David Gibson: “I’m Still Learning Through Teaching” By Ollie Gapper

In this post I’m honoured to have the privilege to present an interview with one of the original members of In-Public and practicing street photographer, David Gibson. David’s work is among the strongest I’ve seen from a practicing contemporary street photographer, and has inspired me to refine my eye even more, to try and make images as graphically enthralling as his.

What would you consider to be the biggest influencing factors for your street photography? What influenced you to start?

When I first started in the late 1980’s my influences and points of inspiration were very clear. I was completely immersed in the work of the so-called humanistic photographers, which included many of the Magnum photographers. Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliot Erwitt were particularly inspiring for me but there were many others – David Hurn, Marc Riboud, Ken Heyman, Willy Ronis, Leonard Freed – these were all starting points for me.

The term ‘Street Photography’ then was rarely heard and I have mixed feelings about the easy use of the term now. Cartier-Bresson would never have considered himself a street photographer for instance but I concede that the term sits more easily on a photographer like Bruce Gilden.  Would Bruce Gilden consider himself a street photographer though? I don’t know.

Was Ernst Haas a street photographer? No, he was just a very fine photographer. I honestly believe that you have to be careful about these terms and I often find myself resisting the easy and somewhat vague label of street photography. I guess I shouldn’t be concerned but the question always nags a bit. One of my early points of inspiration was Mario Giacomelli so quite possibly I have always been leaning in other directions with my photography. Mario Giacomelli is known for many of the photographs he took on the streets in one small town in Italy: Is there a need to call these street photographs? It’s just wonderful photography or Art. All that matters is that it inspires.

So in a sense I’m always trying to escape from the street – on the street – if that makes sense. Yes, many of my photographs are taken on the street but it’s very interesting that the more meaningful photographs in the world tend to transcend their particular genre of photography.

What is certain is that seeking inspiration is an on-going thing. I still need feeding – and reminding of great photography.

What is your story with In-Public? What experiences have you had because of it?

It is difficult to imagine my past not involving in-public because it seemed such a natural occurrence. Nick Turpin began it and it was destiny in a way that a group of street photographers in London should all come together. Looking back the first few years of in-public were very exiting as we quickly gathered new members…it was all new and we were feverously looking for other like-minded photographers. The big thing about in-public is that we came together as the Internet was only just beginning to grip the world and we have grown with it.

It is very satisfying that other groups who work in a similar spirit have also sprung up in the last few years. For instance there is un-posed in Poland, That’s Life in India and the worldwide collective, Burn My Eye. There is also Calle 35, which is very good. But you still can’t better Magnum, they are still the benchmark and it’s easy to forget that sometimes in the Facebook / Flickr world of photography.

What role would you say your workshops have to you and your work? 

I honestly never thought that I would end up ‘teaching’ in any way whatsoever. The workshops have blossomed in the last few years and I seem to be carving out a small niche for myself. It has in a sense been as bigger a revelation as when I first truly found a direction in photography more than twenty years ago. And that initial feeling, that sudden and intense period of discovery is echoed in the workshops that I do because I often catch people at a particular point of discovery. It’s simply empathy and especially with new discoveries that I can share because I always try to freshen things up. I intend to include the work of Fred Herzog in my next presentation. I love that old muted colour look.  The workshops keep me on my toes if you like because there is always more to discover.

I did a workshop with the photographic community in Athens last year and that was particularly satisfying because it leaned at times more towards a master class. Of course encountering photographic passions first hand always personalizes it but I was particularly impressed by the work of Lukas Vasilikos, Andreas Paradise and Zisis Kardianos. In the ‘off-line’ world they are not well known but they are very active and they certainly ‘get there’ with many of their images. There’s always that moment when you look at a photograph and just think, “Yes, that’s good, I must get out there and do the same. I can do it.” And you keep putting that feeling in a bottle to pass on later to other people.

So doing regular workshops in London and increasingly worldwide has become a very satisfying development for my photography. It allows me to travel and to connect with people in some very interesting places and what amazes me – though why should it – is how international the photographic community is. It all comes back to the mind-blowing reach of photography on the Internet. I know that is stating the obvious but I don’t completely forget my beginnings with photography and how isolated and slow that whole world seemed. There were only books and photographs then.

What do you aim to teach in your workshops? What fundamental elements do you ensure your students leave with? 

In short and without sounding too grand I would say inspiration and honesty. I always bombard participants at the beginning with an eclectic mix of great street photographs which includes some of the more obvious photographers but also the unsung and obscure – but always images that inspire me. And that’s the foundation of the whole thing so that the following day, which is spent shooting on the streets, all these photographs are rattling around inside people’s heads. It quite often happens that someone will ask, “What was the name of that Spanish photographer you showed yesterday?”

The ethos of my workshops is undeniably embedded in my work – and crucially what inspires me.  So my taste and disciplines certainly come through. That’s how it should be because if people are interested in my work and that of in-public’s then they’ve probably made a good choice of workshop.

Giving honest and constructive feedback is essential and that is the important element that I hope participants take away with them. That experience might be a bit of a jolt and even a challenge but that’s part of the honest approach.  So yes, I certainly challenge people a little, I try to instill a discipline and a better self-awareness of their work. Another comment I sometimes get at workshops is something like, ‘’Nobody said that to me before, I really needed to be told that’”

What other plans do you have for the future? Anything else to do with education? Any upcoming publications or exhibitions? 

I have on-going workshops in London and also workshops planed for Dubai, Athens and Amsterdam in the next few months. I’m also doing a short street photography course in the summer for Central St Martins that I’m looking forward to. My diary is scattered with several things but the main aim is just to take some decent photographs.

One of the things I really emphasize on my workshops is the importance of pursuing projects. And I need to practice what I preach. I have a few projects, which are half finished and I need to kick start those again. All photographers who care consider themselves to be lazy. I’m incredibly lazy but that’s just an excuse.

To find out more

David Gibson’s next London Street Photography workshop is over the weekend of 11th and 12th February with a further workshop planned for the 3rd and 4th of March. I’ll be dropping by to lend a hand and to meet some other like-minded photographers, so I hope to see you all there!

To book a workshop, see more of Davids work or to just get in contact, feel free to use the links below!


Next weeks CritiqueMe will be selected tomorrow morning, so any last minute entries need to be in ASAP! (olliegapper@me.com) – Don’t be afraid to email me about anything else, I’m always willing to chat, advise or be impressed, so don’t be a stranger!