I recently had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden while he was in Miami shooting for a project. Driving around the city we visited areas that people often overlook and some areas that locals just simply avoid. From a crowded church in Little Haiti on Easter Sunday, to the junkie filled streets of Overtown. From the typical Cuban restaurant in Calle Ocho to the upscale streets of Coral Gables. I listened, I laughed and I learned. And in the process was able to gain a deep insight not only about this often-criticized street photographer but also about how I approach shooting on the streets.
“People say photographs don’t lie, mine do.” – David LaChapelle
I learned many things watching Bruce dealing with people and it may take a while for those lessons to reveal themselves into my images but I’m convinced that his effect will be indelible. That doesn’t mean that I will adopt his style of shooting ( in your face with flash). No, it means that I will shoot in a more meaningful way, with more purpose and conviction. Here are five things that I believe will help me do that.
1-The antidote for fear is not courage, is passion. I said to Bruce that when shooting on the streets I very frequently think “ what if they react?” or “what if they say something? His answer almost invariably was “ you can’t think that”, because “if you do then you are getting in the way of creating a great photograph”. Courage is doing something despite fear, but fear is still there. The only thing that completely eliminates fear is love and passion. If we love the picture that we are going to take then there is no space for fear. If we are passionate about the picture we are going to take then there is no chance for any thoughts to get in the way.
“Every picture is a piece of the inside of ourselves.” – Oliviero Toscani
2-If you see it then you’ll want it. One way to become passionate about the picture we are going to take is to envision it in our mind ahead of time. “Once you see it then you will really want it”, said Bruce. This requires paying attention, not to what is happening now, but what is going to happen next. Involves paying attention, not only to who is here now, but who will be here next.
3-People can feel your doubts. If you act like you’re doing something wrong then people think you’re doing something wrong. Conviction is everything in street photography. If we are convinced that what we’re doing is creating a great image then that is exactly what we’re doing and it will guide the way we behave and talk. It will guide the way we shoot.
“The photographer must be a part of the picture.” – Arnold Newman
4-Interesting is not very interesting. One of the most important things I learned was how selective Bruce is when it comes to finding subjects. In fact he said to me several times“ I don’t care about pictures, I care about great pictures”. Interesting is not the same as very interesting and we owe it to ourselves and to the people that we shoot to aim to make very interesting pictures. Don’t just take pictures, take great pictures.
5-No excuses. At one point early in the day I decided to take a few pictures and I showed one of them to Bruce. After looking at it for few seconds he said “ not good”, which I kind of knew already. So I said, “ I’m just warming up”. To which he responded, “ that is just an excuse, there is no such thing as warming up”. The point is that we tend to make a lot of excuses why we don’t take great pictures, and shooting on the streets offers plenty of excuses that we can use. The reality is that there are no excuses for not making great pictures other than those we create.
It is all about interesting people and strong emotions. That’s what Bruce is about and I am very excited that he will be part of the Miami Street Photography Festival in December where he will be giving a lecture and a workshop.
I hope you enjoyed the images on this post. Comments and feedback are appreciated.
All images on this post (C) Juan Jose Reyes. All rights reserved.