John H.D. Wagner Explores the Idea of Loss Through Empty Spaces

The latest episode of CineStill Frames brings to light the poignant story and motivation behind the way John H.D. Wagner photographs empty spaces.

If you’re fond of photographing empty or abandoned spaces, the latest installment of CineStill Frames will change the way you think about it. In this episode, director Brendan Leahy introduces us to Indiana-based artist and film photographer John H.D. Wagner, whose night crawls in search of moody vacant places to photograph are more poignant than they appear.

Titled American Absence, the episode follows Wagner in one of his regular night crawls and sheds light on the motivations behind his craft. Empty spaces can mean different things to everyone. For him, it’s been a way to cope with his personal tragedies through visual narratives inspired by loss and absence.

Wagner’s work, as director Brendan Leahy described, may appear simply as interesting night shots of beautifully illuminated vacant spots. The imagery, after all, is pretty trendy among photography circles. However, documenting him during one of these night crawls brought forth a deeper meaning both to Wagner as a photographer and a human being creating something beautiful out of pain, loss, and longing.

“I had no idea of the meaning or depth behind his work — not just what taking photos meant to him personally, but what being awake while the world was asleep did for his soul overall. This was a very good lesson I’ve since carried with me,” Leahy added.

It’s always fascinating how photographers and creative minds draw inspiration from difficult topics such as loss, and how they find healing in their craft. The absence of people in his photos may mirror the significant losses Wagner had in his life, but it’s also a response to how the places where he last saw his departed loved ones have also gone. For this reason, he finds himself drawn to spots that he imagines to be “the last place that somebody was ever seen.”

“Any place I choose to photograph, I can create the narrative. I can be alone with that space and think about those things, and hopefully create a meaningful photograph.”

Don’t forget to visit the CineStill Film YouTube channel to watch the rest of the episodes and stay updated with the documentary series.


Screenshot image from the video by CineStill Film