Sunday, November 27, 2011

THE WORLD of WAGNER LA - Cover Story

On February 20, 2011, I discovered the work of David Wagner and spent nearly 45 minutes going through the images in his portfolio and studying his style. There is warmth in each shot and a sense that the photographer is connecting with his models and not merely trying to capture a moment. His work became recognizable to me in much the same way that Rick Day has created familiar settings, lighting, styling and staging that render any similar photos by other artists as mere interpretations.

On February 21, 2011, I contacted David about doing a feature for BLISS and was surprised by his humility.  He is polite, gracious and complimentary when it comes to the work of others, but seemingly unaware of the fact that his own style could provide inspiration for another artist. He is a man who has accomplished much in the short time that he has been seriously pursuing photography as more than a hobby, and yet focused on the fact that he doesn’t feel that his abilities are where they could be. It is easy to let the flattery take over in a moment such as that, but what it said to me was that he is not content to rest on his accomplishments, but instead choose a path where he can continue to grow as an artist.

It has been sheer delight to watch as his portfolio has expanded since our initial contact, and we continued to communicate, trying to find the right time to bring his art to the BLISS audience.  It was not an easy road since David is not just a talent – he is a man of his word who despite model releases or the quest to have his work seen will put the wishes of his models first and make sure that all avenues of publication are in line with the direction that they want to take with their own careers. It is this type of integrity that sets him apart in a business that is often “me-centric”.

We have chosen a small but fantastic selection of a few models that shows some of what it is about David’s work that I find so endearing. To see a full selection of his incredible images, including some of my favorite models, please visit his Model Mayhem page, as well as his website.

©2011 – Sean Dibble





BLISS: Your work is a bold mix of fashion, editorial and beautiful nudes. How would you describe your style?

DAVID WAGNER: I’m not sure I feel that I really have a style. I think it’s still forming and to some extent I’m still struggling to find it. I would say that what I try to bring out in each image is “sensual masculinity”.  Also, I work mainly with natural light so I’m sure that brings a consistency to the images.

B: Has there been a gradual progression in the types of images you shoot or have you always had a particular direction in mind?

DW:  I think the direction has been the same but my interpretation of that direction has evolved somewhat.

B: When you are preparing to work with a model, do you plan your shoots in advance or let things unfold more organically?

DW:  I generally like to plan in advance as much as possible. I like to meet with models before a shoot when it’s convenient. I want to make sure that we both go into the shoot with similar goals and an understanding of what we are trying to achieve.

B: The mix of models you work with is very diverse in terms of race and ethnicity. Is this a conscious decision on your part? If so, what is the reasoning behind it?

DW:  I don’t think there is any reasoning behind it. I guess I just find it interesting to see how light affects different skin tones, hair colors and hair textures.

B: One of the aspects of your model choices that I love is that you don’t fall back on the standard gym bunnies, as I call them. The physiques and body types in your port are as varied as the ethnic backgrounds. Are you drawn to any particular types, on an artistic level?

DW:  Well, in the beginning, I would just shoot anyone who would let me shoot them, just for the experience. But through that, my own “stereotype” of beauty has changed. Once I started really looking at people through the lens, I’ve found so much more beauty than I did before. Beauty is a much broader concept for me now.

B:  Photographers often have a recurring theme that will crop up in their images, which I believe creates a sense of familiarity in their work. There is a low white wall that you tend to use often. What is it about this location that attracts you?

DW: That’s the balcony off of my bedroom. I just find the light there to be beautiful. Obviously I shoot in other locations, but every time someone step up to that wall, I go, “YES!” 

B:  You have used stylists for some of your images and the results are beautiful. What elements of this type of collaboration appeal to you?

DW: Actually I’ve only worked with stylist two or three times. I tend to like to do everything myself. When I was doing photography only as a hobby, I always said it was the one thing I did totally for me. I didn’t care what anyone else thought, unlike other parts of my life, it was for me only. But I do know that to grow as a photographer, I have to start including the talent of other people into my work. It can only make my work better.

B: Sites like Model Mayhem are filled with aspiring models so the assumption is that finding models is an easy task. The reality can be a whole different story. Where do you find the bulk of your models?

DW: Actually, I have found almost all of my models through Model Mayhem either directly or as referred from another model that I found on Model Mayhem.

B: If a new model wants to work with you, what physical aspects do you look for first?

DW: Physically, I would have to say great waist to shoulder ratio, and great abs.

B: What advice would you give to these aspiring models if they intend on pursuing this more seriously?

DW: Treat it like a real job. If you want to be a real model, know that it is real work. Be on time. Be prepared. Practice posing. Practice expressions. To me what separates a really great model from someone who just has model looks, is someone is truly aware of what they look like as they move and pose.

B: Photographers quickly become aware that there is a dark side to what we do, and in some cases it is caused by the models. For the sake of preserving privacy or just to maintain civility, I won’t ask you to name names, but can you discuss some difficult experiences you might have had, regarding individuals you've worked with?

DW: Oh, just the usual. Last-minute cancellations. Not bringing wardrobe that they said they would bring. Showing up and then realizing the photos that they sent to you or have posted are not current and the model looks drastically different.

B: In your experience, what is the number one obstacle you’ve had to overcome to move forward with you work?

