8. Do other street photographer(s) inspire you?
My inspiration needs constant feeding – and not just from street photography – but all photography and other forms of art too. Besides some photography is art anyway. Some street photography bores me and I find inspiration elsewhere.
A street photography friend said very recently that he had almost given up looking at photography books and now looked to art for ideas and inspiration. I find this concept interesting and can relate to it.
Ultimately I want to be inspired by other street photographers but the real discoveries are harder to find. Perhaps I don’t look hard enough but I tend to find more inspiration from photography that is not street photography, or at least not pure street photography. I need to see something different. You simply can’t keep listening to the same type of music.
9. How would you define your street photography style?
That it is identifiable as my style…what interests me, what draws me. There are graphic shapes, a story – what is happening here? Other ingredients are elegance, beauty, strangeness, gentle or dark humour – and not always images with people in them.
I like words in photographs and I did a series called ‘Subtitles for Life’ which was very me at a particular point with my photography. I definitely have a leaning towards the abstract too. Significantly the majority, maybe 60% of my photographs are vertical and that is part of my style.
Quite possibly you cannot adequately describe a photographer’s style or signature. It is a paradox because photography is visual. And worth a thousand words allegedly.
10. Have you received any funny or interesting reactions from people while shooting?
I have absolutely no interaction with the people I photograph on the street. I very rarely get ‘caught’ doing it but I’ve had strange looks when I photograph some things on the street. I remember photographing a small puddle with leaves on the pavement and a few people passing smiled wryly. What an earth is this guy photographing? But to me something like that might be beautiful.
Sometimes I have a wonderful scene lined up which might just require the right person to walk into it. I position myself ready and then some people either stop at the edge of the scene to wait or walk behind me. I find that sort of funny because they don’t realize how important they might be in the photograph.
They are trying to help me by not walking into my photograph but in actual fact they are sometimes doing the opposite.
I should have a sign: ‘Please ignore this man, he is harmless, he is a photographer but please remember your potential contribution could be vital’.
11. Have you ever faced difficulties taking photographs in certain cities or areas? If so, what were the reasons?
As I say I very rarely get caught taking photographs on the street but of course over twenty years I have had a few encounters with people…usually security guards or community Police. In London there are a few corporate private areas, which makes taking photographs there a little difficult. I am very aware of the difficulties and attitudes about taking street photographs in the United Kingdom and I try to side step these issues because they are potential obstacles to my photography. It is hard enough to take meaningful street photographs so I see no point in being bogged down by obstacles. Arguably this might be a slightly naïve attitude to have but the biggest problem with doing street photography is mostly in my head – my motivation and being inspired to do it. I don’t need any additional problems.
I am respectful to people but I also half believe that I am invisible. They will very likely not be aware of what is happening.
And it will be over very quickly, no harm will be done but attitudes towards photography in public spaces have changed. Certainly we have lost our innocence regards photographing children. There is a wonderful irony that privacy is an issue with photography whilst many people put their personal lives in photographs up on Facebook.
12. What motivates you most about doing street photography, as opposed to other forms of photography?
It is simply the world outside my front door. Street photography is not narrow in ideas and expression and arguably all photography resides within street photography. I have a liking for abstract imaginary – art like images that might be blured or just a riot of colour or texture, none of which might be considered pure street photography but it is all there on the streets.
13. How did the in-public street photography collective come about? Tell us more about your involvement and the collective’s activities.
In-public came about because of Nick Turpin who had this idea, or urge, or vision… whatever you want to call it to connect with other like-minded street photographers. And it came about in the early days of the Internet and we have grown with that endless possibility.
I was one of the first photographers to join Nick followed by Richard Bram and Matt Stuart. Like several others in the group I care passionately about street photography – in all its forms – and I want to continue to connect with people around the world by doing it. I am increasingly involved with leading workshops on street photography and this continually reinvigorates my ambitions for in-public and my own photography. In-public is all about community and the spirit of street photography and we have a responsibility to continue doing it.
14. What’s the latest trend in street photography and where do you see it going?
I don’t like the word trend. Meaningful photography should be timeless but photography today is overwhelmingly tied up with the Internet and technology so it’s future lies there in many respects. Mobile phone cameras might be a part of that but it’s still about vision and ambition. The Internet has been a virtual rebirth for photography.
Arguably photography is a mirror to how we live, wherever that may be. The buildings in a street change over time as does the way people dress. So perhaps street photography just records the changing ‘trends’. When you talk about trends in photography it suggests that the medium might be more important than the subject.
Whatever happens I hope that we don’t lose sight of the aesthetics and poignancy of street photography. Already we have too many images in the world but I hope that quality will always prevail over quantity.
15. What advice would you give to a budding street photographer?
Soak up the work of the best photographers, become inspired and find a direction for your own photography. And then run with it but eventually to some extent let go of these influences and find your own voice. Understand the spirit of street photography, connect with other like-minded photographers but above all know what is possible. It also requires a ruthless honesty about the photographs you take because you can never pretend or talk up a good photograph. You have to know when you’ve genuinely hit the target.
Meaningful street photography requires luck but that luck is far more available to those who pursue their love of photography with passion and effort.
In other words it requires a huge curiosity and a huge amount of walking.
Thank you David for taking the time to do this interview with us and we’re excited to have you lead a workshop in Beirut soon!
Special Note: David Gibson will be leading a 4-day workshop in Beirut, Lebanon in September 2011. More information about the workshop here.