Review by Madhu Joseph John •
Imagine yourself wandering around New York’s Canal Street, or London’s Piccadilly Circus, or a quiet neighborhood in the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico, or even a place twelve hours away across the Pacific Ocean, like the Bugis Street Market in Singapore. You are a photography enthusiast, an amateur or wannabe professional photographer, a flaneur. You are in the company of David Gibson, a British street photographer of repute. You follow, you watch, as he darts from person to person, shop to shop, road to alley. Now and then, between flurries of his camera clicks, he relates anecdotes of encounters on the street with all sorts of people, of prowling with other street photographers such as Matt Stuart. He talks of who and what has inspired him over the years, of exceptional emerging image makers you have never heard of; he directs you, or rather persuades you to look at the street in unconventional ways. His manner is irreverent, but never patronizing. And when evening comes, you feel you have learned a lot and can we do this again tomorrow?
Getting back to reality, you and I know that all this is fanciful thinking. I think Gibson too realizes the impossibility of such a scenario. And considerate and pragmatic as he must be, he has put forth a new edition of The Street Photographer’s Manual for our benefit. All I can say is that we got lucky.
Before we hit the first of five chapters, we are treated to a forty-page treatise on the history of street photography, how its practice has evolved over the years, what it constitutes today and what it doesn’t, the implications of technological change to date and possibly in the future. He makes the case that posed or ‘set up’ photography where you personally engage with your subject is not street photography. With regard to digitally manipulated images, he quotes Elliot Erwitt, our godfather of snapshots saying, “…it’s an abomination.”
There are a hundred color illustrations, and forty-six in monochrome (I counted), generously laid out in this book with at least one image in every page spread. They are mostly by other photographers, some iconic, others less known, but all striking and pertinent. Gibson has included a few images of his own, particularly to illustrate the ‘projects’ or assignments he has suggested throughout the book.
All chapters are based on a conceptual framework – Busy, Quiet, Abstract, Still, Subject – each illuminated by the art of two to four street photographers, some famous (Bruce Gilden, Marc Riboud), others more obscure or emerging (Shin Noguchi, Narelle Autio). Interspersed with these are a number of ‘projects’ suggested by Gibson. For example, the ‘Abstract’ chapter features the works of Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Melissa Breyer and Trent Parke, among others. Dispersed among these artists are scenarios that may be confronted by you on the street, such as reflections, shadows or mirrors. Perhaps these situations are challenges that interest you, maybe gift you with a different perspective in your image-making efforts. Incidentally, this roster of twenty street photographers include six women, reflecting today’s increasing presence of female artists and perhaps addressing the gender gap evident in the previous edition of the book.
Most how-to books or manuals of photography tend to dwell on technical matters – SLRs versus mirrorless cameras, what lens is suitable for your interests, how to get perfect exposures and the like. If that is what you seek, this book is not for you. In fact, I would venture to rename it as The Street Photographer’s Companion. This is a book you carry around in your backpack, something you check before you venture into the street, read between assignments or projects and relax with at the end of your day. Gibson’s language is passionate, his tone conversational, and the illustrations he provides, insightful. With this book, Thames & Hudson reinforces its deserved reputation of bringing us well produced and reasonably (very reasonably in this case) priced art books.
David Gibson’s The Street Photographer’s Manual is your ticket to ride through the wonderful possibilities in this world of photography. But only if you care …
David Gibson – The Street Photographer’s Manual. New Edition
Artist/Photographer and Text: David Gibson (born in Ilford, Essex, UK; lives in London)
Publisher: Thames & Hudson, New York, NY; © 2020
Foreword: Matt Stuart
Softcover, 192 pages, 100 color illustrations; printed in China by 1010 Printing International Limited