Photographs by André D. Wagner/Casting by David Milosevich
Going out and hitting the streets of New York City in search of characters is an art practiced in many ways, and for many purposes, by street photographers and casting directors alike. So while casting director David Milosevich and photographer André D. Wagner have a lot in common, both going out alone on the hunt, they are looking for very different things.
We thought it would be an incredible experiment to see what would happen if they went out together as a team and started a dialogue about people and had a conversation about the process. What were they thinking? What were they doing? And how are they looking? So let’s hear what happened.
David: It was actually a lot of fun. It was interesting for me as a casting director because oftentimes when I am doing these street castings, they are for a client and based on very specific parameters of what they need, what they want, what they were looking for. In this instance, it was a little bit more open and vague.
It was really like, “What kind of catches your eye?” You left it very open-ended and it gave me a lot of room to fill in the blanks, and finish the sentences, and it reminded me of what it is that I love about casting! For me, it was more of finding different kinds of people who caught my eye without having to satisfy a particular client’s needs.
Debra: We were the client!
David: But you didn’t say “I need this! We need this kind of girl for that, we need this kind of thing for that.” It was much broader and even a little grey, which made it a lot more interesting for me. It reminded me what I love about the whole casting process.
Debra: Which is?
David: New York is filled with amazing, great, beautiful, interesting people who all have stories. You approach these people and you start to engage them a little and it was great fun.
Debra: A big difference in the way you work, David, and the way André works is that you engage the people.
David: I have to.
Debra: While André, you’re more of a ‘fly on the wall.’ Being a ‘fly in the wall’ is your process.
André: When you mentioned how we both go out and look for people, I was thinking about how we both go out and walk around, you know? I am walking the streets all of the time taking pictures. David thought I was a creeper because we would walk by someone and I would be like, “Oh yeah I have a picture of that person.” There’s also these certain people who I’m like, “I’ve seen this person on the street so many times.” This guy was in the car with his dog and I’ve tried making photos of him three times and it still hasn’t worked. So that was kinda funny, just to think about how vast New York is, but also how small it is and how you have these reoccurring people who cross your path.
Debra: It is all about neighborhoods. A lot of people come here and they think of it as people passing through, but we all live here. People have routines, and are going through daily life, and they are living also on the streets, so it’s a big huge canvas for you guys.
André: I feel like I am working in two different ways. I am a ‘fly on the wall’ when I am in Manhattan, or any of the other boroughs, when I am roaming around. When I am in my neighborhood, in Bushwick, I am not a fly on the wall. Everybody kinda sees me and knows me as the camera guy and I can still get the candid photos.
I still get the images that I want but it’s a different way of moving through the city. Whereas David is the complete opposite. I think the first place we went inside was Whole Foods and I was like, “Why are we going inside Whole Foods? People are shopping.” And then when we went in, I got it, because people in Whole Foods are taking their time and not in a rush.
David: Sometimes it’s easier when you have them contained within a place. When you are on the street sometimes you can see that they are trying to get from A to B, or they are in a rush, they want to catch the subway, you know?
André: That’s what I want. I want people who are in a rush!
David: The other interesting thing is that, like, twice for sure, we found people who knew, or knew of, André. We approached one of the girls in Whole Foods whose brother realized that he was a fan of his on Instagram and it was like having a star next to you, a rock star. And then another time we went into Urban Outfitters and, of course, we were scoping the place out and this kid comes up to shake his hand and was like, “I know you! I follow you on Instagram. I’m familiar with your work.” And I thought, “Wow!”
Debra: New York seems like such a big city but maybe it’s not as big as we thought. Tell us about some of the incredible characters. What was the same? What was surprising?
André: I think that the first thing that was surprising to me was the number of people who were open to having their picture taken. I think the first five or six people we asked were like, “Yeah, sure.” And I’m like, “What?” That just kind of blew my mind! Hardly anybody said no. Also, people couldn’t really figure us out. We were just kinda the mystery pack. This black kid and this older white man. And they’re just like, “I guess they’re kinda safe.” It was interesting to think about the dynamic of us working together and just how that looked on the street.
