Sunday, July 13, 2008
Joe Wigfall named 'NYC Street Challenge' winner
" 'I'm out! I'm out!' ", Joe Wigfall, All rights reserved
I'm something like 2 weeks late on this, so forgive the newsy headline. Hopefully better late than never, I want to record my admiration of Challenge winner Joe Wigfall's work. I made Wigfall a contact some time ago on Flickr, but never followed him closely (one of the things that characterizes this moment in photo history is how many extraordinary photographers one doesn't follow) . Check out this video, in which Wigfall talks about why he does what he does & explains his no-look style.
It's great to see honors go to a shooter who swims in the human ocean, relying more on physical movement & visual instinct than preconception -- let alone post-processing -- for the vitality of his shots. The only thing I want to carp about is the nearly all-B & W selection of Wigfall's work (the Flickr set of his official Challenge entry has just 2 color shots out of 20). Wigfall shoots excellent street color too & I wish more had been included.
B & W is certainly the heart of the street tradition, the medium in which the street style was forged. It's cooler, more abstract, more "art" (artificial), as Wigfall remarks in the video. But arguably the great Leica street tradition of the past relied on B & W mostly because it could be more easily controlled than the quirky color films of the day.
Walker Evans called color "vulgar." Take away the snooty associations & it's true. Color is in your face, sometimes overwhelming. Because it's so specific, it's harder to universalize than B & W. This makes it very different, at least as hard to shoot . Not better, not more "accurate" -- this is not a judgment. But I'd argue that shooting color perhaps offers more of a "challenge" to today's street shooter who is trying to create a body of work that's fundamentally different, as well as the same, as the past. I say this as a photographer who, like Wigfall, started a long time ago -- in fact when B&W was still dominant among street shooters (here's some of my early B & W, called Snapshots Deluxe).
The only other thing that bothered me is that I couldn't find the Challenge runners up (reputedly 20 of them) at WYNC's website or at the Camera Club of NY, who sponsored the Street Challenge show. I assume the photographers were contacted directly but wonder why they didn't get more media exposure, since they weren't being paid. Maybe I missed something.
Full disclosure: I was a contestant in this contest. My entry set is here.