Take It Or Leave It With Bruce Gilden Looks At Street Photography

Bruce Gilden Critiques Street Photography

Take It Or Leave It With Bruce Gilden is a photo-critique series where Bruce tells up-and-coming photographers if their work is any good or total crap. The second episode looks at a bunch of street photography and Bruce actually liked a couple of the shots this time around! Hit the jump for the video.

Take It Or Leave It With Bruce Gilden – Street Photography

Bruce opens the video by passing on a bunch of shots of people kissing and mothers holding their babies saying, “Come on, I can’t discuss a picture like this. Or this. That would be insulting to me.” And whether or not you agree with him you have to admire his directness. He’s Magnum photographer and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013. He doesn’t need to explain himself at this point!

He finally settles down and finds some street photography he can actually talk about. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to like what he sees!

Photo By Jose Raul Valencia

Bruce Gilden Take It Or Leave it - Jose Raul Valencia

The first shot is an out-of-focus head shot that Bruce immediately disliked. He felt it looked like an accident and this led to a discussion of accidents in street photography. He enjoys accidents but only when they go along with something that isn’t an accident. For example if he can see a concious way that you work then you have an accident that would usually spoil that picture but in this instance makes it work. That’s a good accident.

But he couldn’t tell if the photographer wanted to take the shot with the face out of focus or if it was just a total fluke taken when he was rewinding his film. Either way, he decides it’s just not that good of a photograph. So on to the next picture.

Photo By Ben Philippi

Bruce Gilden Take It Or Leave it - Ben Philippi

Next up is a photo of one guy pointing a gun at another guy’s head. And Bruce hates it. Not only is the image not well formed with huge areas of empty, dead space but the image reminds Bruce of a fairly famous William Klein photo:

Bruce Gilden Critiques Street Photography - William Klein

“If you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it.” Bruce suggests the photographer take time to learn from the Klein photo before attempting something similar. He beleives if you’re going to do something that’s evocative of a pretty famous photograph 20th century documentary then you have to do it better. According to Bruce, this photo doesn’t even come close.

Photo By Casper Dalhoff

Bruce Gilden Take It Or Leave it - Casper Dalhoff

Bruce liked this shot becuase he likes images where you want to make up a story about that image. He likes the intensity with which the guy is staring at the woman. As if he’s consuming her instead of the apple in his hand! Bruce’s story continues with the woman being a sorceress and the man in the foreground doesn’t realize the apple contains poison. And the man laying in the background was already killed by the woman’s magic.

A tall tale for sure but it’s interesting to see Bruce’s imagination run wild on this one.

He goes on to discuss the importance of details in photographs and how the photo would fail if there wasn’t a guy laying in the background. Even though this might not resonate with most people it makes the image better. Without him it’s just a couple of people laying in the sand.

Photos By Jonathan Auch

Bruce Gilden Take It Or Leave it - Jonathan Auch

Next up are three photographs from Jonathan Auch and Bruce didn’t hate them at all. In fact he empathized with the photographer saying it’s not easy to take images like this. And he should know he’s been doing images like this for most of his life!

He thinks the third photo that’s a close-up of three faces a good photo and believes it to be monumental in its scope. The man closest to the camera almost appears to be carved out of stone and the two remaining figures support rather than compete with him. He thinks the overlap with the fourth person in the frame kind of spoils it and wishes it wasn’t there but still thinks it’s a good picture. He wonders what it would look like printed very large…

Update: Commenter Jaasir Linger points out that Jonathan Auch used to work as Bruce’s assistant (http://jonathanauch.com/bio/). You have to wonder if Bruce was aware he was looking at his former assistant’s work especially considering his positive critique. Bruce doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to blow smoke up anyone’s ass but it might explain his generosity!

Photo By Tammy Mercure

Bruce Gilden Take It Or Leave it - Tammy Mercure

This photo makes Bruce smile and thought it was a photo a lot of people would take. But it’s a one line joke that’s ultimately not so funny.

He thinks the situation in the image is an obvious grab but there’s nothing else going on beyond a depiction of the thing that happened. But on closer inspection he found a few things to like. He thought the flame was beautiful though and almost saved the photo as it flows in a lovely manner. He sort of saw the entire thing as a take-off on American culture and could see it appearing in a book of sarcastic photos about America.

In the end, the image has some value but Bruce doesn’t rate it strongly.

One More Photo By Jose Raul Valencia

Bruce Gilden Take It Or Leave it - Jose Raul Valencia

“Obviously not a very good photograph. It’s about the lady’s… under her chin. And who cares about under her chin?!”

5 Street Photography Lessons From Bruce Gilden

It’s would be easy to dismiss Take It Or Leave It With Bruce Gilden as the comedic ramblings of a crusty old New Yorker. But when you distill Bruce’s critiques down you end up with a list of 5 street photography tips that are worth repeating:

  1. Accidents in street photography can work but only if it’s clear that they’re on purpose.
  2. If you’re going to copy an existing well-known photo it has to be better than the original.
  3. Details are important for composition, but your images should tell a story.
  4. Simplifiy your composition to create monumental imagery that celebrates the subjects.
  5. The image has to be something more than a portrayal of an event.

StreetShootr’s Take

Watching Bruce get from point A-Z is the whole point with the Take It Or Leave It Series. He doesn’t pull any punches and is actually very eloquent in describing why he likes or dislikes certain images. I find his critique style refreshing and entertaining and I could listen to him all day long.

As long as he’s not looking at my work!

What’s your take on Bruce Gilden’s critique style? Totally refreshing or just too harsh? Post your ideas in the comments below and keep the conversation going!

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