When Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden was commissioned for this year's Format International Photo Festival in Derby, BJP went behind the scenes and filmed the legendary street photographer at work and can now present an exclusive 12-minute look at Gilden's work
"Before I went to Derby, I was speaking with my good friend Martin Parr, who told me I would have a tough time finding any pictures. When I went, I was quite apprehensive, also because there's not much going on in town. There are characters there - people I'd like to photograph. but you can't just jump at all of them (...) But when you work on a commission you have to force yourself to take pictures, because it's a commission. You have to work. You take pictures you may not usually take. Anyway, I get home and I get the films developed and it turned out that I had a lot of good pictures."
A member of Magnum Photos since 1998, Bruce Gilden is best known for his uncompromising, in-your-face approach to street photography, and in November, he brought that approach to Derby, UK, as part of a commission for the Format International Photography Festival 2011.
During the seven-day commission, called Bruce Gilden: Head On, BJP's news and online editor Olivier Laurent was invited to follow the street photographer in his work. And now, as the Format Festival opens for one month, BJP is able to exclusively present this 12-minute look at Gilden's work in Derby, which will also be shown alongside Gilden's images at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery.
Born in 1946, Gilden was inspired to become a photographer by Michaelangelo Antonioni's film Blowup, which he saw in 1968 while studying sociology at Penn State. He got a camera, enrolled in evening classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and was soon shooting on the streets. Or actually, the beach - his first major project was on Coney Island, New York's infamous resort. 'I don't know what the definition of street photography is, but for me that was where it all started,' he says. 'I narrow it (street photography) down to people who hunt people.'
By 1981 he really was on the New York streets, and he's continued to shoot them ever since, as well as capturing New Orleans' Mardi Gras street festival, voodoo rites in Port-au-Prince Haiti in the mid-1980s, Japan's little known Yakuza underworld and rural Irish horseracing fans. He joined Magnum in 1998, and became a full member in 2002.
He has, as the agency puts it, 'established an expressive and theatrical style that presented the world as a vast comedy of manners', but this style didn't arrive fully formed. He started out shooting with available light, for example, but later adopted a flash to 'visualise the anxiety, the stress and the energy of the streets'. Now he's so used to putting the flash in his left hand and the camera in his right that they feel like natural extensions of his body.
Last month, BJP caught up with Gilden. We asked him about his experience shooting in England. Listen to what he had to say:
He tells BJP that a good street photographer has to know itself. "You have to know who you are; know how you feel about the world; know what you're interested in photographing," he says. "When I started photography, the quote that struck me was by Robert Capa - 'if it's not good enough, you're not close enough.' So the older I get, the closer I get. I want to rip, almost, the gut of somebody's inside, because then I know I've gotten something. That's me. Also, when I was younger, I was a very good athlete, so I incorporated my athleticism into my style - because I handhold my flash and with people moving and you moving, you have to have very good dexterity to get the light where you want it."
Listen to Bruce Gilden talk about the qualities of a good street photographer:
But for Gilden, "street photography is the hardest form of photography," he tells BJP. "You have to be physical, you have to be fast, you have to think fast. People are moving across your frame. There are a lot of things you have to control and you can't be thinking when you're out there - all of the thinking has to be done beforehand. You have to act and react. But just because you take a camera on the street, that doesn't mean you're a street photographer."
Listen to Bruce Gilden talk about what makes good street photography:
Bruce Gilden: Head On is on show at the Format International Photography Festival 2011 'Right Here Right Now: Exposures from the public Realm', which takes place 4 March - 3 April 2011 in various venues across Derby and beyond. For more information visit www.formatfestival.com.
BJP will be providing continuous coverage of the festival until 06 March - find all related articles on our dedicated page here.
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