Feature Interview: Wayne Lawrence, Photographer
Wayne Lawrence is a photographer originally born in St. Kitts, who currently resides in New York City, and his award winning photography knows no boundaries. His work has been exhibited at at The George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art in New York, The Corridor and Calumet Galleries in New York, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, as well as The African American Museam in Philadelphia.
He was also recently chosen as one of PDN’s 30 for their annual March issue of “new and emerging photographers to watch”. His photography & portraits cover a landscape of human beauty and emotion, that not only illustrate his passion for his work, but are infectious for the viewer as well.
How and when did you first get into photography?
A little over ten years ago I was an unemployed carpenter living in Reseda, California and searching for direction in my life when I discovered the biography of Gordon Parks and the work of Eli Reed and Richard Avedon at the public library. After reading the foreword to Eli’s book, written by Gordon Parks, where he congratulated Eli for being the first African American photographer accepted to Magnum, this prestigious photo agency, I went home immediately to investigate why in modern times that an agency with such a deep history only had one black member. Then I was blown away by the amazing work that these photographers were doing. I realized instantly that photography was a language to be learnt just like any other language and saw that each photographer there had their own distinct way of telling stories. I immediately enrolled in photojournalism classes at Santa Monica College and haven’t looked back.
Looking at your photographs, one gets the impression that there’s almost an innate level of trust between you and the people you photograph. Did you find this was something you’ve built upon time and experience in dealing with people?
I was an introvert for most of my life but I realized early on in my journey as a photographer that if I wanted to be good then I had to learn to engage my subjects in conversation. It was a real challenge in the beginning but as I’ve grown as a person I’ve become much more confident and people respond to that.
Your shots taken in the Dominican Republic put a human face on the issues there faced by Haitian immigrants. Tell us one of your experiences there that touched you the most.
Witnessing how difficult life is for Haitians living in the Bateyes of the Dominican Republic was heartbreaking and the work that I’ve done doesn’t even come close to addressing the issues that they’re faced with. What I tried to capture was the spirit of a people surviving in an environment ripe with a deep seeded hatred. What touched me the most was the generosity of everyone I met.
Your photos taken in Orchard Beach manage to visually capture (and tell) some compelling stories. Were you blown away by some of these random scenes you captured?
I wouldn’t say that I was blown away but I do feel a rumble in my gut when I meet someone interesting and am inspired by the conversations we share. Before I set out to work I make sure to get a good workout in, then meditate for a bit so that I can respond to any situation that I’m presented with. The stories are compelling because they reflect the world and the time we’re living in.
What is your “Itinerant New York” project, and what is your overall objective?
Itinerant New York is about my coming to terms with this city I call home. Aside from St.Kitts, this is my favorite place that I’ve lived and I truly enjoy heading out into the streets not knowing whom I’ll meet on any given day. My objective is to meet as many people as I can with the hope that our exchange will be mutually beneficial. I always approach my subjects with love and respect and express my appreciation for the time we share. I want my photographs to serve as testimony to our meeting and hope that the strength exhibited by my subjects will inspire others to live their best lives.
Do you have a favorite photograph or series that you’ve done?
I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite. It’s all a part of the journey.
Your work is getting a lot of recognition, and most recently you were chosen as one of PDN’s 30. What would you like to achieve long-term with your photography?
I am grateful that more and more people are becoming familiar with my work. I’ve been shooting for ten years now and it has been quite a journey. Still I feel that there is so much more of this world that I need to see and document. I’d like to continue working on stories that I feel need to be told for as long as I’m alive. Then find ways to have the work seen by as many people as possible.