other personal projects I’m trying to get published within the next year or so. Finally, I work as a freelance photographer so I’m always doing all kinds of photography for hire.
Monarch Magazine: It’s very impactful to hear from an artist during a time in which so many powerful social issues have been brought to the forefront. We celebrate you for capturing the black experience and for committing to create change within the world.
Andre D. Wagner: As an avid supporter of multicultural communities, Hennessy has a long history of supporting the arts and working with diverse cultural icons who push the limits of potential to “Never stop. Never settle.” Their decades of support spans partnerships with the National Urban League, Tuskegee Institute, Josephine Baker, Nas, as well as their early advertising in major leading African American publications.