Thursday, May 12, 2011

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David Gibson. An Interview

Please tell us something about yourself.  When and how did you start photographing? How did you first get started in street photography?

I came to photography relatively late having worked as a shipping clerk and then in social work for a number of years. I had a ‘proper’ camera when I was about 17 but it was more than ten years before an interest in photography became an obsession. My introduction was ‘humanistic photography’ which was mostly the photographers within Magnum such as David Hurn, Marc Riboud, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliott Erwitt.  The term ‘street photography’ never really gripped me until much later.

Describe the favorite street photograph you’ve taken. When and where did you take the photo, and why is it special to you?

It’s difficult to choose one absolute favourite photograph but I have to acknowledge ‘Audition’ that was taken as recently as 2008, Having probably learnt the craft of street photography over 20 years I know that the basic elements of luck and practice came together in that image.
I always feel that great street photographs are unearthed or discovered because they are always there. You just have to be ready and on that day - Feb 9th 2008 - just off Shaftsbury Avenue in London I got lucky. Yes, I remember the day because that kind of day does not happen very often. There is a sense of excitement and relief when you ‘get it’.

Street Photography - color or b/w photography? What do you prefer and why? How digital time has influenced your photography?

Always a hard question, an unfair question even because why not both? At the moment I’m still hooked on colour, it seems right to pursue but I love both. I have more books with black and white photographs in them so that might be a clue to my true heart. But there must always be change and a challenge with photography. Digital as with many photographers pushed me towards colour but it surely comes down to whatever inspires you at the time. One point with digital is that so far I have never converted colour to monochrome. I always feel that is somehow ‘wrong’ but that might well change. I know a lot of photographers do that and I’m intrigued by the results

4. You are member of in-public (actually Nick Turpin invited you first of all the rest of the group), can you tell us something about this group?

It’s billed as ‘the home of street photography’ so in a sense it’s a home for all of it’s members. We feel comfortable there. We’ve been going more than 10 years and who knows what will happen but we do have a responsibility to street photography.
And we came into existence as the Internet truly began to enter people’s lives and therefore we’ve reached out to many photographers around the world. That’s what really matters. Nick Turpin and Matt Stuart deserve huge credit for that.

You are featured in the Street Photography Now book. What does that term street Photography  mean to you? How would you define it?

As mentioned previously I do feel a little uneasy about the term. I resist it a little feeling that I’m just a photographer who mostly takes photographs on the street. That’s a contradiction of course and maybe quite futile because it’s good to be known for any type of photography. It’s good to get recognition.
I would define street photography as any photography taken outside your front door, it is not set up and it depicts ordinary people going about their everyday lives. The essential point is that like the very word ‘street’ it has a little bit of attitude, it is real, a little dark, edgy and sometimes funny. It is real.

Street photography has become wildly popular with many exhibitions and documentaries springing up. You were a very active member of the Format festival as a member of in-public, What do you think is the future of street photography?

My description of street photography is hopefully it’s future. Street photography is real and people therefore respond to it. Trends in photography seem to go in cycles but street photography has always been there from the invention of photography itself. The future of street photography looks good, how can such a practice not be?  And the Internet is the future and street photography will inevitably thrive in that arena.

How often are you out on the streets shooting? Do you always have a camera with you and are you photographing on the streets anyway or are you only working with a clear concept or target in mind?  What is your favorite time of the day photographing in the streets?

I am much more selective about when I take street photographs now and I certainly don’t do it all the time. I wait for inspiration but realise that I often have to meet that inspiration half way.  The hardest part of street photography is in my head but I do have a camera with me on most days. Not having a camera with me is a risk.
I tend to avoid bright sunlight – so if I do have a favourite time of day it would probably be late afternoon.

Which contemporary or emerging photographers impress you? Which of the old Masters inspired you the most?

I’m not completely ‘up to date’ and perhaps it’s like music where you feel comfortable – or get stuck – with what you like. It requires effort to be aware of everything but I have become more aware of Alex Webb recently and Pinkhasov is an amazing and distinctive photographer. Blake Andrews of in-public is a fine photographer. His Picture of the Month (for April 2011) on the in-public site is a truly great photograph.
There are some very good Greek photographers of course. Nikos Econompoulos for example but none of these names can really be considered emerging but maybe they are less high profile.
It’s always good to return to the ‘old masters’ and Cartier-Bresson still resonates. I remember feeling the significance of his passing a few years ago but he’s now gone – and he hated colour. We have to move on. That’s the theory anyway but perhaps genius or class is timeless.

How do you define “beauty” when it comes to photography?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as someone said about women I think…so much the same can be said about photography. Elegance is also beauty. Beauty is everywhere and is something that we should seek out. I much prefer subtle beauty in photography rather than ugliness.

NickTurpin said describing your meeting back in 2000 that your work was witty and carefully observed with an edge of melancholy to many of your images of older people. How do you describe your work now?

An early subject matter was indeed the elderly that certainly had an air of nostalgia or melancholy about it. I think that I have moved away from that now but maybe there are traces of that ‘melancholy’ still there in my photography. I used to photograph a lot of children too when I first started so my subjects have shifted…and become more ‘colourful’ quite literally.

Looking at your photos a viewer can easily observe juxtapositions between subject and background. There are also the use of words and symbols.

Yes, definitely. I’ve always ‘used’ juxtapositions and sometimes they can be very effective. I love words too, always had a fascination for the graphic word and especially where it can act as a ‘subtitle’ in a street photograph.

In late March you led a street photography workshop in Athens. What is your experience from the workshop as well as from shooting on the streets of Athens?

Leading street photography workshops has been a major discovery for me because I never imagined that I would one day ‘teach’ in any way. It has become a source of inspiration and especially so when it is in a foreign city because it is a wonderful way to connect with people.  Athens was particularly satisfying because of the amazing enthusiasm amongst the photographic community there. That in itself was an eye opener and could well lead to more workshop opportunities in other places. The essential experience for me in doing these workshops is the sense of discovery and enthusiasm of the participants. In reality I learn more from them because it reinvigorates my own photography. Inspiration can often work both ways.

All photographs ©David Gibson
I know you planning some new workshops in the near future (London 28th-30th May) There is a lot of people just starting with Street Photography, can you recommend them something for better start?

Be inspired; seek out inspiration from the legacy of all the great street photographers that have gone before – and get connected with other photographers.  We are incredibly fortunate to live in the world of the Internet but don’t forget the pleasure of photographs on the page of a book. You can judge a photographer by their library of photographic books.
It’s essentially a question of soaking up the work of the best photographers and thereby knowing what is possible with your own photography. If you carry a certain standard in your head, then with luck and a lot of wandering…sometimes the magic can happen. I always return to the phrase about street photography that it is mostly about looking for the luck.

Thank you very much for this fantastic interview. It was my pleasure participating in Athens workshop as well wandering with you on the streets of Athens. I think is a privilege for me considering of you as my friend. Thanks David.