Ask any street photographer to name a place they would love to go out and shoot, I guarantee many of them would list New York as number one on their bucket list. New York has been a platform for many of the greats in street photography, with the likes of Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and William Klein all practicing their craft in The Big Apple.
Today, with the abundance of cameras available to the public, many can be found trying to imitate the original innovators - most fail. Thankfully quality always prevails and there are some street photographers in New York that are creating some truly inspiring work today.
For me, one of the best street photographers working out of New York right now is Mathias Wasik. A board member of the New York Street Photography Collective (NYSPC), Mathias is producing work that is full of colour and life - a portfolio that documents the big, the beautiful and the bizarre, all of which makes up one of the world's most iconic destinations.
I was able to catch up with Mathias and find out what life is like as a present day street photographer in New York...
DG - You mainly work out of New York, one of the main hubs for street photography. Do you tend to roam freely, or do you have some core hotspots that you shoot from?
MW - New York City is a feast for the eyes and a street photographer’s wet dream. Most photographers who live here have their favourite spots, but there are some “classic” spots that most of us come back to over and over again. On the weekends you’ll often find me in Midtown, near the Empire State Building, on Fifth Avenue, or, if I’m in that very special kind of mood, Times Square. These are busy spots where you’ll run into many street photographers, and where generations of artists like Joel Meyerowitz, Jeff Mermelstein, and many others have done some of their famous work. In summer, I sometimes go down to Coney Island for some beach/amusement park vibes. I’m drawn to Greenpoint in Brooklyn, with its fading Polish community, and recently to the new Domino Park waterfront in Williamsburg and its mix of hipsters, local families, and Hasidic Jews.
DG - Your work is full of wonderful compositions and colour. What are you looking for from a scene when you are creating a photograph?
MW - I’m quite picky with selecting my scenes and I shoot much less than you might expect. I’m not really interested in the mundane. There has to be an element of surprise, humour, or human drama, to make a scene interesting for me. Add some juxtaposition, an uncluttered, yet well composed background and a shot might be a keeper for me. Color is definitely another defining element. I like to be expressive in both the content and the form, and strong colors and accentuated lighting help me get to satisfying results. I’m quite brutal in the editing process and throw out many shots that I consider “meh”.
DG - Most street photographers go through times of feeling deflated and lacking in motivation. How do you keep yourself inspired and focused when you go through a rough patch?
MW - Those are times when I grab a photo book by one of my inspiring artists and let them remind me why it’s important to never stop working. What also gets me back on track is checking out the recent work of fellow street photographers on Instagram or at one of the meetings of the NYC Street Photography Collective .
DG - You are based in one of the worlds coolest locations. What other destinations around the world do you look at and think “I would love to shoot there”?
MW - I love Alex Webb’s work a lot and on a recent trip to Brazil I found many of his motives and the layers in his work in the streets of São Paulo. I was there for just a few days, but I’d love to explore the country and Latin America in general more. I’d also love to go back to Europe, especially Eastern Europe and Russia, and use the approach and style I’ve developed here in New York to explore the streets. Then again, Europe with its strict privacy laws that prohibit candid photography, isn’t the easiest place to work in when you shoot street. I see a lot of fantastic work come from Asia. Also, I would love to spend some time in Japan and South Korea.
DG - You have gathered quite the following on Instagram. Can you share some of your methods of growing your fan base and ensuring your work reaches a wider audience..
MW - I’m afraid I don’t have any secret tips to grow your Instagram fast. First, make sure you have a portfolio - good work that you’re really proud to share. Connect with other photographers, and not just on Instagram but in real life. And try to get exposure on other platforms as well, through assignments for media outlets and blogs. And don’t forget, every minute you spend on Instagram could be used for going out and shooting.
DG - Are you currently working on any long-term projects or have any projects you would like to develop in the future?
MW - I've just published "The Colors of Sikhs", a collaboration with Melissa O'Shaughnessy. Melissa and I both documented this year's Sikh Parade in New York and decided to publish some of our best shots in a printed zine. I'm also working on another book/zine project that I'm very excited about, but it's a bit too early to talk about it. What I'm really looking forward to is the NYC Street Photography Collective group show that is coming up in August at the Soho Photo Gallery in New York. Check out https://www.instagram.com/nycspc/ for more info and if you're in the city, don't miss it!
DG - Are you able to share with the reader's your favourite and most important image you have taken, giving us an insight as to why that photograph means so much to you?
MW - This is almost like asking “what was your favourite day of your life” – I really struggle to point out one shot that I’d put above all others. One of the more recent shots I really like is of a group of people staring into FedEx boxes during the solar eclipse last year. I walked around Fifth Avenue during my lunch break and while most people were staring at the sun, I documented their fascination with this rare celestial event. This particular shot stands out to me because you can take it out of the context of the eclipse and it becomes a very random scene that makes you wonder what’s happening.
DG - Finally, in 3 words please could you describe what street photography means to you.
MW - Exploration. Fulfilment. Weary feet.
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