“Let us give thanks for the brilliant eye of
Dan Wagner. Working in black and white,
Wagner offers us indelible glimpses into
the denizens of the city as only a native son
might understand and convey. Unadorned
and sober, controlled and compassionate,
each image is a chapter, part of a tale, told
to us by as sure-handed and accomplished
a storyteller under whose spell we the
viewers could ever hope to fall.”
-- Joel Rose, author of The Blackest Bird
and Kill Kill Faster Faster
In the city that never sleeps, insomnia is a given.
For me, insomnia is the inability to resist the call of the night. So I grab my Rolleiflex cameras, a pocketful of flashbulbs, and head out to my favorite New York City haunts.
When I ignore that call, I can’t sleep. I toss, turn, and wonder what’s happening at Webster Hall in the East Village, if there’s a good crowd of club-hoppers at the West Side Meat Market, or how Steven, my favorite bouncer at The Fat Black Pussycat, is doing.
Ironically, on the nights I shoot, my insomnia is even worse. Images illuminated by my 30-year-old Sylvania flashbulbs are emblazoned on my over-stimulated brain. I can’t wait to develop them and bring them back to life.
Why flashbulbs? Flashbulb street photography poses a unique challenge, in that there’s one chance to record the image. Each picture taken with a flashbulb is a one-time only special event. As Weegee – the street photographer best known for his gritty nighttime shots of 1940s crime scenes -- put it:
“People are so wonderful that a photographer has only to wait for that breathless moment to capture what he wants on film.”
There’s so much to see and capture at night. Armed with my cameras and flashbulbs, I wait for those breathless moments.
Why black and white film? While advances in digital photography make it possible to approximate the timeless, classic look of black and white film, it’s impossible to replace the artistry involved in mastering the variables of film. Digital photography lets you take a picture, see it immediately, and make changes until you’re satisfied. Film demands decades of experience before you can predict how a final image will look.
I shot the photos in this book between May and August 2012. Because city nightlife changes with the seasons, I’m already planning new night shots. In fact, just thinking about the moments I’ll catch as snow falls on busy New Yorkers is already keeping me awake. I can’t wait.
I bet Weegee had insomnia. I bet he’d agree that if what you’re after as an artist or photographer keeps you awake, you’re on the right track.
©2012 Dan Wagner Photography. All Rights Reserved. danwagnerphotography.com
Cover Design: M. Hogan