David Gibson – An Insight into Street Photography

At Beanstories we follow a number of street photographers closely, and it’s always a treat to hear them describe their work. David Gibson, the well-known London based street photographer, kindly agreed to give us some insight to his work in the city.

What inspires you about London? What do you find unique about photographing people in this city?
The thing that I’ve always liked about London is its energy and its culture, which is a bit of an understatement. London is so important, it dominates the UK and it pulls the world in.

But inspiration comes from within, it’s not necessarily London, it has to start with me.

Looking through your lens, how do you feel London has changed over the years?
I worry that it might be me but London seems to have changed dramatically in the last 10 years, maybe it started with the Millennium and it seems to have accelerated recently. It’s difficult to keep up.

I have photographed in London since the early 1990’s. In those early black and white days I photographed the elderly a lot, I was drawn to them for some reason and I have been intrigued how those people have now gone. Unwittingly I have quite a few photographs of elderly women wearing headscarves – that generation did – but now they’ve gone.

Of course they’ve gone because another generation moves up, but this fascinates me because I always took photographs with no thought about how time might affect them.

London photographs become dated, you need only consider the old Routemaster buses, and they have virtually gone too. I’m pleased to see the updated Routemaster buses though, that’s an example of something done right for London.

London changes rapidly, its quite alarming in a way. You just wish it would slow down sometimes. If you were away from London for a couple of years, you would have a shock on your return.

As a photographer, what are your favourite parts of the city to shoot in?
There are certainly places where I have been more ‘lucky’. I have often gone to Trafalgar Square or Liverpool Street, as a sort of starting point. There is no special place though. Street photographers wander, they go looking for the luck. London is a lucky city.

I have always gravitated towards Charing Cross Road because of the bookshops although there are less of them now, which is a pity. Suddenly a second-hand bookshop becomes a patisserie, which to me seems useless and uninspiring. Charing Cross Road was the pulse for everything at one point – Central St Martins, The Photographers Gallery and several second-hand bookshops.

I teach a short course on street photography at Saint Martins who are now near Kings Cross in a fantastic new building, and all those books that were in the library in Charing Cross Road have moved too, which is nice.

Favourite areas – and favourite areas to shoot in – are not necessarily the same thing. Bookshops and art galleries are favourite places for me, as interludes to taking photographs, a chance to build up inspiration. I spend a lot of time not taking photographs but I think about taking photographs all the time.

There are several areas in London that I like so I’d mention Spitalfields and Columbia Road Flower Market but the photographs here were taken recently in Smithfield. I have a strong link with Smithfield because my first job at 17 was in a Smithfield bank, right next to the old meat market and that archway with the original old phone boxes still has meaning for me. On a sunny day the light intensifies the colours.

I have a long-term friend, Papia Ghoshal, who is an artist and poet from Kolkata. I have photographed her on and off for years and we just decided to do some more photographs one day. I suddenly thought of Smithfield and those wonderful red phone boxes, which is a unique part of London. History is everywhere in London but maybe it’s more accessible in that corner of London, for me at least because I’ve wandered round there so much. Postman’s Park is another interesting spot close by, a hidden gem of London.

If not London, where else would you rather live and work? And why?
Anywhere really, simply because its new and different for me. I find it stimulating to be in another city, the more exotic the better. I’ve been in Asia recently, to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok and felt a real responsibility to go up a gear with taking photographs.

Many famous street photographers have come out of New York. How do you think London compares?
I don’t think London has the ‘big names’ quite like New York unless you include David Bailey, who has done street photography in a way. Who are the big names in London? I don’t know but there is a lot of energy in London for street photography, a lot of things have started here and maybe in the future some of those names will be mentioned.

Name three things in London a street photographer could do without.
Well three things I don’t want to photograph: tourists, rickshaws and the homeless.

Without people, a street is…. 
Still worth walking down because you never know what’s round the corner.

I don’t mind empty streets; busy streets are not necessarily the best places to take photographs. Besides street photography does not necessarily have to have people in them.

Thanks so much David for sharing your thoughts on street photography in London.

To get in touch with David or to learn about the workshops he holds, check out the David Gibson Street Photography page.

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