DW: My own impatience in wanting to be better, faster. 

B: The creation of art is a personal thing and at times, other artists can either praise you or become negative in their feedback. Have you ever been the victim of negativity from your peers?

DW: I’ve had positive experiences with other photographers…encouragement, advice, and some genuinely positive criticism. I’ll leave it at that.  J

B:  Your website showcases different sides of your artistic personality. You don’t just work with people. What types of images do you most enjoy shooting?

DW: I’ve always been a fan of history and architecture, so I love to go downtown to Broadway St and take shots of the older buildings.

B: There is a perception that photographers can be just as exhibitionistic as the models, especially if they work in the nude arena, but many of us are actually shy and, in some cases, introverted. Which side of the spectrum do you fall on?

DW: I’m definitely more on the introverted side.

B: How did you first get interested in photography and when did you decide to start shooting men?

DW: Well, at first back in college, my first photography class truly inspired me. But I felt that I really needed a 9 to 5 job so I went into advertising. So after 20 years as an art director/creative director, I found myself less inspired. And I was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2005. I went into remission, but then 3 months later the cancer was back and I was given only a 25 to 30 percent chance of survival…and a 15% chance of dying from the treatment. After that, I just decided that I really needed to follow my original passion.

B: Do you ever feel intimidated when working with a model for the first time?

DW: Yes. Yes. And yes.

B:  Some photographers only like to work with experienced models because they already understand what is expected in a shoot. Model, DW Chase said that you were the most patient photographer he has ever worked with. Does this make it easier for you to work with models that lack experience?

DW:  I think its easier working with someone who has more experience, but maybe more rewarding to work with someone who has less experience. I’m glad I get the opportunity to work with both. 

B: This feature only focuses on four of your models even though you’ve worked with many. (To see more of David’s work, visit his website or Model Mayhem page). Let’s talk about some of the ones we’ve chosen for this interview and your experience with each:

DW Chase:
Well, DW is really amazing. He is a true professional but never restrained by that professionalism. He is creative in everything he does. He’s a chameleon.

Terry Cambon:
Terry was one of the first models that I shot and we really hit it off. He has a great body and is always eager to collaborate.

Dominick Hill:
Dominick is one of the models that I spoke about earlier…he is very aware of his own body and knows what works and doesn’t work. Almost every pose was spot on.

B: We all have our muses, and they can change as time passes. Have any of your models served as a muse for you?

DW: No, I would like to think that each shoot is a collaboration. I’m still fairly new at shooting models, so I think of it as a partnership, sort of like a co-worker.

B: When did you first start shooting nudes?

DW:  Pretty much at the beginning, about a year ago.

B: Is the preparation for a nude shoot different than other shoots?

DW: It is a little bit. It actually starts before the shoot, in the planning. I like to be upfront. I ask questions, and find out very specifically what is acceptable for the model. And then of course, I do think it’s important to gauge the models comfort level throughout the shoot.

B: Sometimes, models decide they want to do photos that are a bit provocative and then later regret that decision. Have you run into this issue, and if so, how do you handle it?

DW: Yes, “nude shoot remorse”. It’s happened a few times. The model wanting to do nudes, they pick selects, approve the final edits, they post the photos, and then a few weeks later, the phone call comes, asking me to remove all the images.

B: What is the most important lesson you have learned as a photographer in terms of working with models?

DW: Like with anything else in life: COMMUNICATION. I like the saying “Tell them what you are going to say, say it, then tell them what you said”.

B: Of all the sessions you have done, is there one that you are most proud of?

DW: I hate to answer this one because I’ve gotten to be friends with many of the models and I hate to leave anyone out.

B: What direction would you like to see your art go in as we move into 2012?

DW: I think, as I mentioned earlier, I really need to find my style. And then beyond that, I just need to find out what that next level is for me. I haven’t figured that out yet.

B: What projects are coming up that we can expect to see from you?

DW: I’m working with a couple of clothing brands to shoot some of their lines. I’m excited about this, it’s the first time I’ve actually worked with a brand.

B: I want to end this with you telling us 5 things about yourself that even people who are close to you might be surprised to know?

I grew up on a dirt road and went to a church that had out-houses.

I was in a car crash with Heath Leger. He smashed into the back of my car.

I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

I found a dead body once.

I was told my cancer was back and that I only had 9 months to. It took a month before they figure out I was misdiagnosed.

B: Any last words for your current fans, as well as the new ones you will gain from this feature?

DW: I guess, just a big thank you to the models I’ve worked with and all the people (including you) who have encouraged me and kept me inspired. 

©2011 – Sean Dibble 


"Working With David Wagner was one of the best modeling experiances I had because of the trust we had built prior to working together. Talking about concepts on the phone, tons of emails and concepts we went over before I flew out to Los Angeles. I think David discovered pretty quickly that I wasn't like anyone he had met before and that I conducted myself in a very professional manner. 

"David and I are a lot alike, we both like to stay away from crowds, we don't go out, we have an appriciation for focusing on the task at hand and making it the best it can be. David is one of the few people in Los Angeles that I trust completely, he is also the nicest, most patient person I have met in Los Angeles as well. There was no pressure working with David and I believe that's why our images turned out so great and have really gotten a lot of milage. We are working on concepts for 2012 right now" 

-DW Chase

David Costa