They search eagerly for the sun. Some look down into, what look like, adapted boxes, others stare upward. Protected by specially designed glasses they seek the U.S. solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. Mathias Wasik’s series, from the sidewalks of New York, captures the excitement of an unique moment. A guy with a box on his head, with the appropriate legend written on the carton : The Great American Eclipse, while in another photograph a girl holding a Kelloggs Froot Loops box has her head turned up toward the sun, as if she were worshipping it.
Image Credit Mathias Wasik
“I am a member of the NYC (New York City) Street Photographer Collective – the NYC-SPC,” Mathias informs. “This is…a small group of passionate street photographers… On the day of the great solar eclipse in the U.S.,… Jorge Garcia, the group’s founder, suggested we all swarm out… and capture the event. While most New Yorkers had their eyes pointed up at the sky watching the eclipse, we had ours pressed on our viewfinders. It’s a fantastic little project and we will surely publish it as a book or zine some time.”
Mathias Wasik was born in Poland, brought up in Germany, married an Australian girl called Emily, and now resides in Brooklyn, New York City.
“I think I still have a certain curiosity and can take a fresh look at New York and its people,” He tells me. “As a photographer documenting the streets, I don’t want to only focus on the bizarre and whacky. There is so much to explore in the subtext of the daily current of the masses in the city. It’s loud, crowded – full of life, happiness, tragedy. In my work I try to filter through that noise. With the image, the story unfolds and enters into a dialogue with the viewer.”
Wasik’s perspective is visual and sociological, the ‘dialogue with the viewer’ resonates. Like many street photographers, and indeed street photography, his work is also geographical, historical, political, economic. He admits he is revealing a story as it unfolds on the street before him, but leaves the narrative to his audience.
“I am very selective in the process of shooting.” He informs me. “On some days I return home without any shot I deem worthy of keeping. Sometimes I stick around one spot and find dozens of scenes popping up around me. I can’t really tell you what exactly I’m looking for. I know it, when it unfolds in front of me. It can be a certain gesture someone is making. It can be a moment of closeness and privacy in the chaos of the streets.”
In one great shot (Victoria’s Secret) we see a couple, drenched in sunlight, in a steamy clinch. The intimacy says ‘love running into lust’ and our minds are set racing. On the edge of the photograph onlookers gaze bemused, their own narratives developing rapidly. Who are the couple? Husband and wife? Secret lovers? It is a great moment caught square on by a wonderful piece of street photography reminiscent of Eisenstaedt’s end of the war sailor kissing the nurse shot. Is this the subtext of New York? in the centre of the surrounding chaos, an island of raw, emotional, extraordinary life ‘popping’ up!
Image Credit Mathias Wasik
“I like that corner on 34th street in Manhattan a lot for its fantastic light on a sunny day,” Mathias explained. “I remember hanging around there for quite some time…that day without capturing anything relevant. I was actually on my way to the subway to take a train home, when I saw this couple kissing – passionately – fully immersed in their love game. I’d say they were middle-aged, but they looked like teenagers. I took several shots from different angles and got really close. They didn’t notice me at all. I chose this frame because I love her arms around his neck and head, her bag under his arm, and the added tension from the look of the guy on the left.”
In another photograph, a man riding the subway is wandering around with a box on his head.
“My wife and I were on the way home from a show and when we got on the train I spotted this guy with a screen housing on his head,” Mathias explained. “One of the most bizarre scenes I’ve seen on the subway. I always have my camera…so I got to work…(much to the annoyance of my better half, who thought I’m going a bit nuts). I chose this frame because there’s something mundane about it. No passenger seems to care. In a city that is overly saturated with artists and performers, a lonely computer head on his way home won’t cause much irritation.”
Global Age Of Divisions
Wasik’s is a street photography that neatly glides into documentary. ‘Trumpland’ is a great series of photographs which resonate with an extraordinary period of American politico-historical life in an equally extraordinary global age of divisions. Meanwhile, his ‘Washed Ashore’ grouping is a cultural adjunct to that political and historical moment. Few, outside of America, believed the USA would elect Donald Trump president, but it didn’t stop New Yorkers heading for the beach when the sun shone.
Image Credit Mathias Wasik
“Street photography for me is sort of a daily exercise,” Mathias says enthusiastically. “ ‘Washed Ashore’… was done really fast. It’s actually the result of one very productive afternoon in Coney Island. I don’t often find the time for the long track down to the beach, but on that hot summer Saturday I spent a few hours there. I like the contrast between the amusement park, the boardwalk, and the beach. I find it most curious to watch the many New Yorkers escape the city just to throw themselves into this dazzling, kitschy world of Coney. For me this place is like a time capsule – It feels like not much has changed there in the last few decades.”
Street photography is an extreme art form for the innately curious, the adventurous, and those who want to visually push boundaries. It is, as Mathias hints, trying to make sense of life’s fascinating chaos. This is one very talented street photographer unravelling that visual sociology as actors collide in the extraordinary mash up of the everyday.
‘Washed Ashore’ is now a zine, and you can find more about Mathias Wasik’s on his website.