Esteemed photographers like Martin Parr are often the subjects of documentary films and interviews about street photography. But in the brand new video series of the Martin Parr Foundation, he sits down with fellow photographers to talk about their work, inspirations, motivations, and other photography topics. In the latest episode, it’s the turn of fellow Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden to have an insightful “Sofa Session” with Parr. This episode is definitely a favorite of many, with two street photography and documentary photography giants exchanging thoughts and insights on the craft. If you’re curious about Gilden’s work and methods in the streets, you definitely have to sit down and pay attention to their chat!
Beginnings are always interesting topics to discuss, so Gilden talking about his own is definitely among the highlights of this 21-minute episode. During his developing and printing class in the visual arts course he was taking alongside acting, seeing a print come up for the first time got him excited about the idea of being a photographer. “Wow, I did that,” was the first thing that came to his mind. On what was it about street photography that appealed to him, Gilden gave perhaps an unexpected answer. “First of all I’m basically shy so you just go out in the streets, and I’m not good at organizing things like calling someone and saying, ‘Well can I come in to photograph you?’ And I don’t like to wait, I don’t have a lot of patience. So you just go out in the street to photograph,” he said casually.
Other interesting points of discussion that came up include the people that Gilden loved to photograph, and his “fearlessness” while photographing people head-on in the streets. To the first, he said he was never interested in average or normal people, but was especially intrigued with people who were “not the ordinary” as well as underdogs. Characters, as we’d say they were. As for the second, he wouldn’t call himself fearless, he just trusts his “streetwise instincts” to which he said, “sometimes people don’t realize that’s part of what makes me able to do what I’m doing.”
As for his use of flash, Gilden said he’s always liked the sharpness of noir images and the separation between the darks and the whites with detail in between. As he said, he was able to get these qualities with the use of flash. Most importantly, the two also talk about whether knowing (or not knowing) the history of photography is important to producing engaging and original work. Gilden’s statement pretty much stings, we have to admit. “I think a lot of young people now don’t know the history of photography. So they’ll do a subject they’ll say, ‘wow this is really great,’ but they don’t realize that someone did something very similar to this 20-30 years ago. So it’s not that it’s bad…it’s just not inspiring.”
We’re sure you’re all looking forward to the next sitter on Martin Parr’s sofa, so let’s all subscribe to the Martin Parr Foundation YouTube channel to stay updated!