Debra: So what did you see in each other that was the big difference? David, you like to go up and engage with people, and André is kind of more laid back. Just in terms of the kind of people who you are eyeing. What did you sense? I’m sure that the first day you went out, you kinda had to feel it out and see what the other one was looking at?
André: To be honest, I kind of stayed back a little bit and let David take the lead. I mean, we definitely looked at people and were like, “Should we go up to them?” It wasn’t something that I was trying to take charge of because I feel like I was out of my terrain. I felt weird just walking up to people and talking about wanting to take their picture, so I kind of let David take charge as far as approaching people, and he would give them the rundown on what we were doing.
But I think that we were definitely talking about how we wanted the images to look – diverse – but it’s not that hard when you’re walking around New York. People are from all over the place. But that is definitely something that we wanted to do, to get a mix of people. Old, young, just how people look. Their background.
David: When we would see somebody, I would kind of look to David for confirmation. I’d be like, “Oh! Do you see that!” And he’d be like, “Yeah yeah, yeah!” So it was a lot of that kind of thing. It wasn’t just about one specific look, or thing, it was about trying to create more depth and breadth of images, of different types of people who became beautiful, and interesting, and then it got into, well, what does that mean?
Debra: What does that mean?
David: Well it can mean many different things in many different moments. Sometimes it was about the total look. The package. The way they were dressed. There was an element of coolness or style. Sometimes I just thought the face was very amazing and beautiful. It’s all very ‘snap your fingers in a split-second.’ On the street you have to go quick, but usually we were hitting it pretty right. There was something beautiful, and intriguing, and interesting – an open spirit maybe – that we liked.
André: Even though we work so differently, we both usually are working alone. We were talking about the dynamics of what happens when you’re going out everyday, or you’re working on a project. Sometimes you’re not that inspired and you have to build yourself up to enter people’s spaces. I have to stand in front of people when I shoot them, I’m not invisible, and then David, he actually speaks to somebody. You have to get outside of yourself a little bit. Even though we work so differently, there are so many similarities.
Debra: Were there any particular standouts or personalities? In the opposite sense, were there people who you thought had something, and then you take their picture, and then there is nothing there? It’s not what you thought?
David: For instance, there was one girl, she was cute, and sweet, and pretty. When we first saw her in Washington Square Park, she had on these little round sunglasses with a wire rim and a scarf over her head. She was like that cool, white chick hanging out who was probably in college, which she was, and she was sweet and pretty. But there wasn’t something intriguing or outstanding, but just pleasant and pretty.
Debra: But then André takes a picture and you get a picture which has a charismatic quality.
André: I think that is something I was thinking a lot about because portrait photography is hard in general. I kinda hate portraits that don’t do anything and just kinda stand still. For me, when I’m shooting street scenes, the simple images, they always seem the strongest. They are things that you can’t duplicate. That’s what I am looking for. Images that don’t do anything for me, I feel like they are just a bore.
That’s the challenge. I didn’t want the portraits to just look like a picture that anybody could go up to that person and recreate it like a snapshot. So, I think sometimes that depends on me and how I direct people, but I’m not a huge director so I think, “How can I take this quick snapshot of this person and also evoke something?” So that if somebody sees it, they’re not just like, “Oh this is just a simple picture of this person.” You know? And sometimes I think it depends on the subject. Yeah we are out casting, but I am a photographer and I want to evoke something with images, and so how can I get the picture to say something?
David: And also with a very small window of time. Even on the street. You know? That takes a special skill to be able to capture that.
André: When we were walking around and I asked David, “How do you see somebody and just know? What are you looking at?” Because with me, although I’ve been doing some fashion-type stuff lately, I’ve realized that even when I’m in a studio with hair, and makeup, and stylists, and all that, I’m looking at something completely different. I’m not looking at the clothes. I’m telling the stylists, “If the clothes aren’t right, you need to look at that.” I’m actually just looking at the model and trying to get something conveyed. I don’t care that much about how the clothes look, or how they fall, because I just want the image to be strong.
