Five Things I Learned from Bruce Gilden

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.

(C) Juan Jose Reyes street photography blog

“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.

(C) Juan Jose Reyes street photography blog

“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.

(C) Juan Jose Reyes

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.

(C) Juan Jose Reyes street photography blog

“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.

(C) Juan Jose Reyes

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.

(C) Juan Jose Reyes street photography blog

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.


23 thoughts on “Five Things I Learned from Bruce Gilden

  1. What you described about him in a more personal lets me see the other side of him. I am not for the in your face style, but everything he said there is intelligent.

  2. No matter how one feels about Bruce Gilden personally–and I am very ambivalent about the guy–there is no question that he is a great photographer. He also raises ethical questions that need to be discussed. Thanks for this insight, Juan.

  3. Hola Juan,

    I’m really enjoying your “lessons I learned from” articles. It is always enriching having a glimpse at the process followed by the masters to achieve their vision. You may approve/like Bruce’s approach or not, but he is clearly a master in the craft of photography, he has his own voice that separates him from the rest (despite the plethora of wannabe imitators), and he has stayed true to his voice to create a cohesive body of work.

    I agree with everything you have mentioned here, and makes me question and re evaluate my own shooting in the streets. I’m not the kind of in-your-face-no-matter-what kind of guy. I’d rather go shoot unnoticed, the most discreet the better, but it is inevitable that there will be a great shot where I need to have the guts to bring the camera to my eye and shoot with the subject being fully aware of it. Sometimes I can pull that off, but I’ve honestly missed a great deal of what i thought would be great shots because of just not having the nerve to do it.

    Is that a bad thing? The jury is still out there, as I’m as much a firm believer in challenging myself, as I am in learning who I am, how I shoot, and where my limits are. I want to know where are *my* boundaries (read: not Bruces’, not anyone else), so I can maximize that area where I know I’ll do my best, but, on the other hand, I want to expand my limits so that I can improve, refine and empower my images.

    I guess, particularly with street photography, it is as much about the process as it is about the end result.

    Best regards,

    • Nico, I agree with you. It is all about finding our own style and not imitating just for the sake of getting similar photos. The goal is to capture images that reflect each person’s own feelings and experiences. This involves taking risks and getting out of our comfort zone to find the right balance. Street photography is about taking risks, not in the sense of putting ourselves in dangerous situations, but instead doing things that we are usually not used to do. As you said, we have to challenge ourselves.
      Thanks for the comment.

  4. Thanks a lot for posting! It must have been an unforgettable time with Bruce 🙂 Somehow I loathe him when I see him do his stuff but when you put his motives in context he’s actually quite an inspirator. Thanks again man, great stuff!

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