10 minutes with Wayne Lawrence
When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
I was in my mid-twenties when I realized that being a photographer could be very fulfilling in many ways. Up until that point I’d been making a living as a commercial carpenter in southern California and although I enjoyed the work, I just didn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. Finding Eli Reed’s book Black in America and reading the preface to this work changed my life as it introduced me to two great photographers at once. Gordon Parks wrote the preface and in it he congratulated Eli on being the first African American to be accepted into this prestigious agency Magnum. I went back to the photography section of the library, grabbed Gordon’s autobiography, A Choice of Weapons and a VHS tape about the life and work of Richard Avedon and hurried home to see what else I could find online. I researched Magnum and was in awe at the work that these photographers, who all had their own way of communicating, were doing. I’d say this is when I had that aha moment. At that point I knew that I’d be a photographer and committed to documenting the human experience.
Your series Orchard Beach is both an amazing body of work and also a fine documentation of summers at a New York beach. How long did you spend working on the project? Was it difficult getting individuals and families to pose for you?
Thank you for saying that. I decided to go see Orchard Beach for the first time in the summer of 2005 after hearing about it on the streets. By all accounts it was one of the worst beaches in New York and I wondered how come I hadn’t heard about it until then. What I found at Orchard was completely different from what I expected. I mean, the atmosphere was amazing to me! I went on a Sunday and there was live salsa music, beautiful people everywhere and the atmosphere was intense. I was also fascinated with the fact that the beach itself is man-made, only a mile long and as calm as a lake. From that day I knew that The Bronx Riviera was indeed a special place. Although it took some time for me to find my rhythm within the work, I felt a real connection to the people from the very beginning and started working almost immediately. From then on everything just evolved organically.
What will you be working on in the new year?
Right now I’m looking at around 175 work prints on my living room floor, trying to work out the edit for publication of Orchard Beach, the book. I’m hoping to secure a publisher by summer 2012. I’ve also begun two new bodies of work, which I’ll introduce later in the year.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
This year marks the tenth anniversary of my brother David’s death, so my only advice would be to always keep family close. Otherwise I embrace life as it has unfolded, the triumphs and missteps have all helped me grow as a person and I have absolutely no regrets.
Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?
Be thankful for every day that you rise with the breath of life within you. Understand that Rome was not built in a day so be patient. It takes time to find your voice as a photographer so persevere to find what it is that drives you to do this work. Don’t let currency be your motivation for the work that you do. Do it for the love and the money will come. Never force the work, but strive to be your best self and the beauty that is within you will be revealed.
(Wayne is based in New York. See more of his work, here)