Magnum solicited questions for Bruce Gilden from Facebook and Twitter then sat down with him at the kitchen table in the Magnum offices in New York to hear his answers. This is the first Ask Magnum interview and Bruce’s answers are candid and a little rambling but definitely worth a listen. Hit the jump to watch the video!
Ask Magnum Featuring Bruce Gilden
Here’s the transcript of the first ever Ask Magnum interview with Bruce Gilden:
Ask Magnum: Welcome to the first ever audio installment of #AskMagnum. Today in the NYC office we have Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden answering your questions that were solicited on Facebook and Twitter. We got a great response so we chose a handfull of questions for Bruce to answer and if we missed yours, hopefully it will get chosen the next time we interview a photographer.
The first question is from Christopher Barr…
If you only had one piece of advice for someone starting street photography what would it be and why?
Bruce Gilden: It would be that you have to follow what’s in your guts, okay? And you can only be yourself. I couldn’t be anyone else than who I am and you can’t be anyone else than who you are. And no matter what anyone tells you, unless you don’t have a talent at all for photography or street photography, you know, listen to your heart. But you have to be truthful with yourself. That may be the hardest part.
#AskMagnum: What’s your view on the future of street photography and the use of cell phone cameras?
Bruce: As far as the future of street photography, I don’t know, street photography’s always been the stepchild in photography. There are plenty of people that came before me that did excellent work and I guess there’ll be plenty of people that come after me that will do excellent work. You know, for me the street has always been a magnet. It’s almost like my second home.
#AskMagnum: Bruce, you’re 65 years old.
Bruce: Am I?
#AskMagnum: Yes, you are! At the age of 65 how do you continue to challenge yourself as a photographer and produce work that is important to you?
Bruce: Well, I always felt that you’re as good as what you just did today. And, you know, it’s not easy. I think you have to be very passionate or in love with what you do. You know, there are fertile times where you don’t take pictures for several months. And there are times that are, you know, really great. You have to be able to live with the ups and the downs.
But I think if you really believe in what you do, and you’re very competitive with yourself, you will be able to challenge yourself. If you want to do it, you care about it, you can find things to make the little changes to keep growing, okay? It’s easy to sit in a room and say oh I’m not going to do it or I can’t do it. But you have to push yourself. And that’s what separates the men from the boys.
#AskMagnum: So how does it feel when you succeed at something professionally, and how long does that feeling last for? I guess the question is really how long are you satisfied for after you feel like you’ve done something well?
Bruce: Well, it’s like it I watched an interview with a Mets pitcher last week. And he said, well how do you feel in your major league debut and you did great? He said I woke up the next day and I started to get ready for my next start. So that’s what happens here.
#AskMagnum: In the moment of taking a photograph, are you in the moment or are you already ahead viewing the outcome?
Bruce: I’m always in the moment because if you’re not in the moment how can you capture it? I mean you can’t be thinking about what’s next. The question is how do you keep that moment alive, okay? Is there anything more I can do to make it even better? Or, you know, what should I do? You’re always there. If you’re not in the moment you can have many problems. You have to be in the moment. This is very very important.
#AskMagnum: Now, Bruce, you have a pretty distinct style. Do you ever feel restricted by what is seen as the Bruce Gilden style? How do you stay fresh creatively?
Bruce: What was the first time I became Bruce Gilden? I became Bruce Gilden when I started to use flash cuz I realized in 1981 I couldn’t out Cartier-Bresson Cartier-Bresson. Look, I always like characters when I was 5 years old I liked the ugliest wrestler. I wanted to be a boxer, I wanted a monkey, I wanted to play the drums. I’ve always liked characters. So my choice in photography was maybe easy for me. Was actually made for me. Because I realized what I liked doing. Now I had to realize how best, or how to capture that, okay? That’s a learning process in itself.
#AskMagnum: Is your approach any different when you do street photography in a foreign country or city as compared to what you normally do here in the states?
Bruce: Not really. I don’t read, when I go to a foreign country, anything about the place, okay? I just wanna let my impressions be my impressions. I work similarly, it’s just you don’t know what’s going to interest you, what you’ll find interesting. For example, before I went to Haiti, you think about well, this is going to happen, that’s going to happen. I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do.. Never works out, okay? You just gotta go there and hit the ground. Start walking. See what attracts you and that’s it. And you know, each trip something else would open up for me. Even though I’ve been walking the same streets or in the same city of Puerto Prince which isn’t that large. After x amount of trips I saw that they were slaughtering animals, okay, on the street. Then I went there, I’d go every morning. I’m a bulldog. I work like a bulldog.
#AskMagnum: I assume this one is from a friend of yours but, “Hey Bruce, how are the cats?”
Bruce: Well, my cats… I have 3 Russian Blue cats. Boris, Igor and Ivana. And they’re great. After this interview, I’ll go home and I’ll, you know, talk to them. They talk to me. Igor speaks English. My wife didn’t believe it but I told my wife, who’s a real cat person, I said, Sophie. I said Igor spoke English to me last night in a dream. She said he doesn’t speak English. And I told her and I made her laugh becuase I said to here, I said you know, that’s because he doesn’t like you as much as me! [Laughs]
Bruce Gilden is one of the most divisive names in street photography and he makes no apologies for his in-your-face style of shooting. But the more I hear Bruce talk about his work the more I realize his style of shooting is a product of the way he sees the world, and not something that’s designed to stand out on its own.
There’s not a a ton of new content in the first Ask Magnum interview but the one thing that really stands out for me is the idea that he started shooting flash because he couldn’t out Cartier-Bresson Cartier-Bresson. In other words he struggled trying to make his work look like anyone else’s and felt immediately at home shooting flash. This not only inspired him but allowed his work to grow and define itself.
No matter your view of Bruce Gilden, it’s great to hear a modern master talking about his own work candidly. Definitely a good way to spend a few minutes of your day and I’m looking forward to the nex Ask Magnum interview!
What’s your take on Ask Magnum featuring Bruce Gilden? A refreshingly candid take of one of the most controversial street photographers? What photographer would you like Magnum to interview next? Post your ideas in the comments below and keep the conversation going!