My name is Mathias Wasik, but like many things in my life, this hasn’t always been the case. I was born as “Maciej” in socialist Poland but my parents changed my name after our family had escaped to West Germany in the mid-1980s. Decades later, in 2015, I moved to New York City with Emily, my Australian wife, and that’s – long story short – where my passion for street photography began. I had been a photographer long before that, but it was only here that I fell in love with taking candid photos of people on the street.
In my other life, I’m a human rights activist. I used to work for Amnesty International in Germany, and currently, I’m the Programs Director at All Out, a global advocacy group for LGBT+ rights. I try to combine my photography and activism whenever I can.
I remember arriving in New York and being blown away by the city’s restless concrete jungle. I soon realized the buildings, parks, and sights are just the backdrop to something far more interesting: the theater played by New Yorkers that unfolds day by day in the city’s streets. And when I joined the NYC Street Photography Collective, it opened a whole new world for me. Through the group’s meetings, I not only got to know a community of incredibly talented artists, but I also learned about the rich history of street photography in NYC.
I was hooked and I couldn’t get enough of it. I never left the house without my camera again. And I started developing my style: candid, close, and colorful – and often with a grain of humor.
That’s a good question. To me, the “when” is at the very core of what street photography is about. Take a random place in your city. The street corner in front of your house. What does it take to take a good “street” photo of that corner? Can it be done at any random time? I don’t think so. Time is of the essence. To me, the strongest street photos are those that convey the magic of a moment. When for a tiny glimpse of time all the elements of a great photograph fall together: the background, the person, the movement, the light, the composition. It’s rare to get it all right. When I look at my own work there are just a few photos where I feel like I’ve nailed it. But it’s worth aspiring to. And it keeps me going.
While I think New York City is one of the very generous places when it comes to street photography, anywhere works. I’ve seen great “street” photography done on planes and of course on subways. Definitely on beaches!
I’ve tried meditating and it’s just not for me. Street photography is the closest I can get to a meditative state. It relaxes me and keeps me moving. It helps me explore the city and its wonderful people. It gives me a community. It has taught me so many lessons in the last five years. And during the pandemic in 2020, it helped me stay sane. Maybe most importantly, street photography in NYC allowed me to feel home away from home.