The Man Behind the Lens (Part 1 of 2)

In our last post, we shared one of the most iconic street photographs in the world by British street photographer David Gibson. The fact that everyone who guessed got it right is further proof about the power of that carefully captured image. Get to know the man behind that photograph (and many others) in this one-on-one interview with David Gibson himself:

By David Gibson

1. When and how did you first get interested in street photography?

My beginnings with photography were very tentative and for several years it was no more than a hobby but in the late 80’s when I was nearing thirty it started to become far more serious.  I had a rapid and intense period of discovery and my starting point was the work of several Magnum photographers such as David Hurn, Marc Riboud and especially Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliott Erwitt. In all honestly I’m not sure how prominent the term street photography was then and I was probably more drawn to the idea of ‘humanistic photography’ but over time I have become known as a street photographer.

Like many beginnings it is the coming together of various factors.

I have always liked to wander and taking photographs eventually became the purpose of these wanderings. And I suddenly discovered a whole rich legacy of photographers who were doing much the same thing. The work of those photographers totally gripped and inspired me and basically made what I did OK.

I found that I was not alone and had something to work towards. When I first started I was an obsessive photographer on the streets and I still am but my interests have broadened.

It’s a strange thing. The more recognition I get as a street photographer the more I resist being hemmed in by the genre. There are many photographers quite possibly being dragged along by this categorization. I think the term has taken off recently because it is a type of photography, which is available to everyone, it is easy to market but I do wonder if it has been hijacked just a little too much.

I’m sure that Henri Cartier-Bresson would have resisted being labeled a street photographer. He might have been more comfortable with the term surrealist or humanistic, or even more likely no label whatsoever. Henri was an evasive character and would likely have dismissed anything that might have restricted him.

Of course it’s futile to resist but at the heart of this slight unease is probably a degree of elitism – or fear.  Street photography is so democratic and it seems to be everywhere at the moment.

By David Gibson

2. What was the first camera you shot with? Which camera are you currently using?

When I started taking photographs seriously I had a Nikon FM2. I still have two of them, which are a pleasure to own even though I haven’t used them properly for more than 5 years. I currently shoot with a CANON 5D.

3. How important is it to be technically proficient when it comes to street photography?

For me it’s not that important as I’ve always been more concerned with looking at photographs rather than equipment. I am not by nature a technical person but I know enough to get by.

I think that it’s probably more important to be proficient with postproduction and things generally on the web.

4. How often do you shoot during the week?

I have my camera with me virtually all the time when I go out during the day but that doesn’t mean that my sole purpose that day is to take photographs. It’s more the idea of just in case but I do go through phases of energy with taking street photographs. There are fallow periods but the need to take photographs slowly rises to the surface and suddenly I’m back in the zone of doing it. I am very conscious of this process and I take these bursts of energy with an almost surprised delight.

I find it hard to force the motivation so I’m prone to wait for when it feels right. This is a very fragile thing sometimes but I have to believe that the magic is still within my grasp. I always remember a talk given by the French photographer, Willy Ronis in London towards the end of his life. He talked about ‘the fear of missing’, which is a wonderful insight into the mind of an obsessive photographer.

5. What are your favorite subjects to shoot in the streets and how do you decide if something is worth being captured or not?

I tend to know it when I see it. Or at least that’s the theory because it always comes back to inspiration and looking for the luck. Of course I have favorite subjects or themes but essentially I go looking for ‘my photographs’. A separate consideration is projects and I have a few of those that I return to every now and then. Or they return to me, when I see them.

By David Gibson

6. Do you have a preference between shooting in color or in black and white?

My library of photographic books favours black and white but that’s partly because of my early points of inspiration with photography. I currently take colour photographs and actually abandoned black and white partly because digital pushed me towards colour but also because my black and white work had become stale. I needed a new challenge and that challenge is still fresh.

I find it interesting that my generation of photographers almost uniformly started in black and white and then ‘graduated’ to colour. There is now a new generation who have started with digital and therefore often only know colour but are still curious about black and white. I tend to associate monochrome with film and the darkroom and it seems strange to consider that digital technology offers you a choice.

So I like both. I am rooted in black and white and I still carry that graphic sensibility and maybe, maybe I’ll revisit it one day. I’m sometimes tempted to ‘convert’ certain images – I know many photographers now move between the two – but for me there is disquiet that it would disrupt my discipline.

7. How do you know when you “got the shot” and what makes one image stand out from the rest after, say, a day of shooting?

The truly great shot leaps out at you. You just know it. The real skill perhaps is to know the worth of the lesser images. Sometimes certain photographs quietly grow and resonate.

A few colleagues might disagree but I think that I am a good editor of my work. I have to be because the ability to edit is essential.

By David Gibson

Read the rest of the interview hereCheck out more of David Gibson’s work on: Gibson Street and In-Public

Special Note: David Gibson will be leading a 4-day workshop in Beirut, Lebanon in September 2011. More information about the workshop that BSP is planning with David Gibson will be posted on our Facebook page and blog in the coming few days. Keep posted!


4 responses to “The Man Behind the Lens (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Pingback: The Man Behind the Lens (Part 2 of 2) « Beirut Street Photography·

  2. Pingback: David Gibson: Street Photography Workshop (Beirut, September 2011) « Beirut Street Photography·

  3. Pingback: In-Public’s DAVID GIBSON Workshop in Beirut, Lebanon September 2011 — Eric Kim Street Photography·

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