Like David was saying, it’s just an instant. Especially on the street. For me, I’m just like, “That’s the moment. That’s what I want.” It was that look or that gaze. It might not necessarily be that person. But just something that they’re representing right now. And I think some of that felt true for him too. You just instantly look at that person and you know.
David: With my experience, coming from the model side of things, you do see a certain magic with certain models and certain photographers, and they do just connect. Once that girl is in front of the camera with that photographer, there has to be something happening. And I think that with the great ones, you know. And when it isn’t, that photographer may move on to another girl that he really feels something happening between the two of them as they’re shooting.
André: I’m more into the photos that happen by chance. There are some street photographers and they’re like, “Oh, I’m going to do this ‘stride-by’ picture when you go and stand in front of some columns and you wait for somebody to walk by.” Like nothing is happening, they’re just waiting for somebody to walk by. I’m more into the chance. I want to walk through the street, and I want to walk through the crowd, and I want the chance of that person looking over their shoulder, and that kid holding the arm, and the guy grabbing the tag. For me, I want something to happen in the picture, in the moment. That’s what I’m interested in. I’ve shot with models where I’m just like, “Man, I’m just sitting behind this picture and I’m just clicking away.” But then, I’ve shot with models and I’m like, “Oh!” And something does happen there too. That’s when it gets really fun.
David: And it becomes interesting.
André: But when I’m just clicking away, it’s the worst. I remember when we ran up to the group of black kids, and as soon as I saw them coming across the street, I was like, “I want this picture. This is kinda like an ‘André Wagner’ photo. I would have taken this in Bushwick!” Part of it is my background. I played basketball and I’m like, “That is a little André right there. I want to make a picture of it.” If I wasn’t with David, I wouldn’t have gotten the shot of the kid sitting on the mailbox. Even when I do engage, its’ not like, “I want to take your picture.” I’m like beating around the bush. David inspired me. I know now that even if I do see something that I want to photograph, or a subject, and something is not happening, I can start to experiment.
Debra: When you guys went out together, do you feel like you started seeing the same things? Do you feel like you were influencing each other?
André: I thought we were influencing each other a little bit, but we still had different people who we noticed. You definitely have people who are walking around the city and you know that they want to be photographed. There are some times when I’m crossing the street, and I’m always looking, and that person will make eye contact with me and I’m like, “Oh you want me to take your picture?” And I’m like, “I don’t want your picture.” Then you have those real characters who are very natural and you’re just like, “This is who they are every day.” That is usually the person who you want to photograph.
David: André had his camera around his neck, and he would be snapping photos, and at one point there was one guy who saw him, and I said, “I feel like he is standing there waiting for you.” He was literally posing.
Debra: People get dressed up, and wait outside of fashion shows, and basically line up to get photographed, which is the antithesis of what you guys are talking about. That is the reason why we decided to do this exercise to begin with.
André: It’s not about the person really loving the craft or the medium. It’s about wanting to be seen or wanting attention.
David: I’ve always felt that sometimes the most beautiful images are the raw ones, or at least the ones that appear to be raw. Even if they are more thought out or controlled. But those are the ones that always have the most power. When everybody is posing, and everybody is camera-ready, something is lost.
André: I feel like sometimes with the world we live in right now, some people are working backwards. I get it, people want their stuff to be seen, but if you’re not already immersed into your craft, and your only reason for doing this is to be seen, and you’re not giving the culture something that the culture needs, you’re giving it something that is already existing, you know, “here today and gone tomorrow.” I think about the work that I want to create, and I don’t just want somebody to like it on Instagram and then forget about it again. I want somebody to have the picture on their wall, or I want it to be in a museum.
David: Like what will it be in 50 years, or 150 years? That is the true value of an artist.
To hear the entire conversation listen to the podcast below: